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Is Your Bicycle Helmet Good Enough?

Is your bicycle helmet good enough to provide adequate protection in the event of a fall or an accident? A new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Virginia Tech Helmet Lab reveals that many helmets in use today are not adequate to protect your head in a number of circumstances. The findings of their studies were released earlier this week. The helmet testing was a new type of helmet test. The findings, in some cases, were alarming.Is Your Bicycle Helmet Good Enough -- Altizer Law PC

The number of bicyclist deaths has increased over the last few years from accidents with cars and other vehicles. The number of bicyclist deaths in 2016 (840) was the highest since 1991. In 2015 roughly 81,000 people visited an emergency room due to bicycle-related head injuries. This number does not include people who saw private doctors in non-emergent settings or those who did not see a doctor.

The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab researchers hope that this study (and its continuation) will improve safety for bicyclists and encourage helmet manufacturers to make improvements in their helmets. At this time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires that helmets pass tests striking helmets against an anvil at a particular speed. The requirement in these tests is that helmets prevent head impact at a level that would cause severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a skull fracture.

After extensive analysis of how bicyclists fall in an accident and which part of the helmet comes into contact with the road, these researchers concluded that the CPSC tests do not reproduce the nature of real bicycle accidents, which often occur at the force causing a concussion.

One important improvement in the nature of the tests conducted at Virginia Tech was testing all parts of the surface of each helmet, including the rims (not tested elsewhere). Another important difference in these tests is analyzing, in addition to a perpendicular impact, the effect of an oblique impact, which is more common in real bicycle accidents. In their efforts to authentically reproduce the effects of the impact of the helmet on asphalt, the researchers covered the anvil with sandpaper.

The study also analyzed the benefit of a new technology called a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), which adds a “low-friction layer inside the helmet, allowing the head to slide relative to the helmet.” This layer (slip plane) reduces the “rotational forces that jostle the brain, causing concussions and other injuries.”

The study also revealed that the “urban” style helmets provide less protection than “road helmets” with their “elongated, aerodynamic shape.” Finally, the study revealed that price is not an indicator of the quality of the helmet and the level of protection it provides.

Virginia Tech analysts have evaluated and ranked 20 adult bicycle helmets. The list of helmets and their rankings in the five-star system is available here:

As bicycling continues to grow in popularity, this information could help bicyclists choose helmets that offer better protection for their heads. As the study at Virginia Tech continues and expands to include testing and ranking of road helmets for adults and children’s helmets, it should provide important information that will inform new CPSC requirements and manufacturing standards.

All of us at Altizer Law, P.C., hope this information will help you protect yourself and your loved ones when bicycling.