Improving knowledge would allow riders to make better-informed decisions when choosing a safety helmet, as experts hope a new testing standard to cover protection against rotational forces will be released soon. H&H learns more...
An increasing number of helmets in sports, including cycling and skiing, have multi-directional impact protection system (MIPS) technology – a low-friction system that adds protection against rotational motion transferred to the brain from angled impacts to the head, which can cause strain in the brain.
Experts agree it is important riders understand the risk of rotational motion and potential injuries to the brain. When MIPS technology is implemented in a helmet, it can help reduce rotational motion by allowing the head to move independently of the helmet by 10-15mm, so redirecting the force transferred to the brain.
Hans von Holst and Peter Halldin, who co-founded MIPS with Svein Kleiven, told H&H it is important to understand that different types of brain injuries can occur. And statistics have shown that when people fall and hit their head, it is most common they hit the ground at an angle.
“When you have suffered a concussion, which includes very minor to very severe injury, the likely cause of this is rotational motion of the brain,” said Mr von Holst.
Mr Halldin, who is a convenor for the European Committee for Standardisation (known as CEN), added it is important to gain an understanding of real-life accident situations, which can be complex in riding owing to variations in activity or surface.
“You could be riding on gravel or grass – or doing an activity such as jumping or racing, so the impact situation for the head can be very different,” said Mr Halldin.
“Not many people know the brain is so much more sensitive to rotation and, if you know that, you would probably choose a helmet with the best protection for that. We need to work more on rider education and how we improve it; it’s not about scaring people, but it’s good to have more information so riders can make their own decisions on safety.”
Rider and MIPS technical engineer Maria Daggenfelt told H&H equestrians can sometimes be influenced more by how a helmet looks rather than focusing on safety.
“There is a lot of focus on the look of a helmet and the equestrian world doesn’t always talk about safety enough,” she said.
“MIPS is an ingredient brand, which means we work with different helmet manufacturers to incorporate the technology, making it more accessible to everyone. If we get MIPS into even more helmets and have more awareness, the hope is riders won’t see a reason not to have it.”
Helen Riley is brand manager at Champion, which incorporates MIPS into eight of its helmets – with three more planned for August. She told H&H rider education is of “utmost importance”.
“Buying a piece of safety equipment such as a hat is an investment in your own safety, and research before purchasing is highly recommended. An understanding of the performance requirements of any standard or specification is crucial,” she said.
A spokesman for Charles Owen, which incorporates MIPS in three of its helmet styles with plans to add more, told H&H rider education is at the forefront of the brand’s work.
“A rider who understands the mechanisms of a fall will make better choices with regards to safety equipment and search out helmets independently certified to more safety standards,” he said.
“As riders most often fall at an angle to the ground, addressing the tangential impact – which results in rotational motion – would be beneficial in these standards, thereby improving the outcome of falls that occur more frequently.”
Calls for new hat testing standard
Mr Halldin told H&H he hopes a new European test standard will be released in the near future to include rotational testing.
“The conclusion is that we should test helmets the way we have been doing, but complement this with testing for angle impact. What’s important is we never say a helmet is bad; helmets are good and protect the head and the brain, but we can protect the brain even further if we improve the test methods,” he said.
“It’s also important that we test helmets in a realistic way; these should be robust, simple, cost-effective methods which do not result in making helmets super-expensive – we should not make a standard that then requires expensive solutions for people.”
Anna-Louise Mackinnon of the Medical Equestrian Association told H&H the association would be in favour of a new European standard.
“A recent Swedish study has shown the two helmets they tested incorporating MIPS technology performed better in testing than other helmets. This provides a good argument to suggest making riders more aware of the availability of these higher-performing helmets would be a good idea and the introduction of a new European standard would be beneficial, particularly when more helmets providing the standard are available and on the market,” said Dr Mackinnon.
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