Driving a motorcycle is required by law to wear a helmet, but driving a bicycle is not. There’s no requirement or law in the US to wear a helmet while driving a bicycle, which is why many people don’t like wearing one. The biggest reasons are usually that cycling helmets look stupid, they ruin a carefully combed and gelled hair, and they’re not really that 100% safe. However, wearing a cycling helmet may seem far better than not wearing on at all if a car suddenly comes out of nowhere and nudges you backward, and you find out too late that the car’s hood or the concrete road is much harder than your skull. And it’s kind of funny that for 6 years now an airbag for urban cyclists created by Hövding has been selling in Europe but has never been exported to the continental US.
This scarf-like inflatable head protector worn around the neck and made in Sweden has built-in sensors that detect when the cyclist is in a collision so it can be prompted to rapidly deploy and expand an airbag around the cyclist’s head, thus protecting it from any injurious impact. It was the scientists at Stanford University who discovered this device and decided to put the Hövding device through many pacing tests to see how it compares to traditional cycling helmets that are normally made from expanded polystyrene foam. Concussion specialist David Camarillo and his Stanford team conducted the tests by strapping the airbag to a crash dummy’s head and dropping it from various heights, and from two different angles, onto a metal platform. The results were impressive. The scientists found that the airbag helmet reduced head accelerations by up to six times compared to a regular helmet, greatly reducing the chances of injury.
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The airbag’s larger size and increased softness were thought to be the main factors behind the decrease in acceleration, according to the team. If the Stanford research and that of others – since other researchers also want to test the Swedish airbag helmet – can provide more and more evidence that this air bag approach might be significantly more effective, there will be some major challenges in the United States to legally have this device or something similar made in the U.S. available to the public. Of course, it’s understandable that there may be some friction and opposition from cycling helmet manufacturers and distributors. The Hövding is certainly an interesting innovation, though it may not be ideal for all situations. For example, it’s different if you suddenly ride into a low-hanging sign or another obstacle where the impact would be too sudden to deploy the airbag. For now, the Stanford University research team is keen to conduct more tests on the airbag helmet before giving it their full backing, though they appear to be impressed by its potential. The Hövding isn’t currently available in the U.S. though sells in Europe for €300 (about $335).