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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

Our quote on the most
recent helmet issue




Summary: When helmet news breaks we post a quote here for anybody needing one in the dead of night for an article. You are welcome to call and confirm: 703-486-0100.


According to Randy Swart, Director of the
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute in Arlington, Virginia:



Segway study not new or shocking

September 30, 2010

We were not shocked by the new study showing that there have been Segway injuries in Washington, DC and that some were serious head injuries. As we note on our Segway helmet page, we participated in developing the ASTM standard for Segway helmets. But there is little demand for them, and no manufacturer makes one at present. Press quotes indicate that some Segway riders do not understand that there is a potential for injury. Just as in bicycling, we do not hesitate to ride Segways and take whatever risk of injury there may be, but we always wear a helmet.

We were saddened as all the world has been to see that the current owner of the company was killed in a tragic Segway crash. We don't know whether he was wearing a helmet at the time or not, but since he fell over a cliff into a river, it does not seem that a helmet could have made much difference in the outcome. The first quote on this page (way down at the bottom) was about the introduction of the Segway in 2001.



Cheap helmets and expensive helmets perform equally in impacts

December 3, 2009

BHSI submitted samples of six helmet models to a leading U.S. test lab: three in the $150+ range and three under $20. The impact test results were virtually identical. There were very few differences in performance among the helmets. Our conclusion: when you pay more for a helmet you may get an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics. But the basic impact protection of the cheap helmets tested equaled the expensive ones.

The results are a testimony to the effectiveness of our legally-required CPSC helmet standard. Although our sample was small, the testing indicates that the consumer can shop for a bicycle helmet in the US market without undue concern about the impact performance of the various models on sale, whatever the price level. The most important advice is to find a helmet that fits you well so that it will be positioned correctly when you hit.

We have a page up with more details.



Examiner publishes inaccurate article

March 17, 2009

The well-meaning article published today in the Examiner is disappointing to say the least. It confuses forward bicycle speeds and car speeds with test requirements that are based on the head's closing speed with pavement. It critiques statistics from the wrong source and blames helmets for not preventing crashes. It says "children are killed every year because they wore their bike helmets on playground equipment," when in fact despite our warnings on the subject there have been few documented deaths from that cause, all outside the US. And it warns that only a hard shell helmet reduces rotational injuries, when in fact normal thin shells slide easily on pavement. The Web has many inaccurate statements about helmets, and this article adds a number of them.

Bell announces new True Fit system

March 10, 2009

Bell Sports announced on March 10 that it was introducing a new helmet fitting system on some Bell models. They launched a new Web site to promote the system.

The announcement said the new system is only for certain models in Bell's discount helmet line. Models included are the adult Radar/Adrenaline/Bellisima, the youth Aero and Blade, and the child Racer and Rex.

The new straps are fixed on the sides, relying partly on an elasticized band that connects the sides in the rear just under the occiput (that little round bump on the back of most heads). The user must still adjust the length of the chin strap, but does not have to fiddle with confusing side strap adjustments. It will clearly reduce the number of adjustments, but we do not know yet what the comfort and retention results will be.

Fitting helmets well is the next frontier in improving helmet effectiveness. We have been asking manufacturers for years to improve their fit systems, and particularly to develop a system that does not require long minutes of fiddling and lots of patience to achieve a good fit. This is at least a step in that direction, but we have not seen the product yet and will have no further comment until we have samples.

Here is the first article we have seen on the system.



CPSC delays new requirements

January 30, 2009

The delay gives CPSC time to work out new rules that could eliminate lead test requirements for some materials and products, and to issue more guidance on when testing is required and how it is to be conducted. Manufacturers and importers had been asking for that. There may eventually be some permanent relief for helmet manufacturers from some of the requirements, although savvy manufacturers and importers have already eliminated lead and phthalates from their products regardless of the CPSC requirements to meet regulations in California and other states, and for basic corporate responsibility reasons. Consumer advocates are likely to react adversely to the postponement, and helmet manufacturers who have jumped through all the hoops to meet the deadlines are likely to be irritated that competitors who have lagged behind now have a grace period. It is not certain that state attorneys general, who were granted some enforcement powers under the legislation passed last year, will follow suit, although CPSC "trusts" that they will.



