The popularity of helmet cameras has soared in the past couple of years, but a high-profile accident has put their safety in the spotlight. Are cameras a dangerous addition to a crash hat?

In a shock decision by British Eventing (BE) last week (Friday 17 October), the organisation decided that all cameras on helmets would be banned until further checks on their safety could be carried out.

A snowball reaction ensued, with other events across the world quickly following suit, including the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses at Le Lion d’Angers and Fair Hill International in America.

British Showjumping (BS) said today (Monday 20 October) that it was also banning the technology until the results of further research are announced.

The rule change is believed to have come after a French journalist said that Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher’s GoPro had influenced the severity of his injuries in a skiing accident last year. Jean-Louis Moncet later retracted his statement — saying it was only “opinion” — but the debate surrounding the safety of the devices was already underway.

H&H contacted GoPro regarding the safety of the product for riders but did not receive a response.

“The BE safety and sport committees have been discussing the use of helmet cameras for some time as there have been some concerns that they may compromise the helmet and increase the risk of injury following a fall,” a spokesman from BE explained.

After initial research that was carried out by The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) concluded there was “very little material available” the TRL has recommended that further investigations are made.

“BE has also sought legal advice and in light of the safety concerns and the advice received it has been agreed that it would be prudent to suspend the use of helmet cameras with immediate effect until the results of further research are available,” the spokesman added.

Despite BE’s decision and the actions of other events over the weekend the FEI has not issued a ban and will still allow riders to wear cameras providing it has been agreed beforehand.

“If the FEI grants permission, it is made clear that the athlete’s decision to wear a camera is voluntary and at the athlete’s own risk,” said a spokesman.

“Safety factors are constantly evaluated and, as part of this, the FEI reviews any research undertaken into the use of equipment that may have an impact on safety, including the results of the helmet cam study being undertaken by TRL for BE.”

Are headcams dangerous?

While there is no definitive research into the potential dangers of hatcams, there are worries from within the industry that certain cameras mounted in specific ways could increase the risk of head injuries.

“My concern is when people try to fix heavier cameras to helmets,” said Roy Burek from Charles Owen.

Mr Burek is worried that if the camera is too solidly fixed it could increase the risk of spinning of the brain in the event of a fall.

“Brain spinning causes high shear strains in the brain tissue that can lead to diffuse axonal injury, which can lead to death,” he added.

Most camera companies advise that smaller, lighter cameras, which detach easily on impact, are the safest.

The Original HatCam Company, which hires cameras to riders, specially sourced a light camera that attaches to the side of a helmet.

“We use an unobtrusive, side-fitting camera that only weighs about as a much as packet of Smarties,” the Original Hat Company’s Claire Wharton said.

“I am aware that some models of camera are quite heavy and the positioning and the means of mounting them, raises questions regarding maintaining the structural integrity of the helmet.

“The four things you have to look for is size, weight, positioning and the attachment — the camera should always be able to pop off.”

“You are much safer when you use a hat strap to attach a camera,” a spokesman from ActionCameras told H&H.

“A camera that will always detach itself when you fall is better in terms of safety.”

Rider reaction

Many eventers were angered by BE’s total ban on the technology, which they view as a vital way of modernising and attracting fresh interest in the sport.

“I think if BE enforces a complete ban they are going to ruin the sport,” said four-star eventer Ben Hobday.

“The reins are already too tight to open the sport up to more corporate sponsors.

“My camera slips off easily and has never caused me any problem. The footage gives me a way of looking back at my round, it is a good opportunity for owners to watch from a different perspective and it gives sponsors an idea of how extreme the sport is.”

Paul Tapner head camera2010 Badminton winner Paul Tapner fears this is a “knee-jerk” reaction.

“I’m disappointed as it’s another example of BE being reactive rather proactive,” Paul told H&H.

“BE should undertake specific research on mounting types and sizes rather than just introducing a blanket ban.

“It demonstrates BE’s pure ignorance of promoting our sport to a wider audience and the role that head cameras can play in it.”

Event Riders Association president Bruce Haskell has called for riders to be “patient” while the research is undertaken.

“While we should be encouraging every asset of marketing for individuals, we need to make sure that any degree of publicity gained by head cameras does not come at the price of safety,” Bruce told H&H.

“I feel it would be a huge step backwards for head cameras to be banned outright. I look forward to the results of the analysis as to the safest and best way to use the technology.”

Not on the track

At the moment, no make of helmet camera is approved by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), even though Channel 4 Racing has used the technology in the past. At last year’s QIPCO British Champions Day (21 October, 2013) jockey Richard Hughes wore a camera and the footage received nearly 30,000 views online.

“Any hat camera will need to be approved by the BHA chief medical advisor,” said a spokesman from the BHA. “There have been some used in the past but there is currently no model approved for being used in a race.”

Helmet cameras have also been popular with cyclists, but British Cycling does not allow them to be used in competitions.

“We may, on occasion, decide to allow a helmet camera to be used in some disciplines for educational purposes, but that would be managed and coordinated by British Cycling staff,” a spokesman told H&H.

Chest not best

There has been some discussion that riders could wear the cameras on their chests rather than their helmets. However, ActionCameras does not recommend it.

“If you wear a large camera chest-mounted, it can break bones on impact,” a spokesman told H&H. “I have had several friends who have had injuries this way in other sports.

“You are much safer to have a camera attached by a band to your helmet.”