DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Facing mounting criticism regarding the safety of its drivers, NASCAR Wednesday mandated the use of head and neck restraints.
Drivers will be required to wear the HANS or Hutchens device beginning this weekend in its three national touring series -- Winston Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck.
This weekend's events include Sunday's EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, where cars regularly surpass 200 miles per hour.
NASCAR has encouraged drivers to wear head and neck restraints following a string of fatal crashes at its races, including one at this year's Daytona 500 that claimed the life of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt .
A prolonged investigation into Earnhardt's death was conducted by NASCAR and the results announced in August determined the legendary driver died from a basal skull fracture that may have been caused in part by an improperly installed seat belt.
However, Earnhardt was not wearing a HANS device, which also could have contributed to his death.
NASCAR senior vice president George Pyne said the organization has not determined any penalties for violations of the new rules regarding the HANS devices.
"At this point, we're going to assume the car owners and drivers will abide by the rules," Pyne said. "We will address the situation as it comes up, but we are anticipating they will abide by the rules."
A majority of drivers in all three series currently wear the devices, but the pressure to institute an order to wear them has steadily grown.
The latest incident was Oct. 4, when part-time Busch Series driver Blaise Alexander died of a basal skull fracture while not wearing a head and neck restraint in an ARCA Series race in Concord, N.C.
Busch drivers Adam Petty and Winston Cup competitor Kenny Irwin also died of skull fractures last year in practice sessions at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.
Pyne added that a head and neck restraint mandate for the nine regional touring series likely would be made in time for the 2002 season.
NASCAR addressed other safety issues Wednesday, including the testing of accident data recorders and the development of new "barrier technology" with the Indy Racing Northern Lights Series.