Gas prices and Global Warming increase cycling

August 29, 2008

Gas prices and global warming are bringing new cyclists onto the roads and trails. We welcome that, since all cyclists are safer on the roads when there are more of us out there. We hope that everyone who has been fastening a seat belt for every trip will now wear a helmet for every trip by bike. The two actions are similar--avoid the injury. Better, of course, not to crash in the first place, but our road environment makes some problems inevitable no matter how safe we try to be. Good helmets for new riders begin at about $10 in local discount stores, and you can save that much in gas costs on your first commute to work. It is increasingly difficult to justify using non-renewable fossil fuel resources and generating clouds of carbon to drive somewhere when bicycling on errands or to work can make you healthier, and wealthier to boot.



Specialized helmet recall demonstrates problems with pushing designs to lighten helmets

December 18, 2007 Specialized has recalled its S-Works 2D, once the top of their 2008 line and advertised as the lightest helmet meeting the CPSC bicycle helmet standard. Although there will be a replacement in the Specialized line soon, it demonstrates the risk of trying to push the envelope on helmet weight, a non-issue for most consumers.



British Study finds cars pass helmeted cyclist closer

September 11, 2006

A UK study found that cars passed the researchers 3.34 inches closer when they wore helmets. They got extra clearance when they wore wigs instead. (We have a page up on the study with the link to the BBC article.)

The report on the study is interesting, although we have not seen the full study yet. It measures something that might not be readily apparent to most cyclists--an average of 3.3 inches more clearance.

There is nothing in the BBC report on what the average distance for passing was, or whether the two cities involved have particular characteristics that might affect the results. In the US, that varies widely depending on the city and region. The extra distance would make quite a difference if the average passing distance were 1.5 feet and a lot less if the full recommended 3 feet were the rule.

It seems curious that the study focussed just on helmet wearing as the main factor affecting drivers' responses. We note that in the photo, the test cyclist is riding a bicycle with an upright position and large black panniers. That would probably have an effect on car drivers, since the panniers add extra width and that very likely increased passing distances. Users of side-mounted flags report the same effect. And an upright cyclist might indeed be perceived as more likely to be unsteady, helmet or no. We speculate that perhaps the clearance would be even less for a rider who appeared to be a racer and more likely to be holding a steady road position. But that might have nothing at all to do with whether or not the cyclist was wearing a helmet. An erratic child on the road would get more clearance than anybody else, whether or not they wore a helmet. So the study is interesting, but would be a lot more useful if it looked at some of the other factors instead of trying to villainize the helmet as "good for kids."

We hope that somebody will replicate this work in the US to see if our driver psychology matches, and that they will test for some of the other variables in addition to helmets. Research on driver psychology could help us understand what is needed to encourage drivers to give all cyclists adequate passing clearance. We don't think it is likely to be as simple as who wears a helmet, and given the safety tradeoffs we don't think that taking your helmet off is the best way to get you 3.34 inches more clearance from passing motorists in Salisbury and Bristol.



Trek helmet recall demonstrates problems with pushing designs to open up bigger vents

May 5, 2006

Trek has recalled their top of the line Anthem helmets because they did not meet the legally mandated impact standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As Consumer Reports testing has shown in the past, the most expensive helmets may not be the best in impact performance. When CU tested the Treks they did not meet the CPSC impact standard, and CU ratted them out to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Opening up huge vents automatically means reducing the impact foam, and that in turn requires making the foam that does remain very dense and hard. It becomes brittle, and must have internal or external reinforcements to hold together. The hard foam spots can put more localized load on parts of the skull as well. The Australian standard tests for that, but we do not in this country. That's why we recommend designs with reasonable vents and rounder, smoother exteriors.

Quality control is always suspect in cases like this, of course, but the basic design should have a margin of protection to account for that.

We don't know if the Trek helmets were too thin, cut too high around the bottom or broke up during testing. Those are all common impact performance failures. Since CPSC has no budget for random testing, it is fortunate that CU tested the helmets and ratted Trek out to the Feds. I wish we could do that, but we don't have funding for random testing either.

This is Trek's first recall. They have scored well in the past in Consumer Reports testing with their mid-price line. That probably represents a better value for consumers.



Helmet recall is largest in recent years

August 31, 2005

Target has recalled more than 494,000 helmets, the largest number in a single recall in recent years. The recall does not include all of their helmets. Unfortunately, experience shows that most of the recalled helmets will not be returned. That means that more than 400,000 children will be riding in substandard helmets for years. (Our email Update has more details.)



Helmet law opposition in the UK

August 11, 2005

The British Medical Association examined the evidence and recommended in 2004 that the UK adopt a mandatory helmet law for both children and adults. Their study is available on the BMA Web site. They had previously recognized the benefits of helmet use but had feared that a helmet law might reduce cycling. Following that BMA finding a small group of anti-helmet law Brits have become increasingly strident in their opposition, posting messages on various Internet sites. A look at the BMA study shows the opponents' "science" to be flawed at best.



