The Helmet Update by Email
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.
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 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
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 wizzard Jim Sundahl's letter up.
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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