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CPSC Releases Draft of Final Rule

Summary: BHSI's comments on CPSC's Final Rule for their bicycle helmet standard, published in the Federal Register on March 10, 1998. Most of this was sent out as an email message: The Helmet Update Volume 15, No. 3

In late December the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a draft for its bicycle helmet standard. This draft goes to the Commissioners for final approval in mid-January and if approved unchanged will be the U.S. law for helmets in March, 1999.

Staff is attempting to have this rule approved without an additional comment period despite some changes from the previous draft, issued in December, 1995. The changes are not considered by the legal staff at CPSC to require an additional comment period, although some are significant. None of the changes was unexpected. The standard continues to be quite similar to the Snell B-90 and ASTM standards, and should be met by virtually any well-made helmet on the market today without major modifications.

There were several changes worthy of note in this draft:

1. Children's Helmets.

CPSC is dropping most of the distinctions it had proposed between helmets for children under 5 and helmets for adults. That means upping the acceptable peak g's in impact testing for kid's helmets to the usual 300 instead of the lower 250 that had been proposed. It also means continuing to use adult-weight headforms to test child helmets instead of the proposed change to lighter headforms more representative of child head weight, a change now being made in the ASTM standard. The only difference for toddler helmets retained in the new draft is the requirement for additional head coverage in helmets for children aged 1 to 5 years.

The changes in g level and headform mass are explained by staff in terms of the effects of the requirement on the helmets. Liners would have to be softer to meet the lower g levels. That means that given unchanged technology they would bottom out at lower force levels, unless they were made thicker. CPSC seems to buy the manufacturers' argument that they can't make helmets any thicker or consumers will not accept them, and the implied argument that the technology is not subject to improvement. Some in the injury prevention community have recommended that no changes be made because child helmets are already offering good protection and there is no data to prove that changing the helmets will result in better protection and lower injury rates. The additional coverage which had been required for toddler helmets in the December draft is in line with trends in ASTM standards. These changes could be considered significant, but CPSC has retreated into orthodoxy on this issue and probably does not need a comment period for this one.

Here is an elegant argument from Jim Sundahl of Bell Sports on why CPSC should not have backed off on the change - his field experience indicates that kids need softer foam. We agree.

2. Impacts on the Curbstone Anvil

CPSC has decided that the wicked curbstone anvil should not be used more than once on a given helmet sample, but that a cold, hot, wet and ambient sample should all be impacted once with the curbstone.

Clever lab technicians delight in bashing helmets with this very severe anvil, setting up cracks with the first impact and propagating them with the second to "blow the helmet apart." The test is in fact not representative of real-world crashes. CPSC explains that manufacturers had suggested that only an ambient helmet be impacted with the curbstone, but they believe that a helmet should be able to withstand a single curbstone hit in any condition, so have added three more samples to the testing protocol to permit one curbstone impact on each of the four conditions. The wet sample is probably the most severe, since the water lubricates the anvil and facilitates its penetration. So a second set of four helmets will be tested with a single impact on the curbstone anvil.

CPSC also has clarified the impacting schedule, and has made it clear that it will use any combination of anvils, sites within the test line and conditioning environments to attempt to fail the helmet. The new draft also requires a system accuracy check for the impact test rig. Drop heights remain at 2 meters on the flat anvil and 1.2 meters on the hemispherical and curbstone anvils.

3. Test Rig

CPSC had specified in December that only a monorail guidance system could be used for the drop tests. This provoked strong protests from users of twin-wire guidance systems, who not only represent the majority of the testing community in the U.S. but who almost universally consider the monorail inferior. The Snell Foundation is a leading advocate of twin-wire systems, having used them for production testing for the last decade, and most manufacturers also have twin-wire rigs. This draft permits either rig.

