Viginia Tech Debuts Helmet Ratings

A day after we lamented the lack of objective helmet ratings, Virginia Tech publishes them.

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PELOTON’s story yesterday lamented the fact that there was no way to determine which helmet is the safest, or even a simple, objective rating system to help riders choose safer helmets, despite the eminently quantifiable testing available. That all changed today. Virginia Tech and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety launched the first ever third party rating system for helmet safety.

PELOTON/Images courtesy: IIHS

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury,” says Steve Rowson, director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab and an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics. “We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements.”

30 helmets have been tested so far, from popular brands like Bontrager, Specialized, Gior, Bell, etc . . . A possible five stars can be earned. Five stars is considered: Best Available, while zero stars would be considered: Not Recommended. Out of the thirty tested, none scored zero or just one star.

The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab goes beyond the CPSC test required for certification, since it is simply a drop test designed to ensure a helmet will limit skull fracture. The CPSC requires no testing to limit lower force impacts that can create concussions and long term brain injury. The standard also excludes oblique impacts, the kind that result in rotational forces and can cause significant brain injury. It’s these type of impacts MIPS is trying to reduce, and perhaps not surprisingly, all helmets rated five stars were MIPS equipped.

Virginia Tech completes drop tests, but tests in more areas, including the rim of the helmet where many impacts take place and the CPSC standard ignores. They also test oblique impacts with 80grit sand paper replicating asphalt. A total of six locations are tested using head forms fitted with sensors to measure linear acceleration and rotational velocity, and the risk of concussion is estimated from those measurements. This protocol was created with input from the IIHS. The helmet rating system represents how effectively that model reduces overall injury risk.

Trends are already appearing with these first 30 helmet tests. Road style helmets with elongated tails perform better than round urban style or commuting helmets. The lab will continue to test more helmets and update its resource with those results.

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries,” says David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS and a frequent bike commuter.

A total of 835 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2016. That is the highest number of bicyclist deaths since 1991. More than half of those killed in 2016 weren’t wearing helmets. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of a head injury by 50 percent according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For the first time, there appears to be an objective, third party completing detailed testing that truly reflects real world scenarios and publishing those results for all to see.

The first 30 ratings are below. For more info from Virginia Tech and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety go here:

Five Stars: Best Available

Bontrager Ballista MIPS
Garneau Raid MIPS
Bell Stratus MIPS
Specialized Chamonix MIPS

Four Stars: Very Good
Scott ARX Plus MIPS
Bontrager Quantum MIPS
Specialized Prevail II
Smith Overtake
Giro Savant
Bell Draft MIPS
POC Octal
Giro Foray MIPS
Giro Synthe
Giro Sutton MIPS
Specialized Evade II
Garneau Le Tour II

Three Stars: Good
Triple 8 Dual Certified MIPS
Bell Reflex
Bontrager Solstice
Bern Brentwood
Bell Division
Schwinn Thrasher
Giro Revel
Schwinn Flash
Kali City
Nutcase Street
Specialized Centro
Bontrager Electra

Two Stars: Adequate
Lazer Genesis
Bern Watts

None of the 30 helmets were rated 1 or zero stars.

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