Cyclist Head Injuries and Helmet Standards
Following the crashes and head injuries sustained by riders in the Tour this week I am seeing lots of people on the Internet stating that the UCI should get involved in helmet testing standards and even making recommendations against lightweight helmets.
To be clear, the weight of the helmet has absolutely nothing to do with how well it may protect the head in the event of a crash. The heaviest helmet may allow the energy from a crash to be directly transferred to the brain while a light helmet may do better at dissipating the energy from a crash throughout the helmet and do a better job at protecting the brain. Rather than focus on the weight of the helmet we should be looking at how well the helmet can dissipate the force of impact and reduce the amount of energy that is directed at the riders head.
Unfortunately, helmet testing standards are not really focused on measuring the scale at which a helmet does the job at protecting the riders head. Helmet testing is pretty much a straight drop test and the helmet is graded PASS or FAIL. As long as it meets the minimum standard then it is deemed “good enough” to be sold at the consumer level and therefore then mandatory to be used by amateur and professional cyclists in competition.
The current testing standard assumes that the rider is falling straight down on their helmet at zero miles per hour. When was the last time you saw this kind of crash in cycling?
The reality is that the majority of crashes result in an oblique impact to the helmet traveling at speed. This kind of impact can cause rotational head injury which is actually the principle cause of brain injury in motorcycle, motor vehicle and cycling accidents. Phillips Helmets has been researching a solution to this problem for motorcycle helmets by creating a special surface treatment to the exterior of the helmet. You can read about their work here.
MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System, has also been working on this problem but they have been developing a system for the interior of the helmet. You can read about their work here.
For 2012 Lazer Sport will be deploying the first in-mold and the first children’s helmets with MIPS technology. Check out the video regarding MIPS helmet testing here.
I expect that, following the injuries sustained by riders in this year’s Tour de France, rotational head injury among cyclists will receive a lot more attention by the media and by consumers.