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Article: BHSI demands CPSC test results

Summary: this 1997 article in BRAIN reported on our efforts to obtain CPSC's lab test results. We failed.

An Article From
Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
June 15, 1997

Helmet Group Demanding CPSC Test Results
BHSI Wants Consumers to Know More About Helmets


ARLINGTON, VA - If a consumer group has its way, soon retailers may be able to sell helmets to consumers based on which models offer the greatest protection.

The Arlington, Virginia, consumer group, Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), is asking the federal government to release results of helmet impact tests it has conducted the last three years.

The tests, done at a Consumer Products Safety Commission (Commission) lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland, were in preparation for a federal bicycle helmet standard.

"They were done with helmets bought with taxpayers money in a lab funded by taxpayers. I don't see why the public shouldn't have that information," said Randy Swart, BHSI's director.

Swart first asked to see the lab results two years ago. A Commission official denied the request, saying the results were proprietary.

On April 14, Swart filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Commission. He wants the Commission to show him the test results, which he will post on BHSI's World Wide website if they are useful to consumers. The site is viewed by about 1,000 people a week.

Swart said he will file a lawsuit if the agency declines to release the information soon. "I hope we don't have to, but if we have to, we will," he said.

The Commission is working on it, according to a letter acknowledging Swart's request. "There may be substantial delays," said Todd Stevenson, the agency's freedom of information officer.

The agency's charter requires it to notify manufacturers before releasing information specific to brands, said Ken Giles, a Commission spokesman.

"That requirement prevents regulation by press release," Giles said. The CPSC will honor manufacturers' requests not to release information on their products only if the manufacturer can show that the information is inaccurate or misleading, Giles said.

Swart said he's uncertain what the data will show. "I don't know how much testing they've done or how useful the information will be. If it is more confusing than useful to the consumer, I won't post it," Swart said.

The data might include impact test results that allows comparison of helmets on a model-by-model and brand-by-brand basis.

Such comparison data is rare. Helmet testing by the Snell Foundation and other groups is pass or fail. Helmets that easily exceed or just barely exceed the standard tests receive the same rating.

"Getting comparison data is why we were founded in 1974. If we had our own lab, you'd see new test results from us every day. We're looking for data wherever we can get it," Swart said.

Swart's group, with the help of the Snell Foundation, compared helmet impact performance by model and published the results 15 years ago in Bicycling magazine. And Consumer Reports publishes comparison tests every few years.

"The Consumer Reports-type of test is what we'd love to see. But we only get it in dribs and drabs from them. This year they tested 10 helmets, and seven of them were from Bell and Giro. There are 50 other brands out there," Swart said.

Copyright 1996 by Miller Freeman, Inc, Santa Fe, New Mexico. All rights reserved. Used with permission.