Sunday, July 7, 2013

Senseless - Bicycle Helmets - BHSI responds #bikedc

The June 2013 issue of Bicycling magazine with its article Senseless has caused quite a storm.  The subject matter of the article was the safety standards of helmets and whether they do much to protect against concussions.  The author suggested that they do not, but discussed a newer helmet technology MIPS which is suppose to absorb rotational impact.  I saw a MIPS helmet in the store today.  It was bigger and less ventilated.  Was wondering if I would wear such a thing on a hot summer's day. 

WABA's Bike Helmet Safety Institute has responded to the Senseless article:
Bicycling magazine's June 2013 issue had a helmet article titled "Senseless" with a summary: "Bicycle helmets do an outstanding job of keeping our skulls intact in a major crash. But they do almost nothing to prevent concussions and other significant brain injuries--and the very government agency created to protect us is part of the problem. The time has come to demand something safer."

"Almost nothing" to prevent concussion does not reflect reality. Today's helmets do help in concussive impacts, even though they are optimized to protect against traumatic brain injury and death.

We take issue with the primary conclusion of the article. It reads as if MIPS slip-plane technology helmets were the only current helmets that offer any concussion protection. (They have an extra shell inside that can slip about 5mm in an impact.) The last pages are all about MIPS, with only the patent-holder's data to support performance claims. At the end, the author reports that he has bought four MIPS helmets for his own family, a powerful endorsement. He says "You can pretend to protect your brain, or you can spend more money and get closer to actually doing it." In a subsequent radio interview he recommends the Scott brand, although he does not say he has ever seen lab test results for them, apparently based only on the MIPS technology.

Nowhere does the article mention the key flaw in the MIPS argument: in the real world, bicycle helmets are so loosely coupled with the head that a slip-plane inside the helmet structure does not add significant sideways movement in an impact. The helmet moves anyway, unless it is constrained in a lab test. We told the author that, and pointed to it on our Web page, but he chose to ingnore it and quote us and others on less basic points about MIPS as if we thought those minor points were the important ones. That is highly misleading to the reader.
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