Unsafe bike helmets still for sale in B.C.

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      Spring is the time for fair-weather cyclists to tune up their bikes. Although B.C. is home to mandatory helmet use, the protective headgear that’s for sale on store shelves may not be as safe as it appears, according to a local advocate for safety in sports.

      Richard Kinar says that bike helmets don’t have to meet any crash-test standards and could even contribute to injury or death. “As we are encouraging the use of small-wheeled vehicles on public roadways, these unsafe helmets are putting those at risk that choose to wear a helmet,” Kinar says in a phone interview. “It also will put an added burden on taxpayers that have to pay health-care costs or death benefits as a result of these unsafe helmets being used on public roadways.”

      Kinar, a former board member of the Brain Injury Association of Canada, won the Dr. Tom Pashby Safety Fund Award in 2009 for his contributions to the prevention of injuries in sports and recreation. He says that although helmets for sale in Canada may have a sticker on them indicating that they’ve met certain safety standards, those labels are falsely reassuring.

      Only ice-hockey helmets are required by federal law to meet requirements set by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), a not-for-profit membership-based association. By contrast, all helmets sold in the U.S. have to meet a legislated standard that was developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 1999.

      In B.C., the Motor Vehicle Act states that bicycle helmets must meet one of several standards or specifications, such as those of the CSA. However, although the CSA developed standards in the late 1990s, their use waned because of free trade. (It was widely believed that having a federally regulated standard would affect the importing of helmets and yield higher helmet costs for consumers.) Consequently, many of the bike-helmet manufacturers that sell gear in Canada follow the CPSC standards from 1999 or those of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). However, Kinar notes that the ASTM is a standards-making body and doesn’t, in fact, test or certify helmets.

      “It is very difficult to talk about a national head-injury-prevention strategy for youth in sport without CSA crash-test standards for all sport helmets that are sold in Canada,” Kinar says. “We’re perpetuating this myth that standards do exist where they don’t. It’s buyer beware in Canada.”

      The other major safety concern is that the standards that do exist have not been revised in at least 15 years—despite significant advances in the understanding of concussions and brain injury.

      Concussions are a serious problem when it comes to bicycle crashes. The number of cycling-related concussions in the United States increased by 67 percent from 1997 to 2011, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a yearly sampling of hospital emergency rooms conducted by the CPSC. According to a 1996 study, more than half of U.S. cyclists who sustained concussions were wearing a helmet.

      Ron Wilson, chair of the Doctors of B.C.’s athletics and recreation committee, agrees that the standards are outdated.

      “The vast majority of the standards were set in the 1990s, and we know much more about concussions now than we did then,” Wilson says in a phone interview. “The standards have not been updated, and we need to address those.…In the U.S., work is being done on football helmets because of concussions, but it hasn’t migrated to bike helmets yet.”

      Wilson says that although uniform safety standards are one area of concern, another, even greater, one is the fact that so many cyclists don’t know how to wear helmets properly.

      “If people had information on proper awareness of and use of helmets, we’d be much further ahead,” Wilson says. “I do believe wearing helmets does save lives.…The whole other issue is: do people buy a helmet that fits and do they know how to adjust it and wear it properly so that it does what it’s supposed to do? There’s very little education around that.

      “You can go in and buy a helmet at a reputable sports store and chances are no one’s going to talk to you about how to put it on properly, what you should check to make sure it’s fitted properly, and where it should be worn so it doesn’t move around.”

      Wilson points to the “2V1 rule” as a simple way to remember correct fit and position: you should be able to place two fingers between your eyebrows and the helmet; the helmet should be level on your head, with the V strap coming over your ears; and there should be one finger width between your chin and the strap.

      The correct use of bike helmets decreases the risk of brain injury by about 85 percent, Wilson notes. He adds that the material in bike helmets deteriorates over time and that cyclists should replace their helmet every five years.

      Follow Gail Johnson on Twitter at @gailjohnsonwork.




      Apr 16, 2014 at 1:52pm

      a rather ridiculous article to someone who is knowlageble about helmets, but we know that the general public is not so knowledgeable about helmets and cycling.

      The first bit of ridiculous comes when Richard Kinar says unsafe helmets are putting those at risk and place an added burden on taxpayers that have to pay health-care costs or death benefits as a result of these unsafe helmets being used on public roadways.

