Summary: Segway riders need helmets. A 2010 study of 41 Segway injuries in Washington, DC indicates that helmets would be useful for Segway riders. ASTM has published a standard for Segway helmets.
Whenever a new conveyance arrives like inline skates, scooters and other devices, we are asked if a bike helmet is ok for that activity too.
The Segway made its long-heralded debut in December of 2001 as a new scooter with some really innovative features. Its wheels are side by side rather than front and rear, and it has gyroscopic stabilizers to give it an intuitive control mechanism and to make it less prone to tipping over by responding to movements in body mass. Most current models are limited to 12 to 18 mph, or maybe even less, depending on software controls. It is high-tech and a lot of fun to ride. In short it meets our formula for the "do I need a helmet?" question. The Segway:
- has two wheels
- travels on pavement
- has no steel protective body or airbags
Despite their gyroscopes and stabilizing circuitry, it is sure that Segways are going to crash on occasion, just as bicycles and scooters do. The gyros can't keep you upright if a wheel loses all traction, for example, since they depend on wheel movements relative to the surface to maintain balance. Running into a solid object, particularly with one of the wheels, can upset the machine's balance and invoke powerful wheel movements that the rider has difficulty controlling. And anything that runs on electricity and is controlled by computers can break some day. Our conclusion: ride your Segway carefully, and you will still need a helmet if you value your brain.
In 2010 the first study of Segway injuries was published in a medical journal. Forty-one Segway injuries were documented at one hospital emergency room in Washington, DC. All 41 fell off the Segway, usually after striking an object. None died, but ten were admitted to the hospital after emergency room treatment. Seven had severe or moderate injuries, including four who were sent to intensive care for traumatic brain injuries--just under ten percent. Of the 31 patients who were discharged after being treated in the emergency room, 10 suffered fractures, including two cases of head fractures.
The speed of a Segway rider and the height of the rider's head above the pavement are similar to that of a cyclist. The mass of the machine (80 pounds for the larger model) and its gyro stabilizers will probably not make much difference in the energy of the impact when you crash. When you hit a brick in the road or a car hits you, similar things will happen. We think that despite the fact that Segways have a motor, the helmet needs should be similar to that of bicyclists. Segway riders probably do not need as much ventilation as most bicycle riders, but on a hot day they will certainly need vents in the helmet unless they want to end every ride with a wet head. That is true even if all you do is stand in one place. The nature of the Segway seems to indicate a higher probability of falling to the rear, with rear head impacts, however, and early users adopted skate-style helmets for their improved rear coverage.
In 2003 the ASTM Subcommittee responsible for sports helmets standards began developing a standard for a Segway helmet at the request of Segway. BHSI participated actively in the task group that developed the standard. The members of the Subcommittee had an opportunity to use both Segway models available at that time during a technical meeting to develop a feel for the vehicle. The standard was published in 2004 as ASTM F2416, Standard Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices. It has been updated once since then and is available for purchase on the ASTM site. It calls out a helmet with impact protection similar to a bicycle helmet, but with the lower rear protection of a skate-style helmet. We do not know of any helmet certified to that specific standard yet. But helmets that would come close to meeting it are already on the market, made in the classic skate style but with dual CPSC bicycle and ASTM F1492 skateboard helmet certification. We have a page up on dual certified helmets with the brands and models that we know of. Note that although the covereage of a dual certified helmet is lower in the rear, the impact protection of the lower area may only be that of a skateboard helmet, not the full protection called out by the Segway standard. So these are not actually Segway helmets.
This page was last revised on: September 30, 2010.