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This week the Athlete Recovery Fund announced new rule changes in partnership with sports organizers for the X Games, Dew Tour, and the ASA Action Sports World Tour requiring the use of Consumer Product Safety Commission certified helmets in BMX competition, effective in 2013. The news follows the ARF's discovery that a number of high-profile athletes who have sustained traumatic brain injuries in recent action sports competition were wearing skateboard helmets not CPSC-certified for bicycle use.
"We've gone to the events and changed the rules, so now people will know they can't show up with a non-certified helmet," says ARF founder Aaron Cooke, who notes that the problem has been widespread both among pro competitors and at the consumer level. The CPSC requires that helmets sold in bicycle stores or marketed for bicycle use must pass a range of impact tests, but Cooke says skateboard helmets -- popular among BMX riders -- are not subject to the same standards. "If I had to guess I would say that the majority of riders out there are wearing the wrong type of helmet, but I wouldn't be able to pinpoint a percentage," Cooke says.
In August seventeen-year-old pro rider Brett "Mad Dog" Banasiewicz crashed while wearing a non-certified helmet during competition at the LXVI BMX Invitational presented by Vans in Virginia Beach, Va., sustaining traumatic brain injuries that left him hospitalized for more than three months. Although Banasiewicz is now expected to make a full recovery, Cooke says that incident was the final straw.
"I have Brett's banged-up helmet in my garage and we now know that the level of protection it offered in that impact scenario is laughable compared to what a CPSC-certified helmet would have offered," Cooke says. "Nobody's laughing."
To help the broader BMX community better understand the difference, Cooke and pro riders Brandon Dosch, Chad Kerley, and Mike Clark visited the Easton-Bell Sports helmet testing facility in Scotts Valley, Calif. for a comparison test using a helmet similar to the one Banasiewicz crashed in and a CPSC-certified helmet like those that will now be required in pro competition. The ARF released a video from their visit (above) on Friday.
"The most eye-opening thing was that they couldn't even test the non-certified helmet at the level they were testing the certified helmet, because it was going to break the machines," says Dosch. "It blew my mind. Why would you put something on your head that can't even be properly tested? You're out there thinking you've got your helmet on, you're covered. But it turns out it's practically useless to wear a non-certified helmet. It's like wearing a hat on your head at the skatepark. It's not really going to do much of anything in a real impact."
Like Banasiewicz, Dosch had to learn that lesson the hard way: he was knocked unconscious while wearing a non-certified helmet during a BMX dirt jam in Riverside, Calif. in August. He says it hadn't ever occurred to him to check whether a helmet was CPSC-certified prior to that crash. Now he hopes every kid with a bike gets the message.
"All the riders left the test knowing they would never put a non-certified helmet on their heads again," Cooke says. "And the most interesting thing is that there's not even much of a cost difference at all: maybe $5 to $10 more and you've got a helmet that will protect you five to ten times better."
Still, Cooke says, convincing riders to splurge for a better brain bucket is more complicated than it sounds.
"At the pro level we've found that if you leave the choice up to the athletes they're going to go with what's comfortable and what's fashionable: they're out there trying new tricks and pushing the sport and they think they're invincible, so they're not really paying attention to whether a helmet's certified or not," Cooke says. "We're basically helping them make a better decision by working with the event promoters and sport organizers to change the rules so that they have to wear the right helmet. That's our first step: to make sure that all the riders who are in the most highly decorated spotlights are wearing the right product, so that we can better protect the top riders and then take that message out to the rest of the BMX community. And we're also trying to work with the manufacturers and the CPSC to create a new 'Freestyle' standard for both BMX and skateboard helmets to meet the demands of these sports, and better labeling so you can look at a helmet on a rack and immediately know, 'Oh, this one is not for bicycle use.' We're ultimately trying to work within the entire industry to help prevent traumatic brain injuries."