New study of helmet laws is very useful

August 9, 2005

A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a lot of material that will be useful for anyone studying helmet laws. It is probably most useful for those writing a new law or lobbying for one, since it details many mistakes made by others and issues they have resolved. We sent out a newsletter to publicize it.




Governor Warner ok after crash

June 30, 2005

Governor Warner's crash on a Virginia road did not involve any cars or other riders--it was apparently a typical over-the-handlebars crash where the rider was victimized by a too-powerful front brake. There are 5,280 ways to fall in every mile, and we can all be thankful that this one did not call forth the spector of mourning and a state funeral in Richmond. Governor Warner's spokesperson was quoted saying it was a textbook illustration of why you should wear a helmet, but we have not seen the helmet to assess what role it might have played in protecting the Governor. Bike Virginia's Mary Turnbull, who was riding with him said "The first thing he said when he got up was, 'Thank God for helmets.'" The Governor's own email message says his helmet has "a pretty good road rash," indicating that he did hit his head. At the scene he said "This is the best lesson yet for bicycle safety."



Safe Kids Study will Provide Actual Headcounts

March 31, 2004

We are excited that the results of the Safe Kids study of helmet use rates will be available on May 11th. This will be a long-awaited addition of actual field count data on how many riders are wearing helmets, and should be a lot more accurate than other estimating techniques. It will give us a snapshot of where we are along the road of helmet promotion and how far we still need to go.



Concussion studies yield significant new data

November 7, 2003

We are excited about the new studies coming forward now on concussion. They may enable us to establish better helmet standards in the future to protect wearers against mild concussive injuries instead of just preventing the catastrophic injures that today's helmets target.




Study shows helmet fit problems

August 18, 2003

A study by pediatricians in Falmouth, Massachusetts, tested the ability of kids and parents to fit bicycle helmets. It concluded that most did not fit them well with only 4 per cent passing the study's full standards.

Fit is indeed a problem for all ages, not just for kids. We have been pushing it as the next frontier in helmet safety. Even if you think the study criteria were too stringent, 80 per cent failed the basic stability test: one inch of movement front-to-back or side-to-side. That's abysmal. It corresponds closely to what we hear from bike rodeo fitters and others in the field who deal with kids showing up at events with sloppy helmets.

Ultimately the manufacturer is responsible for a helmet that is too hard to fit, since 80 per cent or more of the buyers can't be wrong! We need auto-fit helmet technology, but we don't have it yet, and the alternative is to learn how to fit your helmet and take the time to get it right. It's a survival skill in our culture.

For more info, see our page on the helmet fit study.




Tour de France helmets

July 17, 2003

TV viewers are noticing that this year the Tour de France riders are all wearing helmets most of the time. Photos of the winners show them crossing the finish line in helmets as well.

We welcome the decision by the UCI (International Cycling Union) to require all riders in races they sanction to wear helmets. Racers are role models for many of the most crash-prone bicycle riders around the world, and it is helpful for them to see their heroes protecting their heads. We have more info in our brief on the UCI ruling.




President Bush Crashes Bareheaded on a Segway

June 13, 2003

We don't need terrorist attacks to injure our President if some idiot puts him on two wheels without a helmet. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!" There will soon be an ASTM standard for Segway helmets, but in the meantime, the President can find one in any big box retail store: a classic "skate" style helmet meeting the CPSC bike helmet standard. Highly recommended for anyone whose brain is considered valuable by at least some of the American people!




Reuters Health article says cycle helmets may not prevent brain injury

January 10, 2003

Reuters Health published an article by Pat Hagan on January 7, 2003 quoting the Cyclist Rights Action Group in Australia criticizing the performance of bike helmets. The group has been around for a long time, and this article offers no new evidence to support their ideas. Angular acceleration is indeed an area we need to know more about, and was used as far back as the 1970's by a company called Skidlid to oppose the adoption of helmet standards. Indications from research to date show that reducing linear acceleration also reduces angular acceleration, since it essentially results from off-center linear impact. We have more information on our page on the Brain Impact Injury Prevention Project and what we need to make further progress on helmet standards. In the meantime, there is more than ample evidence that current helmets are performing well. In essence, this is old stuff without foundation and Reuters was hornswaggled by a splinter group.




Canadian helmet law opposition

October 1, 2002

A group of Canadian doctors believes that helmet laws may save lives by preventing head injuries, but actually cost more lives by discouraging cycling and causing sedentary life styles.

