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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

The Helmet Update

As it appeared on paper

Volume 18, #1 - April 3, 2000

Previous Issues



Here we are on paper!

We were shocked to see that our last paper issue was in 1999. We have become so Web- oriented that sometimes we forget that not all of you are receiving our email Updates, which are shorter and more frequent.

Our Web server is currently receiving visitors at over 3,000 per week, so we may have as many as 150,000 this year. Our email box sees a constant stream of questions, requests for information, ASTM helmet standards committee business and more. So perhaps you will pardon us if the production of paper is less frequent!

If you would like to be on our email Update distribution list, drop us an email at info@helmets.org and let us know. You will get your info from us in smaller bytes and a more timely manner.

We did not include the 2000 version of our pamphlets with this mailing, but you are welcome to them whenever you need updated versions. We now have five:

    A Consumer's Guide to Bicycle Helmets

    Must I Buy a Bicycle Helmet for My Child?

    How to Fit a Bicycle Helmet

    Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bicycle

    Bike Safety (by Candice Discepolo, age 8)

Most of them are up on our Web page, where you can also download them as Word files. Or we can send high resolution printouts on paper for you to duplicate locally in whatever quantity you need them.

And now, on to the main course.


Helmets for 2000


Summary

Helmet lines for 2000 continue last year's trend to fewer new helmet designs, reflecting flat consumer demand and continued thin profit margins in the industry. All helmets manufactured for the US market after March 10, 1999 must meet the national CPSC standard, but a few of the older ones are still on sale at reduced prices. We recommend looking for a helmet that:

    1. Meets the CPSC standard.

    2. Fits you

    3. Has a rounded, smooth exterior.

    4. Has no more vents than you need.

A few of the better ones were identified in the 1999 Consumer Reports helmet article, but most models on the market this year were not tested for that article.

Trends: Big vents, fewer rear projections


Vents are still big!

A major theme for the last three years has been more and larger air vents. Opening up larger vents usually requires harder, more dense foam and squaring off the edges of the remaining foam ribs to squeeze out the most impact protection possible from the narrower pieces still there. In a crash the narrower pieces obviously concentrate force on a smaller area of your skull. That works well in lab tests with magnesium headforms, but maybe not so well with human skulls. Since we believe that rounder shells and less dense foam are virtues in a crash, we don't recommend hyper-vented helmets unless you can't live without the added ventilation.


Fewer designs are squared-off

The fashion among helmet designers in recent years has favored squared-off edges of the foam remaining around the vents, and the addition of sharp lines in the exterior plastic just for style. The elongated "aero" shape has continued to dominate in the upscale models as well. This is not the optimal design for crashing. It may be just optimism, but we seem to see some moderation of this trend in the helmets for 2000, with some of the new models more rounded, particularly in the rear, where the "shelf" projects out on aero-style helmets. Rounder shells reduce to a minimum any tendency for a helmet to "stick" to the surface when you hit. They also eliminate the aero tail that might shove your head to the side as you hit, or even push the helmet aside, exposing your bare head.


New Technology

There have been no radically new materials introduced in the 2000 model year. One company, SportScope, has a new design that uses chunks of foam linked closely with an embedded mesh, permitting the chunks to move enough to conform somewhat to an unusual head shape. That may improve the fit for some riders, but if the edges of the chunks hit your head in the wrong place it can literally be a headache.

Gina Gallant of Prince George, B.C., Canada has designed a helmet that uses LED's to inform the wearer when it is fitted correctly. Beyond giving active feedback on the accuracy of its fit, Ms. Galant also hopes to instill in wearers an instinctive sense of what a well-fitted helmet feels like, encouraging them to adjust future helmets to achieve a similar good fit. We have a Web page up with her explanation of the concept.


The Helmets for 2000

We can't begin to cover all the helmets in the market in a newsletter produced on paper. On our Web site you will find a full writeup that covers all the manufacturers and helmets. The page is located at http://www.helmets.org/helmet00.htm. If you don't have Web access and need the details, please let us know and we will mail you a copy on paper. Highlights were scarce this year. All of the major manufacturers have new models, or at very least some renamed old models with new graphics, and even though they have slightly different cosmetics, the level of protection is probably very similar among brands. With no Consumer Reports article this year, we are not willing to guess. Many of the manufacturers have lower price helmets for cheap sales to discount stores and non-profit programs. Those models tend to have fewer vents, but softer and thicker foam. If these models were produced with the advanced construction techniques of the more expensive helmets they could offer maximum protection, but they can pass the standards without those techniques, and molding them in the shell or adding internal structural reinforcements would be expensive. In many cases we would guess that the lower cost lines are actually more protective than the expensive models with construction compromises born of the urge to open up larger vents. But without lab testing by Consumer Reports this year we just do not have any data.


