Independent testing of helmets by Swedish insurance company shows significant differences in protection among models

helmet testing

As I wrote last week, it’s hard to know which helmet is the best helmet because very few independent testing is conducted that provides those comparisons. In the US, helmets are either ASTM approved . . . or they are not.

However, the Swedish insurance company Folksam tested 15 riding helmets for children and adults available on the Swedish market and their results were startling — only three out of the 15 helmets performed well enough to earn the company’s “best in test” or “good choice” label. The testing also showed that price was not an indicator of higher performance.

So, what’s different about the Folksam testing?

Current testing measures the energy absorption of the helmets when struck with a perpendicular impact to the helmet. Folksam believes that this does not fully reflect the scenario in an equestrian accident as in a fall from the horse or horse kick, the impact to the head will be oblique. The testing conducted by Folksam was to simulate angular acceleration, which is the dominating cause of brain injuries. The objective of this test was to evaluate helmets sold on the Swedish market. Four physical tests were conducted, shock absorption with straight perpendicular impact and three oblique impact tests. Computer simulations were made to evaluate injury risk.

Helmet testing
In total, 15 conventional helmets were selected from the Swedish market. To ensure that a commonly used representative sample was chosen, the range helmets available in shops and in online shops were all considered. The test set-up used in the present study corresponds to a proposal from the CEN Working Group’s 11 “Rotational test methods” (Willinger et al. 2014). In total, four separate tests were conducted (Table 1). A finite element (FE) model of the brain was used to estimate the risk of brain tissue damage during the three oblique impact tests.

In seven helmets a linear acceleration lower than 200 g were showed, which corresponds to a low risk of skull fracture. The simulations indicated that the strain in the grey matter of the brain during oblique impacts varied between helmets from 16% to 51%, where 26% corresponds to 50% risk for a concussion. The two helmets equipped with Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) performed in general better than the others. However, all helmets need to reduce rotational acceleration more effectively. A helmet that meets the current standards does not necessarily prevent concussion. In total three helmets obtained the Folksam best in test or good choice label: Back on Track EQ3 Lynx, Back on Track EQ3 and Charles Owen Ayr8. The helmet Back on Track EQ3 Lynx performed best and was 30% better than the average helmet. Both the Back on Track EQ3 Lynx and Back on Track EQ3 are fitted with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) with the intention to reduce the rotational energy.

Here are the results of the helmets that were tested:

Helmet testing resultsOf course one of the challenges here is that not all the helmets shown here are available in the U.S., and that many of the popular US helmets were not tested. However, it’s encouraging to me that more independent testing is available that can help us all make more educated choices about the helmets we buy. The caveat being that an approved helmet that fits is always better than not wearing a helmet at all.

Download a complete copy of the testing reports here.

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3 thoughts on “Independent testing of helmets by Swedish insurance company shows significant differences in protection among models

  1. This is so interesting. I tried to get an EQ3 but unfortunately it didn’t fit my head shape. I would really like to see either Back on Track / Trauma Void or really any company try to make safer helmets with MIPS in different shapes. Proper fit is so important with helmet safety.

  2. Having just suffered a C1 fracture while wearing a helmet makes me very interested in what my next helmet will be. I appreciate the review that was done by Folksam and believe that there should be more independent reviewing of helmets. What about Consumer’s Reports? This is such an important topic. Of course you can take it for granted that any helmet is safe until you have a serious accident and then it makes you wonder? I plan to get an EQ3 but I find it interesting that it did not fit the rider in the above comment.

    1. The last time there was an independent review it was done in the UK. There was a huge kerfuffle among the helmet manufacturers and it is no longer available — mostly because it showed (if I remember correctly) that some of the most expensive helmets didn’t perform as well in testing as some of the less expensive ones. It also showed that larger helmets (bigger sizes) don’t protect as well, either. I’d love to see more research done in the US but I think there’s a lot of resistance. I still like my EQ3. It fits me well. I think you also can’t go wrong with Charles Owen. They seem to always be rated high on the list.

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