Airbag bike helmets may be safer than
conventional foam versions
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[November 03, 2016]
By Ben Gruber
PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Bicycle
helmets that utilize airbag technology instead of conventional hard foam
may offer five times more protection against brain injuries, according
to Stanford University researchers.
These inflatable helmets cannot be sold in the United States due to
current federal regulations.
Two sets of test dummies, one wearing a standard helmet and the other
wearing one that is worn around the neck and inflates like an airbag
when it senses a collision, were dropped from varying heights in a lab
to simulate bicycle accidents.
“It was a big difference,” Stanford University bioengineer David
Bicycle accidents are a leading cause of sports-related head injuries in
the world due to the sheer number of bicyclists.
Conventional helmets, according to Camarillo, are designed to prevent
skull fractures but do not protect well against injuries such as
concussions, which can occur when neurons in the brain stretch due to
impact forces sustained during an accident.
Airbag helmets, which are available for sale in parts of Europe, are
typically successful in protecting the brain from impact force but pose
risks because they can fail to deploy properly.
“You can actually be at more risk of injury compared to a standard
helmet,” said Mehmet Kurk, another member of the research team that
conducted the study.
If the airbag is late to deploy, the amount of pressure may not be
sufficient to keep the head from making contact with the ground.
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“These helmets are going to have failure modes different than
conventional bike helmets, but there could be ways in which they are
much safer,” said Camarillo. “You have to look at the relative
Swedish company Hovding, which makes the airbag helmet in the
Stanford study, said the technology it uses was fully tested and
However, Camarillo said U.S. regulations did not reflect new
research on the dangers of concussions and other brain injuries. The
Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates bicycle helmets,
does not even have a testing method in place for inflatable
versions, he added.
As a result, he does not expect U.S. laws governing bicycle helmets
to change any time soon.
“It would probably take an act of Congress,” he said.
(Reporting by Ben Gruber in Palo Alto; Editing by Melissa Fares and
Lisa Von Ahn)
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