Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
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Our 1995 Comments to CPSC
on their draft standard

Summary: Mostly for historic interest, these are the comments BHSI sent to the Consumer Product Safety Commission on the first draft of their bicycle helmet standard.

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204

March 1, 1995

Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Washington, DC 20207

Re: Proposed Rule: Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets

Dear Sir or Madam:

We are pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the proposed Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets published in the Federal Register of August 15, 1994.

We are impressed with the draft standard, including its specifications for testing, its requirements for performance and the quality of its drafting. The drafters have sought out the best provisions of several standards, and have improved on all of them in some respect. The document provides a good standard for today and a basis for future improvement as technology and industry capabilities permit.

We would particularly like to commend CPSC on the coverage or test area provisions of this standard. For adults, the test line in the rear is slightly lower than ASTM, but higher than Snell's 1995 standard. A recent Technisearch study showed that many rear impacts fall below the test lines of current standards. This provision will not result in major redesign problems for the industry. Although some current helmets must be modified to increase their coverage, most helmet models have a half-life of only a year or two, and retooling to meet this standard before it becomes final should be commercially painless. The helmets will in our estimation be just as acceptable to consumers. We urge you to keep this provision intact. We also urge you to remove the section providing coding of label information on dates and names of foreign manufacturers. This information is needed by consumers and permitting it to be coded is inconsistent with your role as a consumer agency.

We are appending detailed comments to this letter.

Thank you for your efforts to provide protection for consumers.

Sincerely yours,

Randy Swart

BHSI Comments (cont.)


As we calculate the test line defining the limits of the area to be tested, the CPSC proposed rule would compare to other standards as follows for helmets tested on the medium size ISO J headform:

   Standard                Distance in mm of test line 
                            above the Basic Plane

                           Front                Rear 

   ANSI                      85                  35 

   ASTM (Current)           110                  85

   ASTM (Proposed)           85                  65

   CPSC draft                85                  50

   Snell B 1990              75                  75

   Snell B 1995              53                  33

   Snell N 1994              53                  13

The chart shows that the proposed CPSC test line will be well above that for the 1984 ASTM standard and Snell's 1994 multipurpose standard. It will be above that specified in Snell's 1995 bicycle helmet standard as well. But it will be below the test lines for the ASTM standard and for Snell's current 1994 bicycle helmet standard.

Virtually every helmet on the market today has a sticker in it stating that the manufacturer certifies that the helmet passes the ANSI standard. That standard tests down to a level only 35 mm above the basic plane for this size helmet. CPSC's specification should therefore not be a major design problem even though the CPSC test drops are at higher energy levels than the ANSI standard.


It is important for cyclists to be seen by other road users. For that reason all helmets should have bright outside colors for daytime conspicuity and reflective surfaces for nighttime. There is no excuse for black, purple or camouflage helmet covers, but all have been used by manufacturers, and 1995 helmet lines are dominated by dark colors. New Zealand's bicycle helmet standard actually requires a brightly colored outer cover.

Reflective trim adds only about 24 cents to the manufacturer's cost per helmet, translating to perhaps 50 cents at the consumer level. As helmet prices drop, this appears more and more reasonable. The need for regulation here is evident. Consumers find it difficult to judge which trim is reflective and which is not in a normally lit store. We have received helmets in boxes which proclaimed reflective trim, but which did not in fact have reflective trim. Further, among the 1995 lines are helmets using a silver tape which mimics silver reflective trim but is not reflective. Consumers can be misled into thinking that they are more visible than they actually are after dark.

We urge you to consider adding requirements to the CPSC standard for both daytime and nighttime conspicuity.

Point Loading Test

There is no test in the current draft which requires that the helmet should prevent localized loads or point loads from exceeding a given level. Although this is not a factor when testing with a magnesium headform, which of course bridges any local differences in foam density, a high point load could potentially cause a human skull to deflect and do unnecessary damage. At least two manufacturers are now producing helmets with extra-hard foam around the vents in order to open up larger vents. Although injury data will never be available at a level of detail which could distinguish these few helmets' performance in skull injuries, we believe that harder, more dense foam should generally be discouraged. Australia's bicycle helmet standard has a test for point loading. We urge the Commission to examine that test and consider adding a point load test to the CPSC standard.

Hair Oil Test

It is not reasonable to sell a helmet which can be damaged by oil or other preparations which consumers normally use on their hair. The provisions of section 1203.5(d) provide a well worded statement of intent, but an actual test would be better. Japan has a provision in its standard for a hair oil test. We recommend that the Commission explore this question further. We also recommend removing the reference in section 1203.6(a)(4) where hair tonic is listed among the examples of substances a manufacturer might warn consumers about as a possible damager of helmets. If hair tonic could damage the helmet, it is clearly not in compliance with section 1203.5(d).

Test Schedule

As written, the draft provides that retention systems are tested prior to impact tests. This is not a realistic schedule, since the worst bicycle crashes involve one impact with a car and a second impact with the street. If the helmet disintegrates in the first crash and the retention system fails, the rider will be bare-headed for the second impact.

We recommend that the Commission consider at least one impact test per sample prior to testing the retention system. This will force manufacturers to reinforce their helmets to insure that they do not fly apart in a first impact.

Impact attenuation

Although the draft uses the standard formula of 300 g peak acceleration for the pass/fail impact testing, there is considerable support among the testing and injury prevention community that 300 g's in a test lab is not an adequate threshold to prevent some real-world injuries. Testing by Consumer Reports has shown that at least some helmets on the market can achieve peak acceleration readings of less than 200 g's with the crash energy of the test set at the CPSC-specified level. We think the Commission should consider specifying a lower threshold on the order of 250 g's for at least the flat anvil tests. The difficult part is find a scientific justification for 250 vs. some other number.

Visors, Mirrors and other Appendages

The draft has strong and appropriate language for testing of visors and mirrors, providing that all helmets must pass the tests with and without any accessories. But there may be a need to specify other tests for such parameters as easy peel-off in the event of a crash, and shatter resistance of visors. The Australian standard has provisions for some of these tests, and the Snell motorcycle standard has a shatter test for visors.


The provisions of 1203.34(6)(c) permitting coding of information on helmet labels are shocking in a document produced by a consumer protection agency. The draft permits the coding of the name of a foreign manufacturer, but not the name of a U.S. manufacturer. This is apparently to hide from the consumer the true name of the foreign manufacturer, and we can find no valid reason for it. The product lot and date of manufacture can also be coded. This denies the consumer important information about how old their helmet is, even though manufacturers commonly recommend replacing a helmet after five years, and the consumer will usually not be able to remember when they bought the helmet. Coding this information would also prevent a consumer from identifying a recalled helmet by the date. Much information on recalls is passed verbally, and a rider or bicycle shop owner who sees someone wearing a potentially recalled helmet will not be able to remember a coded lot number to identify which lots were recalled. They are more likely to remember that all helmets of that model manufactured in 1996 have been recalled. There is no excuse for this provision, we are dismayed to find it in the draft, and we urge that the Commission delete it entirely.


Apart from the comments above we believe that this draft provides the basis for a fine standard which will meet consumers' expectations that the U.S. Government will not permit sale of a defective or inadequate safety appliance.

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