Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
The Helmet Update by Email
Volume 24, #2 - March 29, 2006
Which Helmet for Which Activity
Summary: CPSC has issued a new guide titled Which Helmet for Which Activity. We welcome it, and think it will be very useful, with a few reservations.
CPSC Issues "Which Helmet for Which Activity" Guide
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has just announced a new pamphlet titled "Which Helmet for Which Activity." It is a welcome and useful guide covering a broad range of helmets.
The Guide has a chart recommending helmet types for various sports. It should help answer some questions about the appropriate helmet for different activities. But we found some small problems.
For all types of bicycling the CPSC standard is listed in addition to ASTM and Snell standards, since it is required by law. But that indicates to the reader that although the ASTM Downhill Mountain Bike Racing, ASTM BMX standard and Snell standards have more severe and more extensive tests than the CPSC standard based on an expectation of different and more severe impacts, the Commission considers regular bicycle helmets to be adequate. We do not, and continue to recommend BMX helmets meeting ASTM F2032 for BMX racing, and downhill mountain bike helmets meeting ASTM F 1952 for downhill racing. The CPSC standard has no test for chinbars, for example, and both types of helmets usually have one. You probably don't want to enter a downhill mountain bike race in Lance Armstrong's road helmet.
CPSC breaks new ground in recommending helmets meeting their standard for "low speed, motor assisted" bicycling and scooters. There is no definition of low speed, so most users will consider a CPSC bicycle helmet adequate for any motorized bike or scooter. Some vehicles in that class have oversized motors and can achieve 30 mph on a flat road, so we would recommend a DOT motorcycle helmet instead. Note that the text of the pamphlet does not agree with the chart in this respect.
For the most part the CPSC recommendation for each sport is the helmet designed for that sport, as expected. A surprise was the recommendation of bicycle helmets for ice skating and sledding. This is a reasonable recommendation and it will be helpful to those who are timid about the possible legal consequences of such a recommendation to have it come officially from the US Government. Another surprise was lumping CEN snow sport helmets with ASTM F2040 snow sport helmets. The CEN tests are much less demanding.
For motorized sports the Commission recommends helmets meeting the DOT standard or one of the Snell standards. Again there is no indication that the Snell testing is considerably more demanding in every case.
CPSC's press release has a very informative chart with 2004 estimates for head injuries in bicycling, skating, scooters, skateboarding, horseback riding, snowboarding, football, ice hockey, baseball and lacrosse. The footnotes explain that the term "head injuries" includes injuries to head, ears, mouth, eyes, and face. Some types of helmets do not attempt to protect those parts, of course.
This is a pamphlet worthy of distribution to a wide audience looking for helmet compatibility information. We have added a sample of it to our Toolkit for Helmet Promotion Programs.
The guide itself is available on the Web as a .pdf file.
This page was revised or reformatted on: February 24, 2019.