07 June 2019

How Strong Does A Helmet Need To Be?

Current bike helmet testing procedures are fairly rudimentary.

That statement comes from two Swedish companies whose names are associated with safety.  One is well-recognized by Americans:  Volvo. I can recall when the company's ads included the claim that their cars were "the safest" on the road.  The other is POC, which makes helmets for cycling as well as other sports.

They have a point:  Most helmet tests "involve being dropped from different heights on either a flat or an angled surface" and might mimic low-speed falls onto curbs.  They do not, as Volvo and POC state, "take into account vehicle-to-bike accidents."

Previously, the two companies collaborated, along with Ericsson,  on another project aimed at making cyclists safer in the presence of cars.  In January 2015, they exhibited a prototype of a car-and-helmet system created to warn Volvo drivers and cyclists of their proximity to each other which, the creators believed, would prevent crashes.  That system, however, was not developed commercially.  As noble as the intentions of its creators may have been, such a system is fairly useless--unless, of course, the car and helmet have compatible systems.  That would be the case for the small percentage of drivers and cyclists (outside Sweden and a few other countries, anyway) who drive Volvos and wear POC helmets.

Now, a helmet that can withstand a collision with an automobile might be more practical. Still, I think it's fair to ask:  How much more practical is it?  Are there any studies that show how many collisions involve the cyclist's head slamming against the hood (or some other part) of a moving car or other motor vehicle?  

If a cyclist is run down from behind by a motorist who blew through a red light (as happened to Frank Scofield), how likely is it that the cyclist's head will make contact with the vehicle?   I can't help but to think that in such a collision, or the one that took the lives of five Michigan cyclists three years ago, helmets, no matter how strong, might not have made the difference between death and life, or prevented permanent injuries.

Don't get me wrong: I am in favor of making helmets safer.  But I also think they should be designed to protect cyclists in the conditions they have the greatest chance of encountering.  If someone can show me that a helmet made to withstand impacts with motor vehicles  can prevent , or could have prevented, fatalities in a significant number of crashes, then I'm all for what Volvo and POC are trying to do. Otherwise, I have to wonder just how useful it actually is.


  1. The best- and really only- way to make cyclists safer in the presence of cars is to educate drivers to be more aware and responsible for their actions behind the wheel.

    Unfortunately, i don't foresee that happening. In fact, drivers are becoming even more careless and irresponsible as time goes by.

    1. For the UK this is absolutely true. Even folk who a decade or so ago would never have considered breaking rules do so with impunity at every speed from stationary to highly illegal with selfish unskilled behaviour between those extremes. Games culture which is mostly fighting and racing to win has permeated the whole of popular culture. I can hardly ever find a movie to watch let alone stay home and find a series to follow on TV.

      The bicycle is as rare as unicorns on any TV programme unless it is an historical subject and then to add insult it is usually obvious that the actor can barely control the device! The other use of a bicycle is as a cliche for looser!! There is no hope.

  2. More head injuries from those in cars so they should wear helmets too.

  3. Mike and Coline—You are confirming something I’ve suspected/. Drivers are behaving more aggressively and with less regard for others.Coline, you make a great observation: That behavior is, at least in part a reflection of the “games” culture.