      The obvious truth is that those who cycle have shown no greater risk than those who walk or drive but even worse is when the article suggests helmets may help prevent concussion, when even the manufactures go out of their way to tell people they do not.

      Helmets sold in BC do meet certain standards of course. They just do not meet an acceptable standard that would provide a wearer protection in a typical collision.


      Apr 16, 2014 at 2:11pm

      For somebody who claims to be so knowledgeable, there is a lot of misinformation in the article. Amongst the worst is:

      "The correct use of bike helmets decreases the risk of brain injury by about 85 percent, Wilson notes."

      This number comes from one old study that has since been refuted as the study was flawed. No other study has come up with any statistic close to this. Organizations such as ICBC and the US NHTSA are no longer using this statistic for that reason.

      Also, studies have shown that cycling without a helmet is safer than not cycling at all due to adverse effects on health due to inactivity.

      The single most effective way to prevent head injuries is to prevent collisions. Better education and enforcement of the rules of the road would certainly help in this area. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a priority in BC.

      Alex T

      Apr 16, 2014 at 3:18pm

      Unless cyclists wear a full motorbike helmet, it is going to do virtually nothing in a collision with a vehicle. His own figures imply that.

      If you want to improve safety, a focus on helmets is a harmful distraction. The best way would be to try to reduce collisions or reduce their severity. Creating paths for all ages and abilities (AAA) is what we should be shooting for. This may be separated bike paths or designating some roads as AAA by lowering the speed limits and placing barriers to break up automobile traffic.

      Jim A

      Apr 16, 2014 at 4:54pm

      "[A bike helmet] is going to do virtually nothing in a collision with a vehicle."

      ...but it might help a lot when your head collides with the curb.


      Apr 16, 2014 at 5:02pm

      I think the big picture has been completely obscured and the public confused when Mr. Kinar talks about the risks people take while riding bikes. There are risks of course, everyone encounters risk in anything they do (or don't do for that matter). The bottom line is, study after study confirms what our common sense tells us, that is, riding bicycles results in better health and longer life in spite of it's risks. And that's also true of the people who do not wear helmets.
      If one does feel helmets are good for what little risk there is, the question becomes, when the risk is the same for both cycling and walking, and when the tests helmets go through mean they can provide the same (or better) protection for pedestrians, why are only cyclists encouraged or legislated to wear them?


      Apr 16, 2014 at 5:52pm

      Jim A, you may be surprised to learn the typical fall onto a curb after a person on a bike was hit by a car is well beyond a helmets ability to provide protection.
      Helmets are tested with a three foot drop with no forward movement on the top of the helmet which is of course placed on the top of the head.
      In an illuminating article in Bicycling magazine, Randy Swart, rabid supporter of all ages MHL's everywhere, the ASTM helmet subcommittee's co-vice chairman, and webmaster of one of the most pro- helmet site on the 'net has said,
      "The tests we do in the lab today don't duplicate real-life crashes—they never have"

      Cookie Monster

      Apr 16, 2014 at 5:56pm

      Hey whiners, pay attention to the info about people not wearing helmets properly. That seems to be the number 1 problem out there. How often do you see someone with their helmet resting on the back of their head, their forehead fully exposed? Even more absurd is when you see cyclists riding down the road with their helmet dangling off their handlebars. The doctor may be off on his numbers but he makes a strong point.

      Martin Dunphy

      Apr 16, 2014 at 6:22pm

      One thing is for sure: 97 percent of the people who died in bicycle traffic accidents over a 10-year period in New York City (1996-2005) <em>weren't</em> wearing helmets.

      And only 13 percent who suffered a major injury injury during that period <em>were</em> wearing helmets.

      Spin that any way you want. (And some of you will, but, really, you guys should be in PR for the NRA, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, or the Pentagon.)


      Apr 16, 2014 at 6:44pm

      Martin, you need to get your facts right. That 97% figure was referring to cyclists who weren't -reported to have been- wearing helmets. That does not mean many of those included in the figure were not wearing helmets, it simply means the police who filled out the reports simply left that field blank.
      More reliable numbers come from places like New Zealand that vigously enforces its bicycle helmet law. With a 97% compliance rate, head injuries did not decrease.
      Also, worth considering is the experience of the Northern Europeans where the safest experiences for cyclists exits, all with little to no helmet use. We'd do better mimicking them than carrying on with false perceptions on safety of riding bicycles and the importance of wearing a helmet