This analysis comes from a paper first published by the British Medical Journal in 1993 and abstracted in our Bibliography. A more recent summary of the current British Medical Association position can be found on the Web at the BMJ site.

The analysis assumes that anyone who does not ride a bicycle because of a helmet requirement has only one choice: become a couch potato. In US society there is a couch potato problem, but it is not because of bicycle helmets! Cycling certainly contributes to our overall fitness level, but millions of others prefer running, walking, swimming, rollerblading, skateboarding, skiing, rowing, basketball, football, baseball, soccer, handball, squash, volleyball, climbing, equestrian sports, martial arts, aerobics or combinations of a thousand other activities to keep fit. The cyclic trend reducing bicycle use here since 1999 has been related to fashion, to the rise of those other forms of exercise and to safety concerns as car traffic has become worse. We had a decade of experience prior to that with states and cities passing helmet laws, and did not observe declines in cycling as those laws were passed. We are not going to quibble with what someone finds in the UK or Canada, but it is clear that our helmet laws here in the US have not resulted in less cycling or worse physical conditioning.




Tour de France

July 25, 2002

It was interesting to see that almost every rider in the early stages of the Tour had a helmet this year. As helmets have worked for the inevitable Tour crashes and crashes in other races as well, riders have come to accept them more. And manufacturers are apparently paying the endorsement fees that are so important to the professional rider. In the mountain stages, no rider has a helmet on because they can't give up the advantage represented by an extra ten ounces of weight and they are desperate at their extraordinary level of exertion in French summer weather for every bit of cooling they can get. In fact, the very well ventilated helmets they are using will not make much difference in cooling, but that is not yet widely accepted. We will not see helmets used in mountain stages until the organizers got serious about requiring helmets 100 per cent of the time for every rider. Things like that usually take a long time to be established. Go Lance!



Safe Kids Campaign

May 2, 2002

We are really excited about the new Safe Kids helmet campaign. They have been consistent boosters of helmet safety, but this will be their biggest effort in the field since their very successful campaign in 1989. Their local coalitions will be distributing to kids in need across the nation up to $1 million worth of Bell helmets donated by Johnson & Johnson and Bell Sports. That alone should ensure that this campaign has visible impact. In addition, Johnson & Johnson will be launching an advertising campaign that will include distribution of safety tips through 60,000 retail stores and to 45 million. This one will be coming to a mailbox near you!



Pole Vaulting Helmets?

April 25, 2002

The 2002 death of a pole vaulter who fell back on the pole plant box raised the question of pole vaulting helmets. Three other vaulters have suffered head injuries this year. ASTM's helmet subcommittee has been approached to develop a standard for a pole vaulting helmet, but it could be quite a challenge. The height of the fall can be 18 feet, reaching a velocity of 23 MPH/39 KPH. (Contrast that to a bicycle crash, where the closing speed of head and pavement is typically about 12 MPH/20 KPH.) The energy to be managed by the helmet would be almost three times what a bicycle helmet can handle. (270 Joules vs. 98 Joules for bicycle helmets) To protect against a fall like that if the athlete is going to hit a hard surface, the helmet would have to be perhaps two or three inches thick, and the sport would become the mushroom heads vault. The helmet could even increase the danger of injury in normal vaults. The athletes will of course resist adding weight and a cumbersome helmet. More to the point, we always advise that removing the cause of the injury before the impact occurs makes more sense than putting on a helmet to avoid the consequences of faulty athletic facility design. The problem can be better addressed in this case by changing the configuration of the pits and other equipment so that the jumper does not hit hard surfaces to begin with. The organizers of the sport have control of those elements, unlike the road environment where it is more difficult to control the elements of danger. ASTM will begin addressing this issue at its meeting in Pittsburgh on May 8 and 9, 2002.



The Segway

December 4, 2001

In December of 2001 a new device was unveiled called the Segway. (Formerly known as Ginger) It is a motorized scooter-like device with two wheels and gyroscopes to keep it upright. It reportedly goes between 12.5 and 17 mph on level ground. With rider and cargo it can reach 400 pounds. The rider stands upright on the scooter, with the head somewhat above normal height (unless bent over in a racing crouch to minimize wind resistance). Although there is no established standard for Segway helmets, we would think that the same helmets that work for bicycles at that speed and height of the head above the ground would also work for a Segway, even though it is motorized. (Later note: see our page on Segways and Segway helmets.) We would not use a Segway without a helmet, which is our standard advice for anything that moves at considerable speed on pavement without any protection for the operator. (Basic formula: wheels + pavement = helmet)


This page was last revised on: the date of the first quote at the top.

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