21 July 2011

"Nutcase is putting cyclists' safety at risk"

There was recently a consumer test of bicycle helmets in Denmark, performed by The Danish Consumer Council in their magazine Tænk (Think). The test involved 15 different skater-style helmets. Two of the helmets failed in the test. One was Etto's "Psycho Street" and the other was Nutcase Helmet's "Street" model. The one with the very appropriate DANGER text on it. (The perfect text, by the way, to describe the helmet industry's eagerness to portray cycling as more dangerous as it is in the interest of profit.)

Of the two helmets that flopped, Etto immediately called back the helmets in question and offer refunds to consumers.

Nutcase Helmets, on the other hand, refused to react to the results of the test. They replied that their helmets met the demands in "their own tests".
Nutcase Etto Psycho
The head of the consumer tests, Niels Ebbe Jacobsen, says, "Nutcase is putting cyclists' safety on the line when they choose to keep their helmets on the market. It could cost lives at the end of the day."

The Etto helmets failed the safety test, which gave them a failed grade. The Nutcase helmet failed on the shock absorption test. Well, not the shock absorption tests in their own heads, just the ones by the Danish Consumer Council. Conveniently, the helmets allow free access to the ears, allowing you to stick your fingers in and sing loudly, "Lalalalala! I'm a princess! Lalalala, I'm raking in the profits!!!"

Another example, while we're on the topic, of helmet manufacturers who happily ignore safety warnings in the name of cash is the Danish Yakkay helmet brand. We've covered that previously.

Okay, with all this said, let's add some grains of salt.

The Danish Consumer Council have little knowledge of helmets and their limitations. They merely look at the European Union standard, EN1078, and test the helmets to see if they meet the requirements. They don't even have a test facility themselves, instead outsourcing to a German facility. They do not question the fact that the EU standard is one of the weakest in the world or that the phelmet industry is involved in deciding the standards. Which is kind of like the tobacco industry sitting at the table when health warnings and smoking laws are decided upon.

They don't question the fact that helmets are only tested for impact on the top of the helmet and not on the sides or front or back and that they don't protect against dangerous rotational injuries. All of this is perhaps more of an issue for The Danish Council of Ethics and similar councils abroad.

The article itself is from a freebie newspaper and the journalist clearly just copy/pasted it together inbetween sipping coffee and checking his emails. He quotes the usual suspects from the Danish Road Safety Council - again, a council that doesn't have any scientific experience - or respect for science - and runs campaigns based on projecting their own perception on fear onto the population at large rather than using facts or worrying about the negative effects of helmet promotion. For example, as the European Council of Ministers of Transport have said in their report "National Policies to Promote Cycling":
"Though helmets are widely accepted as reducing the severity of head injuries, the issue of mandatory requirements for helmet use has been controversial for a long time. PROMISING, a research project commissioned by the European Union and coordinated by the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research (2001), suggests that from the point of view of restrictiveness, even the official promotion of helmets may have negative consequences for bicycle use, and that to prevent helmets having a negative effect on the use of bicycles, the best approach is to leave the promotion of helmet wear to manufacturers and shopkeepers. "

Then there is this article "How helmet promotion and laws affect cycle use" and our previous article by sociologist Dave Horton about Fear of Cycling and Helmet Promotion. In addition there is The Culture Fear relating to bicycle helmets.

There are an awful lot of people in this fear game who don't have much knowledge about helmets. Most are foolish, lazy people who are not aware of the consequences of promoting sub-standard safety equipment that is only designed to protect a head from non-life threatening impacts, on the crown of the head, in solo accidents under 20 km/h and instead giving people (read: consumers with cash to spend) the impression that helmets will save their lives.

Then there are those who profit from selling helmets. At least their relutance to address the facts is clear cut. It will affect profit. Doesn't make it right, but at least their intentions are clear.

All of this is rather nonsensical when you consider that most helmets on the market don't do much more than line the pockets of companies.

Whilst researching all this I stumbled across a Swedish company called MIPS. They have developed a new kind of helmet that has a thin layer of liquid between the two shell layers designed to reduce the intensity of rotational impacts. The outer shell rotates a bit upon impact. What's interesting about their website and their video, above, is that they're basically saying that existing helmets don't do much for you.

Ever Lazer helmets call rotational injury The Absolute Enemy.

So. Will Nutcase:
A. Withdraw their faulty products from the market?
B. Start producing and promoting motorist helmets instead? At least THAT will have a positive effect on promoting cycling and speed the journey to fewer car trips by scaring people out of cars, instead.

Here's the gist of the article translated into English:
Two of the most sold bicycle helmets are not safe enough, a new test from the The Danish Consumer Council's magazine Tænk (Think) shows.

The helmets from Etto and Nutcase are not good enough at absorbing shock and that increases the risk of serious injury.