CPSC conducted a "round robin" test, sending test helmets to seven labs and comparing the results. They concluded that only one situation produced a significant difference in data between twin wire and monorail: the now-dropped double-curbstone hit. Their conclusion was that there would not be cross-lab problems due to the differing rigs, so both are to be permitted. We remain skeptical on this score, based on allegations by lab technicians over the years that there are indeed some significant differences in data depending on which rig the test was performed on. In fact, CPSC's study of the testing shows that monorails produce slightly higher g levels, and have a little more variation between labs as well. But CPSC has only a monorail (despite a Snell offer of a free twin-wire rig), so both types of rigs will remain in use for the duration of this standard. One result is that the standard specifies a broader range of permissible variation in test instrument readings on the calibration test, corresponding to a 10 per cent variation between labs.

4. Labeling

CPSC made minor changes in the labeling requirements, including specifying that the word "WARNING" must precede some labels, and eliminating the "Not for Motor Vehicle Use" label.

Eliminating the Not For Motor Vehicle Use label follows current ASTM practice, where helmets are being specified in a positive statement such as "For use in bicycling" rather than in an incomplete list of inappropriate uses.

CPSC has also added a requirement that the labels contain the manufacturer's telephone number, and that the date of manufacture be uncoded to assist in recalls, a significant improvement over coded dates.

5. Reflectivity

Last year CPSC tested helmets at night with and without reflective tape meeting the proposed ASTM helmet reflectivity standard. Under this particular testing protocol, the average distance at which a bicycle was detected as an object or identified as a bicycle was only reduced by 29 feet, from 777 feet to 748 feet. Staff concluded that the reduction was not significant, providing no basis for adding the requirement to the standard. But the study does state "There is also an indication that helmet might be a significant factor, but without further testing this cannot be verified. There is no further information. We fault the study primarily for using subjects who were alert, not fiddling with radios or dialing cell phones, not abusing controlled substances and not drunk. We suspect that few if any of them had eyeglasses that needed changing or windshields that were smeared. And we assume that the cars had two working headlights, two working windshield wipers and well-maintained brakes and steering. As a result, their sample of drivers does not correlate well with the population of drivers who run over cyclists at night. We understand the CPSC action, but hope that subsequent research may show the advantages of reflective materials on helmets that we think are evident at night. We'll bring the keg to condition the drivers!

6. Definition of a Bicycle Helmet

CPSC has made a change in the definition of the bicycle helmet to " any headgear that is either marketed as, or implied through marketing and/or promotional information to be, a device intended to provide protection from head injuries while riding a bicycle."

Although this change was in response to a comment from Bell Sports, concerned that their non-bicycle helmets might have been covered under previous language, we are pleased to see it. We hope that it will assist in addressing our complaints to CPSC about the "toy helmets" turning up now in discount and toy stores which emulate a bike helmet but are almost completely without energy management capabilities. They are labeled as toys, but sometimes are sold in the bicycle section of the store. Under this definition we think the store is guilty of violating the standard if the product is marketed with other bicycle accessories, no matter how it is labeled.

7. Summary

We are pleased that this draft has finally emerged and that the standard could take effect as early as February of 1999. The original drafts were well done, and this one improves on them in most respects. We are disappointed that child helmets will continue to be measured by adult tests, and that the benefits of a reflectivity requirement were not demonstrated by CPSC's tests. We hope that CPSC will not lose sight of the need to revise this standard as new information and new technologies come to light. The draft will be considered by the Commission on January 21st, and voted on by the Commissioners on February 5th. We hope that it will be approved by the Commission in the following two weeks, which would permit it to take effect one year after publication in the Federal Register, making it March of 1999. When it does it will become the law of the land, and failure to meet this bicycle helmet standard may have serious legal consequences,

Here is the CPSC standard

There was a page with the full briefing package in five parts, but it is gone.

See our page of CPSC docs for what we saved from that era.

ASTM Makes Significant Progress in December Meeting

The ASTM headgear committee met in December in San Diego and made progress on improvements or adoption of a number of standards for helmets for bicycling, skateboarding, whitewater, equestrian sports, baseball, skiing and more.

The Helmet Update - Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Randy Swart