SAFETY: Used Helmets
Written By Ken Crandall, Education Director, NYBC
Being a frugal person, or as my kids like to say “cheap”, I was recently making a tour of local thrift shops looking for things like Christmas decorations and good winter riding gear. Thrift shops can be a great place to find wool sweaters and thermal wear. While I was browsing the selection of cheap used goods, I noticed that several of the thrift shops were selling used bicycle helmets. While I was pleased to see the shops catering to bicyclists, I had to take a moment to have a brief talk with the staff about helmet safety and the dangers of used helmets.
While I am a huge fan of saving money, I have never and will never accept a used helmet. Unless you are receiving a new helmet, you cannot be sure of its history. You have no idea if it has ever been in a crash or suffered damage. Helmets that have been involved in a crash must be replaced. They should also be replaced if they’ve been dropped with significant force. While the shell may not show any signs of damage, the foam inside is likely damaged since that is what is designed to absorb the force of the impact so that your skull won’t. This can sometimes be identified by pressing on the outer shell of the helmet feeling for a “beer can” effect where the shell presses in and then pops back out. However, this is not a guaranteed method of identifying helmet damage.
Another reason used helmets are not a great idea is because you don’t know how old they are. Older helmets that do not have good UV inhibitors in the plastic can be broken down from sun exposure, making the helmet unsafe. This can be identified by observing the fading of the colors in your helmet. Helmets that become faded should be replaced. If you are not the original owner of the helmet, you don’t know what the original color was, so it becomes difficult to know if the color has changed.
Affordable, CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) certified helmets can be found for as little as $10. If that is still not affordable, many bicycling advocacy organizations, bicycle collectives/co-ops, and other community organizations frequently have helmet giveaways. Often, your county or state Department of Health can help you find free helmets.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (http://helmets.org/) has a good guide on when to replace your helmet located at http://www.bhsi.org/replace.htm They also have a good guide for inspecting your helmet located here: http://www.bhsi.org/inspection.htm
Helmets are great for protecting yourself in the event of a crash, but you need to ensure that you are wearing it properly and that it is in good condition. The only way to know its condition with certainty is to know for sure you are the only person who has ever used it.