Etto is recalling the helmets in question but Nutcase refuses to respond. The helmet producer said to Tænk that the helmets pass their own tests.

”Nutcase is putting cyclists' safety at risk by keeping the helmets on the market. It could cost lives at the end of the day”, says Niels Ebbe Jacobsen, head of testing at Tænk.

The helmets from Etto and Nutcase are popular skater-type helmets. In Tænk's test, skater-type helmets received lower marks compared to other styles because of reduced ventilation.

Although many skater helmets like Mango X-ride did just as well as traditional bicycle helmets in tests.


kfg said...

People often buy helmets that the pro racers wear, because they believe that the pros naturally wear the helmets with the best performance; cost no object.

In a way this is true, but not the way the average person thinks it does. The pros like to wear helmets that can only just barely meet (or perhaps even not quite meet) the EU standards, because this allows the lightest and airiest possible helmet and that is the performance the pros are interested in, not head protection from impacts. These helmets are just as much deserving of the derogatory sobriquet "hairnet" as the old leather covered foam rubber jobs.

American standards are different from the EU standards. They are intended to only protect from death. They are intended to operate at the margin of impact forces between those that cause severe brain injury and fatal injury.

This means that, first, they cannot protect against concussion. The foam must be hard enough that it doesn't begin to compress until after concussive forces have been exceeded (some manufacturers are now experimenting with layers of foam with different densities to deal with this, but for it to be effective the volume of the helmet must increase) and, second, they cannot protect against permanent brain damage.

In essence, they are, by design, constructed in a manner such as to increase your chances of becoming a vegetable, the very outcome that most say they fear more than death, which is the reason they are wearing the helmet.


Paul Bikehike said...

I agree your points kfg, for normal man both the things does matters a lot. They mainly want their life to be saved by the helmets that do have a reasonable cost.

Sam said...

I think the Dave Horton link is broken (I can see the url, but it is not clickable to a live page)

Amsterdamize said...

erm...NONE of the helmets ANYwhere, meeting whatEVER 'standard', are designed to save lives, period. Anything else claimed is PR, sping, fear mongering for $$. Oh right, like Nutcase do on their webpage, sprinkled with images of skulls & squashed mellons.

I've challenged them to back up every claim they're making, so far, no followup. Crickets.

Then again, this is just one example. A direct quote from one of their sales reps: "The potential of the Dutch market is awesome. If only the Dutch were more scared of cycling."

bikelovejones said...

Helmets do nothing to address the larger issue, which is that bike riders must still share the roads with car drivers. Worse, there is a misconception that if a bike rider isn't wearing a helmet then ANYinjury they sustain in a bike-car collision is automatically the cyclist's fault. In short, promoting helmet use shifts the blame away from car drivers and the car culture.
All rubbish.

kfg said...

@Amsterdamize - Whether or not a standard can save lives, or whether it is even theoretically possible that such a standard can save lives, is an independent issue from whether or not that is what the standard is designed to achieve.

Helmets are made to different standards because those who create the standards are trying to achieve different ends. Every end requires a different construction of helmet. A hard hat is worthless on a bicycle, because it is made with the intent to prevent injuries from falling rivets (or meteors I suppose). Well, unless you ride through a lot of falling rivets.

The physics of a rivet hitting a head are rather different from the physics of a head hitting a brick wall. Thus the injuries that result and their causes are different.

I think the point you should be focusing on is the word "standard." It's a word that ought to trouble you deeply.

Amsterdamize said...

@kfg you're absolutely right and it's exactly my focus. The standards (yes, the small print is enlightening) are by themselves not the real problem, though. Enforcement of those standards and what they imply in terms of actual safety ARE (aka informing the public what they really entail). Purposefully, a disconnect has been orchestrated between those standards and the actual application and performance of helmets, aka the, let's call them 'unrealistic', selling points have been nested in the public consciousness in a such a way that there is no rational thought or risk assessment attached to its existence. On the contrary, those are tossed out the window and companies, helmet advocates & politicians (going for cheap) opt for social-emotional blackmail.

Nutcase Helmets in this case have so far been allowed to get away with highly unsubstantiated information, outrageous disinformation, fear mongering, relying on exactly that: no repercussions.

People have been 'convinced' through all sorts of channels and means that helmets 'save lives', you're irresponsible if you don't wear one, etc having spiraled into the notion that they are the be all that end all solution to road safety.

It's just very very sad case of fraud, to the detriment of progress.

kfg said...

"there is no rational thought or risk assessment attached to its existence. On the contrary, those are tossed out the window"

Let's call it 'religion.'

". . .to the detriment of progress."

"Progress" is a meaningless word without reference to standard. Read the fine print.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, it seems like you are the one that is not basing anything on science. Nutcase has responded by having their helmets tested again (I would imagine testing doesn't come very cheap) at independent testing facilities and they passed yet again. The fact that Think won't disclose their detailed testing results to Nutcase (as claimed in their response) is the problem. What are they hiding? Why don't they back up their testing with proof of the facts? I would imagine if a helmet isn't properly fit on a form, then it would easily fail. That is a human error, not a helmet error. Without all the facts (and Think is withholding those) then your conclusions are certainly not based upon science and nor are Think's.

