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ANSI Has Adopted ASTM Bike Helmet Standards

The Long Wait Ended in 2003

Summary: In 1995 the ANSI Z90 Helmet Standards Committee voted to adopt ASTM's bicycle helmet standard to replace the old, withdrawn ANSI Z90.4 standard. Eight years later, ANSI finally made the action effective, so the ANSI standard is now identical to the ASTM standard. That raised the bar considerably for the US market. ANSI has disbanded the Z90 committee.

In an article posted on their website on July 16th, 2003, ANSI acknowledged publicly for the first time that their bicycle helmet standards are now the ASTM bike helmet standards, referring to them as ANSI/ASTM standards.

The old ANSI standard with its less-stringent testing had been withdrawn by ANSI, leaving many US state and local helmet laws still specifying that standard and therefore perhaps weakening them. This acknowledgment of a joint standard may eliminate that problem. The current ASTM standard is equivalent to the CPSC bicycle helmet standard, so meeting "the ANSI standard" now means meeting the ASTM and CPSC standards as well.

For historical background, we have left below our earlier whining about ANSI's failure to act.

Ancient ANSI History

ANSI Z90.4 Committee Meets twice
to close three year gap!

April 1995 meeting first in three years.

The ANSI Z90.4 bicycle helmet standard committee met on April 13, 1995, for the first time since 1992. The group was faced with an expired standard (Z90.4-1984) and the need to update, a task it had been unable to accomplish for several years. Attendance was sparse. There were three Snell Memorial Foundation participants: Chan Ewing, Ed Becker and Bill Chilcott. (Snell chaired the ANSI committee.) Dean Fisher came from Bell, JJ Liu from the Department of Transportation (NHTSA), Scott Heh from Consumer Product Safety Commission and Randy Swart from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. In the afternoon the group was joined by Karen Moran, an injury prevention professional, also representing BHSI.

The group spent the morning thrashing out possibilities for quick updating of the ANSI standard. This was highly desirable because many State and local laws still specify ANSI as an officially-recognized standard, but the current ANSI standard had been approved in 1984 and after more than a decade was easily surpassed by even the cheapest helmets. The real minimal standard in the marketplace had become the ASTM standard, and there was no excuse for a helmet not meeting it with readily available technology and manufacturing techniques.

CPSC had been authorized as of March 16, 1995 to require that bicycle helmets meet one of the voluntary standards, including ANSI and Snell, as an interim measure before publishing its own federal government standard, expected in 1997 (but actually taking until 1999). But in 1995 Congress was threatening to declare a moratorium on new government regulations, and even the current CPSC authority to enforce the interim standards might go away.

Some ANSI committee members were in favor of adopting the ASTM standard, but when the committee called ANSI to ask about the mechanics of doing that the answer was less than encouraging. It could possibly be done, slowly, with ASTM staff concurrence. The committee chair (Ewing) agreed to look into it. In the meantime the group turned to a draft standard prepared by Ed Becker of Snell. It took the 1992 ANSI draft and added elements of Snell's B-90 standard (mostly the test line/required coverage). The committee spent the afternoon editing the draft, attempting to harmonize it with the ASTM standard.

May meeting -- ASTM standard adopted

The ANSI group met again in Denver on May 17, 1995. This time the meeting was scheduled during the ASTM meeting week in Denver, and had more members in attendance (perhaps 20). The group was informed that on May 8th ANSI accredited ASTM as an officially-recognized body capable of developing ANSI standards. This made it possible for the Z90.4 Committee to adopt the ASTM F-1446 and F-1447 standards as the ANSI Z90.4 standard. The committee voted unanimously to do that, clearing the way for harmonization of the two standards. Both institutions move slowly, but the final adoption by ANSI of the ASTM standard was expected to take place in six months to a year.

Note added in September, 2000

There have been no further ANSI Z90.4 Committee meetings since the two in 1995. Despite repeated inquiries from us, ASTM and ANSI have not been successful in making the staff-level connections to harmonize the standards, and it appears from our conversations with them that ANSI actually has no interest in the matter. The ANSI standard is thus effectively dead, having been "administratively withdrawn" by ANSI in 1995 without replacing it with the ASTM standard in accordance with the committee vote. The committee members have dropped the issue, since those who are still active in voluntary standards activities are ASTM members and do their standards work there now.

Note Added in 2003

In an article posted on their website on July 16th, 2003, ANSI acknowledged publicly for the first time that their bicycle helmet standards are now the ASTM bike helmet standards, referring to them as ANSI/ASTM standards. A call to ANSI's sales number shortly thereafter produced for the first time an acknowledgment that the ASTM standard was the correct one. The ANSI Z90.4 Committee has been officially disbanded.