Standards

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's bicycle helmet standard is required in the US market by law for any helmet manufactured after March 10, 1999. It covers helmets manufactured after that date. but permits sales of helmets made earlier. There are still remnants of the older models out there in some stores, mostly on clearance sale tables. The CPSC standard is slightly more demanding than earlier versions of the ASTM standard, so we recommend buying a helmet meeting the CPSC standard. Snell B-95 remains the premium standard in the market, tested with a flat drop height of 2.2 meters instead of 2.0 meters. But few helmets you will see on store shelves are certified to it, whether or not they can meet it, and Snell has so many current standards and variations out now that we have given up trying to explain them. If you are interested, you can check their Web site at www.smf.org for the differences.

CPSC covers only bicycle helmets. You will still see helmets on the market that don't meet the CPSC standard, and just omit any reference to use for bicycling. Some are even sold in bike shops or in discount stores on the same shelf as bicycle helmets.


ASTM

ASTM's Headgear Subcommittee met in December and meets again in May. Its major accomplishment was the recent publication of an update to the bicycle helmet standard, F- 1447, to bring it up to the level of the CPSC standard. In coming years it is likely that improvements in F-1447 will lead rather than lag CPSC updates.

A number of other ASTM standards are being introduced or improved. A snow sport standard that has been in the works since 1994 is on the current main committee ballot, but may or may not need more work. Subcommittee task groups are working actively on other standards. The group is still in the process of adding language to all of its standards to prohibit partial adherence to a standard after two large helmet manufacturers produced skateboard helmets that met the ASTM skateboard standard "except for the coverage requirement."

Maine Passes Law But Tennessee Says No to Extension

Maine became the 16th state with a helmet law on September 18, 1999. The Maine helmet requirement was contained in their Bicycle Safety Education Act, and covers all riders under 16. The helmet must meet the CPSC standard. There is no fine associated with non- compliance, but a police officer can stop an unhelmeted rider and provide them with bicycle safety information and info on where to get a helmet. Municipalities are apparently permitted to go beyond the state law, at least for the education provisions of the act.

AP reported in March that the Tennessee legislature considered and rejected a change in the state's 1994 helmet law that would have extended coverage from state-maintained roads to all roads and sidewalks in Tennessee. The bill would also have increased the age covered from 12 to 16.


CPSC Forum to Explore Repetitive Impact Injuries

The Consumer Product Safety Commission will hold a public forum on May 2nd on head injury from repetitive impacts. The soccer community is discussing this problem at present. The question of protective headgear for soccer players has arisen following publication of study data indicating that long-term soccer players may suffer brain injury from repeatedly heading the ball. We have some info on soccer and other non-bicycle helmets up on our Web page.


Oakwood Police to Educate Cyclists and Encourage Helmet Use

The City of Oakwood, Ohio, has directed its police to use education and encouragement to promote helmet use among younger cyclists. Oakwood decided not to pass a town ordinance on helmets, but instead direct its police to conduct an education campaign and eventually begin "waving over" cyclists who are not wearing helmets to caution them and then invite them to an education program session at police headquarters. No fines or other deterrents are permissible as this is not an ordinance. We like this approach, but some jurisdictions believe it could cause them legal problems from stopping citizens without a legal basis.


Study: Helmets and Laws in New York State

A study by Dr Douglas R. Puder et. al. of the Nyack (NY) Hospital concludes that helmet legislation can be important in boosting levels of helmet usage. It also gives realistic estimates for helmet usage in the three counties during the summer of 1995. Dr. Puder and his colleagues observed cyclists in Rockland and Westchester counties(NY), and in Fairfield County, (CT). Rockland required all cyclists of all ages to wear helmets. In Westchester the New York state law covered all cyclists under age 14. In Fairfield, the Connecticut state law required helmets for riders under 12. (now under 15.) In Rockland and Westchester counties there is a potential fine of $50 for infractions, although in most localities such fines are rarely levied.

Puder and his colleagues observed nearly 1,000 cyclists at 51 sites in the three counties over the course of that summer. Cyclists in Rockland County, with the strictest helmet law, had the highest rate of helmet use (35 per cent). Riders in Westchester County had a helmet usage rate of 24 per cent. Cyclists in Fairfield County, with the most lenient law, wore helmets only 14 per cent of the time.

The study concludes that an all-ages helmet law is effective in raising helmet usage, although the authors did not take into account educational factors, effects of school programs or local helmet promotion efforts which may have affected the totals. In addition to the overall numbers, the study states that teen helmet usage was 17 per cent in Rockland County, 8 per cent in Westchester and 4 per cent in Fairfield. Follow up sampling in 1999 indicated that in Rockland teen helmet use is now up to 35 per cent. SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 1999;89:1736-1738.



The Helmet Update - Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Randy Swart
Editor
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA
(703) 486-0100 (voice)
(703) 486-0576 (fax)
www.helmets.org




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