As far as your dig about profits, is it wrong for people to make money as long as what they are doing is good? Helmets do indeed save lives, including Nutcase helmets. Could they be better, probably. Would that cost more? Yes. Would everyone want to pay 2, 3 or 4 times the price for that safety? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That depends on ones budget, which of course depends upon how much money they make and how well they control their costs, which goes back to your dig on making money. I personally don't think it is wrong to make money as long as it is legit and respected. Your claims are neither of those two things.

Debt Consolidation Nation said...

I have a nutcase. I bought it because I thought it would do a better job than the little road cycling helmet i used to ware

Bike Rider said...

You guys are trading on the fact that a lot if people can't read Danish in the article maybe? The Nutcase helmets are tested by proper labs, we checked before purchasing. They pass official tests. Using them as a pawn for another helmet-hating blog is just plain silly. I almost thought I was reading a News of The World article. I normally read your stuff. Disappointing Mr Copenhagenize.

sexify said...

One thing I noticed from Nutcase: their USA-based website prominently features the endlessly discredited 'helmets prevent 88% of head injuries' figures (with a similarly prominent disclaimer saying the company takes no responsibility for the accuracy of any information on the site). Their Australasian site (due to different consumer laws?) has no such figures.

'Putting cyclists at risk'? ALL helmet promoters put cyclists at risk.

How can instilling a fear of cycling and massively exaggerating the protective ability of helmets cause anything but less cycling (hence less safety in numbers) and encourage risky cycling. (That didn't sound as catchy as I'd hoped.)

crapbournemouthcyclist said...

Mikael, I don't know if you're aware of the current bill being presented to the UK Parliament?
A sad, sad day for UK cycling indeed.

kfg said...

I don't want you to worry Mr. Rider. Bike, can I call you Bike? Good. I know this is a rather delicate and risky operation, Bike, and I've never done it before, but rest assured, I got a passing grade in the pass/fail standardized test.

lagatta à montréal said...

I'd boycott them even if I did want a helmet (say for touring in mountainous terrain) because of their scare messages in their ads and on many of their helmets - next to ones with pretty flowers.

crapbournmouth, any risk of this (true)crap passing?

Anonymous said...

I don't think the point of Danger on the helmet is saying cycling is dangerous--I believe it is more a play on the rider is dangerous--tongue in cheek--lighten up people--life isn't so literal--

Anonymous said...

Another article from a differently engineered city advocating to NOT wear helmets. Does NOT apply for U.S. cities. Not for a long time at least. Accept these differences!

Adrienne Johnson said...

You would think the fact that the stupid bucket actually screams " DANGER" at you would be enough to end this discussion. Who the hell would wear that thing? I also find it highly questionable that the back of every Nutcase says "I love my brain".

If I were to try to get my kids to wear that they would just stop bicycling. They hate the standard helmets they are forced to wear because of the law here in SF, but this would be the deal killer.

kfg said...

"Does NOT apply for U.S. cities."

I assure you that I have determined, by actual test, that Newtonian Mechanics work just the same in the USA as elsewhere.

ATX Bikette said...

My friend just got a bike and she was debating whether or not to get a helmet. I'm a staunch know the facts and actually learn how to ride on the road person, while my bf is a tri guy and likes for people to wear them, regardless of purpose. The waiter overheard our convo and said "I would recommend wearing a helmet b/c I spent four days in the hospital the last crash I got into." I rolled my eyes b/c everyone has that story. How do you respond to that? It seems a little cold to say, "Well your helmet wasn't going to protect you in that sort of collision anyway" because it was such a traumatic experience for that person.

Maarten said...

Obligatory link to a cartoon (Wulffmorgenthaler).

Then there is the research of Ian Walker, who found out that the chance of ending up in an accident is actually higher if you wear a helmet. Great, be sure to wear one...

Riding Mother said...

FYI for anyone following this article.

Nutcase already announced a helmet exchange program through all their Danish dealers for one batch from April 2010 which was affected. So, I guess this answers Mikals question.

I am a mother and I use one of these helmets, so does my child. So I wanted to check story too.
The Danish Transport Authority have been satisfied with this and there was apparently more testing to ensure no problems. Gen2 helmets passed TUV and SP/Sweden I think.

Anyway, it is as safe as any helmet will get. I sort of agree with this blog, we can find science to prove or disprove anything though - right?

On the other hand I don't think we would be asking cars to remove their seat belts and crash air bags. They don't need helmets, they have air bags.

Choice is fine, I choose to use a helmet like many others Danes. Not to do with the law or rights or fashion in all cases.