Airbag Bicycle Helmets May Be More Effective at Preventing Brain Injury

Researchers from Stanford University are experimenting with a new technology that is aimed at reducing injury severity caused by bicycle helmets. Current bicycle helmet design consists of a hardened foam or plastic shell that covers the upper half of a rider’s skull and reduces the impact forces present during a head to ground impact. New helmet technology includes the use of inflatable air bladders that cover the head in a similar fashion to most traditional helmets. The inflatable air bladders, similar to automotive airbags, cushion the head during an impact with a pillow of air. Current testing by Stanford researchers has shown that airbag helmets can reduce head impact forces by as much as five to six times over forces present in impacts with traditional helmets. Most foam bicycle helmets have been shown to significantly reduce significant impacts, reducing the likelihood of cranial fractures, concussions, or other head injuries. Airbag helmets are a promising step in the direction of reducing such injuries even more. Much of the current research done at Stanford consists of properly understanding the mechanics behind brain injuries due to impacts with the ground or other hard surfaces. Research into the damage to brain tissue has shown that concussions occur when brain cells stretch or twist torsionally. During an impact, the brain may collide with the side of the rider’s skull, causing a collision within the head between the skull wall and the brain itself. Energy is absorbed by the brain in severe impacts by the brain matter itself. Obviously damage to the brain can occur if the impact is severe enough. Helmets capable of reducing impact severity, such as the airbag helmet, are already hitting the market in some European countries. One main potential drawback to the airbag helmet design as a mainstream product is due to the fact that an airbag helmet’s effectiveness at reducing injury is only as good as the amount of cushioning provided by the airbag. If the airbag is not properly inflated with high-pressure air prior to impact, the helmet becomes significantly less effective at absorbing impact forces. Proper inflation of the airbags is therefore extremely important. Current versions of airbag helmets are not consistently providing sufficient air pressure to the airbag, rendering the helmets less effective at preventing injury. The future of airbag helmets will rely on more thorough testing of the helmets that are more representative of actual impacts. Current testing procedures do not effectively model the occupant’s head, neck, and associated mechanics thoroughly enough to gain proper testing data. Further testing and development of the airbag inflation devices is also necessary to create a product that ensures proper inflation and a more robust inflation rate. from Science Daily

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Joe Tremblay