Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

The Helmet Update

Volume 22, #3p - June, 2004

All issues index

Our Last Paper Update!

This will be our last Update on paper. Our website reached 372,000 users last year, and is increasing each year. Paper is no longer an efficient means of getting out the word. If you want to continue to receive our more-frequent but shorter email Updates, please send an email to info@helmets.org. If you have no access to email, send us your postal address and we will send you paper copies of the emails. If you need info from our web page and do not have web access, we can mail you pages on paper, CD or disk.

Safe Kids Survey Results

The injury prevention community has been concerned for years that there were no accurate surveys of helmet use. Last year the National Safe Kids Campaign developed a survey to be carried out by its local organizations across the US. We participated in the advisory panel for the study. The preliminary results include these key findings: Only 41 per cent of the kids 5 to 14 at surveyed sites were wearing helmets, although the sites chosen had a bias for higher than normal rates.

Even at sites where helmets were required, only 52 per cent wore them.

At sites where wheels are used for transportation, only 38 per cent wore helmets.

More than a third of the kids wearing helmets obviously did not have them fitted correctly.

The effect of laws was not well evaluated. Although sites with state-level helmet laws had only 45 per cent wearing helmets and sites without state level laws had 39 per cent, the study did not take into account whether or not there was a local ordinance.

You can find the whole study on the Safe Kids website.

The State of Utah has also published this ten year study of helmet wearing rates, showing that helmet use overall increased from 4.6% to 19.9%. Elementary school children wore helmets on 24% of school trips and 14% of neighborhood rides. About a third of the helmets were obviously not fitted correctly.


Helmets for 2004

Condensed from our long web page on Helmets for 2004.

In contrast to previous years, there are some new helmets this year that are worth looking at if you are inclined to replace yours. The comments below identify some actual advances in helmetry, and some helmets at lower price levels with improved features.

At the high end, you still find big vents and bigger prices, with no verifiable improvement in safety performance. Giro is the price king for ordinary road helmets, with Lance Armstrong's helmet at $225. Target has a helmet that meets the same CPSC standard for $8.99 every day. There is no publicly available lab test data for either one.

There are at least three new promising impact foams in this year's helmets, including an improved multi-impact EPP in the Pro-Tec skate line, and a new type of foam called Tau ReUp foam to be used by Shain of Italy that encapsulates EPS beads in EPU to provide a limited level of multi-impact protection. The Shain helmet is not here yet. A third unusual high performance foam that has finally been certified in some sizes for both bicycle and multi-impact skateboard use is the Zorbium foam described in our writeup on W Helmets.

We recommend looking for a helmet that (1) meets the CPSC standard or ASTM 1492 for skateboarding, (2) fits you well, (3) has a rounded, smooth exterior with no snag points, and (4) has no more vents than you need. We recommend checking the Consumer Reports July 2004 article (see below) for brand and model recommendations.

Most "skateboard" helmets now on the market are in fact bicycle helmets in the classic skate style. They are fine for bike riding, as long as they have a sticker inside certifying that they meet the CPSC standard. If you need a multi-impact helmet for aggressive, trick, extreme skating or skateboarding with daily crashes, look for a true multi-impact skate model that has a sticker inside saying it meets ASTM F1492. Beware of some inferior models still available in skate shops that only meet a European EN standard. The CPSC regulation covers only bicycle helmets, and there is no law that says a skate helmet has to meet any standard whatsoever. Fortunately the selection of dual-standard skate/bike helmets is expanding for the 2004 season. The biggest news for skateboarders is the revamping of the Pro Tec line for 2004 with a new foam that is a vast improvement over most older Pro Tec designs.

Outside the US, the basic features to look for are the same. Unless there is a CPSC sticker in the helmet, you will probably find one that attests to the helmet meeting one of the numerous national standards or the European standard. That often applies to even major US brands, who produce less protective models for the European market to make them thinner and lighter and be competitive there.

