Bicycle Helmet Safety Standard: The U.S. CPSC Explained

The United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) sets safety standards to  "protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products", (cpsc.gov website). The commission was formed in 1972. Almost three decades later, by unanimous vote, the CPSC issued a new federal safety standard for bicycle and roller skating helmets.

Of particular concern was data showing that young cyclists incur a higher percentage of head injuries than older riders. Clearly, there was a need for additional head protection for young cyclists. Soon after, the CPSC mandated that helmets for children up to age five offer more coverage to protect the more fragile young skull. Today, all bicycle helmets sold in the United States must comply with the CPSC safety standards.

Briefly, the CPSC bicycle helmet safety standard tests:

  • Force/impact absorption
  • Strap Strength
  • Roll-off Prevention
  • Peripheral vision
  • Proper labels inside
  • Add protection to fragile areas of skulls under six years old

The U.S. CPSC testing standards are stringent. The complete U.S. CPSC bicycle safety standard document (37 pages including diagrams and tables) can be read on the CSPC official safety standard document. Below, we explain - in layman's terms - some of the different testing requirements. Check it out...

1. Impact Absorption

US CPSC helmet impact testTests are performed on a minimum of eight helmets of each size and model. Each helmet is tested in hot, cold or mild temperatures, or in prolonged (4-24 hours) water submersion. Helmets must meet all of the requirements of the regulation when tested, both with and without any attachments that the manufacturer offers, (for example, a visor). Each helmet is secured on a head form and dropped onto iron blocks (called anvils) of three different shapes, mimicking terrain cyclists might encounter: flat, hemispherical/rock-like, and curbstone/curbs. Simulating rider size and speed, the helmets are dropped from different heights, at different velocities. Instrumentation within the head form records the impact in multiples of the acceleration due to gravity ("g"). A bike helmet fails the test if any of the samples tested shows a peak acceleration of more than 300-g peak acceleration. The image on the left is a head form hovering over a flat anvil at the US CPSC testing site in Rockville Maryland.

2. Retention System/Straps

Giro Flak MTB/BMX/SkateSubjecting four like helmets to four different environments (heat, cold, mild and wet), the helmet's strap must withstand a "shock load" of 8.8 pounds stretched two feet. The strap must not stretch more than 1.2 inches. This ensures that your child's helmet will not come off during a collision or fall. See the orange straps to the left on the CPSC approved, Mountain Bike/BMX Bike/Skateboard helmet. (All bicycle helmets sold at XSPKids meet the US CPSC safety standard.)  

 

3. Roll-off Prevention

CPSC roll-off helmet testThe positional stability of the helmet is tested on a head form mounted to rotate 180 degrees. An impact load of 8.8 pounds is dropped two feet at the edge of the helmet once placed on the head form. If the helmet comes off the head form, it fails CPSC testing. To the left is a photo showing a bicycle helmet strapped to the head form, and rotated at 180 degrees for positional stability testing at the US CPSC testing site. 

4. Peripheral Vision

Every bicycle helmet must have a field of vision of 105 degrees to both the left and the right of straight ahead.

5. Proper Labels Inside

US CPSC mandated stickerLabels on bicycle helmets sold in the United States must designate CPSC compliance, as well as the protective limitations of the helmet. Care instructions, proper fitting warnings, and substances that may damage the helmet must also be listed. 

6. Added Protective Measure for Young Children

Giro Rascal Youth HelmetHelmets constructed to protect children under the age of 5 must cover a larger portion of the head than helmets for older persons. Notice the Giro Rascal Youth Bicycle Helmet at the left. The Giro Rascal is cut lower than a typical bicycle helmet constructed for older kids, or larger heads.

The Bottom Line:

If your kid rides a bike, be certain he or she straps on a bicycle helmet that bears a U.S. CPSC approved sticker on the interior lining of the helmet. Of course, the helmet also must fit properly to be protective. Check to be sure both straps are adjusted to keep the helmet securely on the rider's head. Many bicycle helmets have rear fit systems that ensure a snug fit. XSPKids has a wide selection of kid-pleasing bicycle helmets to choose from.