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Cycle helmets have "major flaws" in safety, insists cyclist airbag firm Hövding (+ video)

Swedish company says European standard should review maximum permitted impact force

Hövding, the Swedish company behind the so-called “airbag for cyclists,” claims that there are “major flaws” in the design of traditional cycle helmets. It has also produced a film to back up its assertion, with the title Cycle Helmet Safety – What the industry doesn’t want you to know.

Cycle helmets sold in the EU are required to meet the EN1078 standard in order to secure the CE marking that shows they comply with it.

Helmets, attached to a dummy head, are dropped from a height of 1.5 metres onto an anvil. The force of the impact to the head must not exceed 250g (the acceleration measured by G force).

But Hövding argues that the upper limit is “alarmingly high and is clearly above the level of force that would cause injury. This means that helmets that meet the current statutory requirement of 250g may still result in serious or even fatal head injuries in a cycle accident,” it says in this video.

The company says that a 2012 test on its airbag – deployed from a collar worn round the neck – demonstrated that it “had over three times as much shock-absorbing capacity as the best traditional cycle helmet,” with the force of impact standing at 60g.

"Hövding is the biggest thing since the emergence of the cycle helmet and, as a milestone, is equivalent to when the airbag was developed for cars", commented the insurer’s head of division traffic safety & environment, Maria Krafft.

“The harmful effects of Folksam's impact test have now been analysed,” says Hövding, although it gives no details of the methodology used.

“They show that, with a traditional cycle helmet in this type of accident, the likelihood of serious head injury is approximately 90% and the risk of a fatal injury is as high as 30%. The use of an airbag cycle helmet in the same accident dramatically reduces the risk of injury. The risk of serious head injury is then only 2% and the risk of a fatal injury almost non-existent.

“The permitted maximum value for cycle helmets is alarmingly high, which means that a rider can still suffer serious head injuries in an accident wearing a helmet that meets the current legal requirement of 250g,” it adds.

Ms Krafft said: “'Best practice' is often chosen as the norm in consumer tests that drive development forward. This means that there is now no reason to maintain the 250 g limit for an approved helmet."

Stig Håkansson, former director of product safety at the Swedish Consumer Agency, added: "I have spent much of my professional life working on product safety at national and international level and I have never seen a cycle helmet that provided anything like the level of protection that the Hövding provides. Naturally I hope it will be used by a lot of people in the future.

Hövding’s insistence that the 250g impact force limit be brought down is likely to be challenged by helmet manufacturers, and some people might suggest that the primary motivation of the company making these claims is to raise the profile of its own product – and sell more of them.

As for the assertion at the beginning of the video that “this is information that has never been communicated before,” the large body of academic research on the subject of the efficacy of cycle helmets, and the debate that surrounds the whole issue, suggests otherwise.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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