We did not find innovations in emerging electronic and wireless technologies for bicycle helmets. There are no rear-facing cameras and heads-up displays to replace mirrors, no Bluetooth wireless headsets in this year's helmets. The efforts to build in lights to date have been mostly pathetic, although there are a few helmets with LED flashers built into the rear and you can always add an external flasher with a hook-and-loop mount. Designs for Women are still mostly a sham, differing only in colors and graphics.

Interesting new models include: Our web page has much more detail, of course, at: www.helmets.org/helmet04.htm

Consumer Reports Article

Consumer Reports has an article on helmets in their July issue, rating 15 adult helmets, eight youth models and six toddler helmets. That is a small cross-section of the hundreds of models on the market, but represents the only independent lab test data publicly available.

Among the adult helmets, Consumers Union picked the Louis Garneau Zen as a Best Buy, awarding it a Very Good in impact protection and Excellent for other characteristics. The Trek Interval and the Specialized Telluride rated Very Good, but the latter is not recommended because the buckles on some samples failed (see our comment below). The Bell Influx was similarly not recommended. All other adult helmets were Good, with only the Bell Scuffle scoring lower in the Fair category for impact protection.

Among youth helmets, the Specialized Air Wave Mega was the only helmet in this study found Excellent for impact protection. The Louis Garneau Grunge 2-V, Bell Amigo and Schwinn Thrasher were all Very Good. In toddler sizes, the Bell Boomerang was Very Good for impact and highly recommended, while the Fisher-Price Toddler (Bell Belino) model was rated only Fair. The Trek Little Dipper was not recommended due to buckle failures.

Most of the helmets tested scored Excellent in retention effectiveness. But remember that in the lab the helmets are adjusted carefully by experts, and there is no test for loosening over time by "strap creep."

The only helmet CU tested this time that met both skateboard and bicycle helmet standards was the Ripper2 by W Helmets. The article does not note, however, that W Helmets does not certify the large size of the Ripper2 for bicycle use. (That size is now discontinued.) CU also mentions the adult models corresponding to the youth helmets they tested, but there is no indication they tested the adult sizes, and the results might be different, as they apparently are for the Ripper2.

The Consumer Reports lab continues to break buckles as they did in 1997, but both they and the helmet manufacturers don't seem to know why, since the same buckles pass on other models. Lab technique could be at fault. But there are differences in strap materials, anchoring or strap routing, shells and helmet foam density that could account for the problem if they produce a more rigid structure that gives less and increases the sharpness of the test jerk. You may want to steer away from the three models as CU recommends, since there are lots of other good ones available. We would be more concerned about the Fair impact performance of the Bell Scuffle, and see no excuse for buying that one.

We were disappointed that some really interesting helmets were not rated. That includes the Bell Metro, a round and smooth new helmet, and others, particularly the lower-priced models found at discounters, where most parents buy child helmets. Some are listed in the article above. But testing is expensive, and no single lab, including the US Government, can afford to test every helmet on the market.

You can read the article in the July issue of Consumer Reports, available at news stands for several weeks and thereafter in your local library or for a fee on the Consumer's Union website.


BHSI has adjusted to the Web World since we put up a website in 1995 by tapering off this paper Update and devoting most of our media time to the web page. The number of users connecting for information has grown each year, reaching 372,000 in 2003 and perhaps topping a half million this year. That represents "pull" technology, with visitors who come to our page looking for our information. Before the web we had never hoped to reach so many people. We still send some products on paper, primarily our free Toolkit for Helmet Promotion Programs, and sends a lot of information to teachers. Our email newsletter provides more timely helmet news than we can send you on paper.

BHSI's Director, Randy Swart, is still the First VP of the ASTM F8.53 Headgear subcommittee, providing admin support for the group as well as co-chairing the technical meeting that precedes the Subcommittee meetings. We conduct radio interviews, brief the media, advise researchers and a lot more. If you have no web access you can call, write or email us for web pages on paper, CD or disk. As always, we are supported by consumer donations and do not accept funding from the helmet industry.

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA
Phone: 703-486-0100