Safety Standards For Bike Helmets

The purpose of a bike helmet is to protect the rider’s head from injury, and in turn, protect the brain from harmful and/or potentially lethal knocks and falls. For bike helmets to be effective protection for the head/brain they have to meet a number of conditions, plus, they need to be durable and well ventilated as well.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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To ensure a uniform standard of safety for bicycle helmets, many countries have adopted safety standards with which manufacturers and importers must comply. This article focuses on the various safety standards for bike helmets in the United States, Europe, and Australia/NewZealand.

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A Brief History of Bike Helmet Standards

The history of helmet standards dates back to before the First World War when helmets were worn by racing car drivers. The wearing of helmets by race car drivers became compulsory in 1914. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Snell Memorial Foundation actually drafted the first safety standard for racing car helmets, and not until 1970 that a safety standard was promoted for bicycle helmets, again by the Snell Foundation.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved a standard referred to as ANSI Z90.4 on 12 March 1984. ANSI Z90.4 would remain in place until the late nineties when the next standard would be introduced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In March 1999, a new compulsory helmet standard for all bike helmets sold in the USA, which had been drafted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) 12 months earlier, took effect. In Europe EN 1078 and EN 1080 standards are presently in place both established in 1997. Currently, Australia and New Zealand’s legal Safety Standard is AS/NZS 2063:2008.

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Bicycle Helmet Standards USA

CPSC 16 CFR Part 1203

In the United States, CPSC 16 CFR Part 1203 “Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets” came into effect on 10th March 1999. While CPSC 16 CFR Part 1203 is the mandatory safety standard within the United States, it was derived from the many other non-mandatory standards such as ASTM F1477, Snell B-90S, and Snell B-95. Among other things, the main points of CPSC 16 CFR Part 1203 are as follows:

  • Impact Attenuation – The standard establishes a performance test to ensure that helmets will adequately protect the head in a collision.
  • Children’s Helmets: Head Coverage – The standard specifies that helmets for small children (under age 5) must cover a larger portion of the head than must helmets for older persons.
  • Retention System – The standard requires that helmets be able to meet a test of the dynamic strength of the retention system. This test ensures that the chin strap is strong enough to prevent breakage or excessive elongation of the strap that could allow a helmet to come off during an accident.
  • Peripheral Vision – the standard requires that a helmet shall allow a field of vision of 105 degrees to both the left and right of straight ahead.
  • Labels and Instructions – Section 1203.6 of the standard requires certain labels on the helmet. These labels provide the model designation and warnings regarding the protective limitations of the helmet.
  • Positional Stability (Roll-Off) – The standard specifies a test procedure and requirement for the retention system’s effectiveness in preventing a helmet from ‘‘rolling off’’ a head.
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The CPSC standard is more demanding than EN 1078 (European standard) but slightly less demanding than the Snell B-95 standard. In testing the helmets, CPSC subjects the helmets to more energy smashes from higher heights than EN 1078.

A copy of the CPSC safety standard for bicycle helmets can be found here.

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ASTM F1447

ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) publishes voluntary standards. However, parts of these standards may become incorporated into other mandatory standards such as the CPSC standard mentioned above. The ASTM F1447 standard applies to helmets used by recreational cyclists and roller skaters.
Copies of ASTM F1447 can be purchased from here.

Snell B-95

The Snell B-90 and Snell B-95 standards are basically the same only that the latter is an update of the former. The Snell Memorial Foundation has been testing helmets and drafting helmet standards since 1957. The Snell B-95 standard is voluntary and helmets that meet this standard tend to be heavier and less attractive due to the rigorous requirements of the standard. In the case of Snell B-95, helmets are dropped from higher heights compared to other standards to ensure that they provide a higher level of protection.

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Bicycle Helmet Standards Europe

CE:EN 1078

EN 1078 is the European standard for helmets that regulates standards for pedal cyclists’ helmets, skateboard users’ helmets, and roller skate users’ helmets. The EN 1078 standard was created in 1997, and was approved in 2012 by the European Committee for Standardization. This standard is identical to the British Standard BS EN 1078 formulated in 1997 as well. Fulfilling the EN 1078 standard means a helmet manufacturer has met the requirements of the European Personal Protective Equipment Directive (PPE; 89/686/EEC).

EN 1078 covers helmet production, taking field of vision, retention system features and shock absorption features into consideration. The EN 1078 standard uses flat and kerbstone test anvils, guided free-fall drop gadgets, impact energy criteria, impact velocity, retention system strength and roll-off test. The retention system strength is tested through force applied dynamically. EN 1078 has a low maximum G threshold compared to CPSC, Snell B-95 and ASTM1447, this means it is designed for more protection. A copy of CE: EN 1078 can be found here.

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CE:EN 1080

EN 1080, on the other hand, is a certified standard for helmets for younger children. The EN 1080 standard was drafted because of the increased number of fatal accidents that occurred on the playground when children played using playground equipment or tried to climb trees. These accidents were a result of children’s heads getting stuck in the playground equipment which would not have been the case without a helmet. As a result, the EN 1080 standard was created. This standard allows a weaker retention system that releases on its own when a force greater than 90 newtons but less than 160 newtons is applied. A helmet cannot meet both EN 1078 and EN 1080 standards, it can only meet one of the two.

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Office Law
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Bicycle Helmet Standards Australia

AS/NZS 2063:2008

In the early 1990s Australia introduced laws whereby cyclists were required to wear bicycle helmets. Prior to this, many groups, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons included, had been campaigning for cyclists to wear helmets. Australia became the first country to pass a law that made the wearing of helmets compulsory.

The law stipulates that cyclists must wear approved bicycle helmets securely fitted and fastened on their heads unless the cyclist is exempt from wearing a helmet by another law of the Australian government, this can be found in part 15 of the Australian road rules. The law demanded in some cases bicycle passengers to also wear a helmet.

AS/NZS 2063:2008 requires a helmet to:

  • have a means of absorbing impact energy,
  • a means to apportion the load, and,
  • a secure retention system.

The standard requires a strap that is worn under the lower jaw, the retaining system should be marked by a tension between all fixing points, a strap fitted to the lower jaw area should not be less than 15mm wide.
AS/NZS 2063:2008 standard specifies that the helmet should not have any projections on the outside greater than 5 mm in height that can cause injuries, aside from the ventilation holes.

The AS/NZS 2063:2008 standard only uses a flat anvil drop test from a height of 1.5 m. This is approximately equivalent to an impact velocity of 5.4 m/s and an impact energy level of 78 J. The peak headform acceleration in this test is not allowed to exceed 300 g.

A Standards Australia technical committee is currently reviewing the Australian standard AS/NZS 2063:2008.
Copies of AS/NZS 2063:2008 can be bought from here.
Meanwhile, a good summary of AS/NZ 2063:2008 can be found here.

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Despite countries having different standards, one thing can be agreed upon; that all the measures undertaken by various countries are for the safety of the cyclists. Most of the helmet features are nearly the same despite varying standards. One more thing that can be agreed on is that heads don’t bounce, and as such everyone should wear a helmet!


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Man riding bicycle wearing bike helmet.
Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

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