Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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WABA Helmet Committee

The WABA Helmet Update

Vol. 1, No. 1 - May, 1983

Our First Issue


Bicycle helmets don't have the glamour of alloy frames, derailleurs, and all the other things bikers enthuse over. But they are deadly serious. Without one, you are always in danger; with one, you stand a good chance of surviving even a bad crash.

This newsletter intends to keep the bicycling community informed of the developments of better bicycle helmets and to spread the word about what various groups are doing for better helmets. By keeping this subject fresh in your minds, we hope to speed the day when every bicyclist wears a safe helmet.

A Little History

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), the non-profit sponsor of this newsletter, has been involved with the study of bicycle helmets for nine years. We published a study in 1979 of the comfort of various helmet models. But we knew that comfort was only a minor factor compared to crash-worthiness. So in 1981 we embarked on a safety study in conjunction with the Snell Memorial Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization which has pioneered better helmets for racing car drivers, motorcyclists, and others. The results of that study were published in the March, 1983 issue of "Bicycling" magazine, and they are summarized in a free pamphlet we prepared, a copy of which is enclosed with this newsletter. The "Bicycling" article generated a great deal of interest in the media; it was reviewed in "USA Today, " and locally in the "Washington Post" and on several television and radio programs.

New Tests Coming

The work of the helmet study is not finished. It won't be finished until every bicyclist, adult or child; tourist, racer, or commuter, is wearing a helmet; and a safe one. New helmets are constantly coming on the market; we plan to test every new helmet marketed. Even now we are testing a helmet made by the Land Tool Company, and we are in the process of acquiring a new helmet made by American Sports Co. ; a new French model; and a new Brancale model. If you are aware of any other helmets we should test, please notify us of them and if possible send us a sample. We will report the results of our tests here and elsewhere. We are equally interested in any testing others may be under-taking and would want to share in these pages.

Spreading the Word

Just as important as ongoing testing is bringing the results to the bicycling community, so that all cyclists will know how important it is to wear a helmet, and which helmets are safest. This newsletter is one step towards promoting dialogue and keeping the subject in front of bikers; another is an active lecture campaign. We are available to give presentations or seminars at bicycling events about our tests, and about helmets in general. Randy Swart of WABA is already planning to give presentations at the Gear Up and Gear South rallies, which should keep the pot boiling in our area. We welcome invitations to speak at other meetings. We also hope to provide background information for interested individuals in other areas to assist them in making similar presentations at bike rallies, club meetings, or other programs.


Ultimately, the way to improve bicycle helmets design will have to be to establish standards. When standards become established and bicycle helmets are marked with the fact that they meet the standard, a helmet buyer will be able to judge very quickly what he is buying. Unsafe helmets, which cannot meet the standard, will lose sales; safe helmets will take over the market, and helmets will begin to gain credibility. One standard that is slowly working its way towards approval is the ANSI Z90. 2 standard. The draft standard is currently circulating among manufacturers and ANSI Z90 committee members; but when it will be promulgated, and how much effect it will have is still to be determined. WABA is today the only bicycling group represented on the Z90 committee. Any other bicycling group with a strong interest in helmet safety should apply for membership by writing to Dr. George Snively; Chairman, ANSI Z90 Committee; c/o Snell Memorial Foundation; 761 Laurel Drive; Sacramento CA 95825. A very small contribution to the committee's expenses is expected.

More On Standards

While the Z90 committee patiently works on its standard, there is already one American bicycle helmet standard in existence: the Snell Standard for Protective Headgear, 1970. This voluntary standard has languished in obscurity for over a decade; no helmet was certified in all that time as meeting the standard. But suddenly in the past few months three different helmet models have received certification from Snell. The three include: a modified version of the Fury which we reported on in our "Bicycling" article; the Bell BMX; and a French model, the GPA. These are the first hopeful signs that standards may become established for bicycle helmets.

Velodrome Requires Helmets

The Lehigh County Velodrome in Emmaus, PA, is leading the way in safety for bicycle racers. The Velodrome has adopted a policy requiring all entrants in its events to wear a helmet judged acceptable in the WABA/Snell study published in "Bicycling". Shouldn't all racers be similarly protected?

Children's Helmet Study

WABA is gearing up for a special study of children's helmets. The newest members of the helmet committee of WABA, Robin and John Spiegel, will collect the helmets, test them for comfort, and then have them tested in the laboratory for crash-worthiness. If any of our readers have special information about children's helmets, please send it to Robin and John care of WABA; 1332 I St., NW; Washington DC 20005.

The Mary Gaffney Fund

This newsletter is sponsored by WABA, but it is paid for out of the Mary Gaffney Fund, a special fund within WABA to promote bicycle safety, particularly helmet safety. The fund is named after a young woman whose tragic death in a bicycle accident might have been prevented by a safe helmet. We solicit your support for this fund, and for this newsletter. Please make checks payable to "Mary Gaffney Memorial Fund" and send them to WABA (1983 WABA address, now obsolete)

Cards And Letters

We will issue this newsletter from time to time as required. The development of safe helmets moves very slowly, but there is activity all the time. We will keep you informed of all the activity we are aware of; but we'll need every reader's help to cover the subject. Please send in any items about helmets, whether articles from bicycle club newsletters, clippings from the press, or information about new helmet models, to the editor of this newsletter, Tom Balderston. The address is:

The WABA Helmet Update
Washington Area Bicyclist Association
(WABA's 1983 address)

In addition to your news items, we would like to hear your comments about this newsletter and your questions about any aspect of bicycle helmets.

Subscription List

We are sending this first issue to a mailing list of individuals and organizations we have come in contact with during our past studies. If you want to receive regular issues, please drop us a note. And if you know of anyone you think we may be missing who is interested in the subject, let us know about them so that we can add their name to our mailings.

The WABA Helmet Update
Randy Swart, Editor