Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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1998's Big Bike Helmet News: CPSC Approves Standard!

Summary: The Consumer Product Safety Commission adopted its bicycle helmet standard on February 5, 1998. This welcome advance for consumers raised the minimum legal level of quality of all bicycle helmets in the U.S. market to be approximately equal to the current ASTM standard and Snell B-90S. The standard took effect in March, 1999, but manufacturers began certifying to it immediately.

Most of this message was sent as the BHSI Helmet Update by email on February 5, 1998.


The Consumer Product Safety Commission met on January 21, 1998, and was briefed by staff on the final draft of their bicycle helmet standard. It was evident during that meeting that the approval of the standard would be a formality. It has been several years in the making, and extensive public comment had been taken on earlier occasions. Despite a last-minute letter from Bell Sports' engineer Jim Sundahl asking that the special provisions for testing child helmets be restored as they had been in the previous draft, the draft as written by CPSC engineer Scott Heh and others was approved unchanged.


CPSC had already put into place an Interim Rule requiring that all bicycle helmets sold in the U.S. be certified to one of seven voluntary standards from ASTM, Snell, Canada's CSA, Australia's SA or to the defunct ANSI standard. This action made it unlawful after March, 1999, to sell a helmet in the U.S. that did not meet one of those standards. In effect, this mandated helmets that could meet a lab test drop of 2 meters, rather than the old ANSI 1 meter drop. The new CPSC rule also requires slightly more coverage than the ASTM standard to which most helmets here were being certified. It also limits projections on helmet shells to 7 mm, a provision left out of the ASTM standard. Virtually any well-made helmet on the market should already meet this standard without major modifications except those with very large projections or points jutting out from the shell. Violations of the CPSC standard will subject manufacturers to mandatory recalls, fines and civil and criminal penalties--you can go to jail for selling a shoddy helmet in the US market.

Today's Meeting

Today's meeting was a media event. The three commissioners voted unanimously for the new standard as drafted. Chairman Ann Brown introduced Gail and Joseph Friedman from Michigan, who had lost a daughter in a bike crash, and said she was dedicating her vote to them. (Earlier in the morning they had appeared on Good Morning America together.) As the cameras rolled, Chairman Brown hailed the event as "a victory for consumers and a testament to common-sense government." Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall added thanks to the voluntary standards community, noting that the CPSC rule does not diminish in any way the work and successes of voluntary standards over many years. (This was probably intended to be reassuring to ASTM and others after the Commissioners have said repeatedly that the standard will "replace the alphabet soup" of current voluntary standards.) Ann Brown thanked the staff, lavishing praise on project manager Scott Heh for his diligence, determination, brilliant work and a superb job. Heh's career at CPSC has flourished since.

Next Steps

The standard must be published in the Federal Register to begin the one year countdown until it is final. That occurred during March. In the meantime, manufacturers began certifying to the CPSC standard immediately as one of the standards permitted under the Interim Rule.

CPSC is aware that they will have to update this standard periodically to keep it in step with industry changes and new information from the injury prevention community. One obvious area for potential change may be the child helmet provisions, where CSA was already pointing the way to child-specific lab tests with lighter headforms and a lower threshold of g's permitted. The initiative to add a requirement for reflective material on helmets is essentially dead until new research shows it to be effective in reducing nighttime injuries, but in a conversation after the meeting Ann Brown said with considerable conviction that she is still determined to take action to do something about the extra danger of riding a bicycle at night. The Commission staff indicated that their next research project would be devoted to testing active lighting for that purpose as opposed to reflectors, but nothing came of the effort.


Our web page has a copy of the draft standard, which has now been replaced with the final standard published in 1999. We have other stuff up as well on the CPSC standard on our standards page. We produced a paper version of our Helmet Update newsletter bringing together the email messages, and sent it to many of our email recipients. BHSI no longer publishes newsletters on paper.