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Volume 16, Issue 1e - January 21, 1998
Previous Issue: January 2,1998

CPSC Briefed on Draft Standard


The staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission briefed the three Commissioners today on the final draft of the CPSC bicycle helmet standard. This standard will become U.S. law one year after publication in the Federal Register. The Commission will take its vote on February 5th.

The Briefing

Scott Heh, CPSC's principal staffer on helmets, conducted the briefing, covering the background, provisions of the proposed rule, changes from the earlier drafts, comments received and staff recommendations. He did a competent job, and the Commissioners asked good questions that brought out additional points, indicating a lot of prior orchestration. The only thing disconcerting to us about the presentation was a series of comments on how the CPSC standard would "replace the current alphabet soup of standards with one uniform standard." Normally CPSC avoids replacing voluntary standards. We think they were referring to the Interim Rule that Congress required them to issue, which approved seven voluntary standards for use until this one is final. In this case, the ASTM and Snell standards will probably continue to be used, particularly the ASTM infant-toddler standard which will designate what we consider to be a better child helmet than CPSC's does.

CPSC's main unresolved issue relates to children's helmets. Earlier drafts had special provisions for infant-toddler helmets to lower the acceptable g's in the lab crashes to 250 and lower the weight of the smallest-sized headforms. Those provisions have been eliminated in this draft, and child helmets will be tested using a small headform weighted the same as the larger adult sizes (5 kg) and testing to the 300 g standard used for adult helmets. Those in the standards community--including us--who believe that the foam in infant helmets is too stiff at present are not pleased with this retreat. Bell had Jim Sundahl send a letter on the subject, which was faxed to Scott Heh last night. The Commissioners had seen the letter. Heh promised them a memo with his analysis before they have to vote on the standard.

The most significant new development at this meeting was the first public announcement, made by a representative of the General Counsel's office, that CPSC can amend this standard under the same administrative rules as those under which it was adopted. Congress had specified in the legislation that directed CPSC to adopt the standard that it was not to be done under the normal CPSC constraints requiring a finding of no interference with voluntary standards, a finding of no economic hardship, an environmental impact finding and other lengthy process steps. But it was not clear until today that the standard can be updated with the same streamlined procedures, and that was welcome news to those who understand how helmet standards are evolving.

The CPSC staff has already drafted the Federal Register notice that will begin the one year wait for the standard to take effect. To permit manufacturers to begin certifying to the CPSC standard immediately they are adding it to the seven standards (ASTM, ANSI, Snell, etc--the Alphabet Soup) already approved as interim standards. So you should begin seeing CPSC stickers in helmets from the quicker companies with the better helmets that already meet the standard very shortly. When it takes effect the standard will become the law of the land, and failure to meet it may have serious legal consequences,

There was no public comment allowed at the end of this meeting, which is most unusual for CPSC. We took that as an indication that the Commission did not want to get into the technical issues posed by the Bell letter. At the end of the meeting Chairman Ann Brown announced that the Commissioners would meet on January 28th to vote. (The next week the meeting was postponed until February 5th.) She and the other Commissioners were very complimentary to Scott Heh and the staff for a job well done. With that sort of approval we would expect them to approve Scott's draft unchanged.

We have a full copy of the draft standard and other materials from today's briefing package up and our analysis of it. We also have testlab wizard Jim Sundahl's letter up. NEXT We will report again when the Commission meets on February 5th, hopefully with the expected date of publication in the Federal Register that starts the clock ticking.

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