Serious Head Injuries Lead To LRRS Ban On Certain HJC Helmets
May 18, 2006
Copyright 2006, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.
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By Brienne Thomson
Last weekend LRRS (Loudon Road Race Series) officials announced that they have banned certain model HJC Helmets from use in competition. The announcement caused quite a stir among many LRRS racers who are HJC helmet users.
In an e-mail directed to HJC and copied to Roadracingworld.com, LRRS racer Matthew F. Guilbault wrote, “As a long time HJC consumer I urge you to take corrective action immediately to allow me to continue to buy and use HJC helmets as I have done for my entire road racing career.”
LRRS Race Director Don Hutchinson told Roadracingworld.com that he banned the helmets because the last five racers to have sustained serious head injuries during LRRS events were all wearing HJC helmets. But Hutchinson said that only two HJC models have been banned. “The CS and CL, I believe,” Hutchinson said in a phone interview. “All the rest are fine with us, but until we investigate this and find out more about it, we’re not going to allow riders to use those helmets.”
Hutchinson said that the ban is temporary, until more information is available on the HJC Helmet models in question. He also said that a Massachusetts HJC distributor told him that the models in question were not recommend for competition use.
But HJC Product Development Coordinator Steve Blakeney told Roadracingworld.com that the “safety” of the CS and CL models for competition use is not in question. Blakeney said that the Massachusetts distributor was probably referring to the “features” of these lower-priced model helmets that don’t have as many “racing friendly” options as some of the other models.
In regards to the LRRS ban on HJC CS and CL models, Blakeney said that the models in question have passed all of the required U.S. safety standards.
“The CL passes the SNELL and DOT, the CS passed the DOT only,” Blakeney said. “What testing we can do beyond that? There’s no guidelines for it.”
Blakeney also suggested that LRRS ban all non-SNELL helmets instead of just two specific HJC models. Blakeney contended that HJC attracted the unwanted attention because it’s the top-selling helmet brand in the United States.
“You get a higher percentage of guys running HJCs at any track for that matter,” said Blakeney. “In turn, people crash and people get hurt and the likelihood is that more of them are going to be wearing HJCs because there are more of them out there, period.”
According to LRRS Safety Director Jerry Wood, none of the crashes in question appeared to be very serious and some of them were simple lowsides. In comparing the crashes to the injuries the riders sustained, Wood’s main concern has to do with the material the helmets are made from as opposed to the brand.
“Plastic helmets were never SNELL approved before,” said Wood. “I’m not sure how they got SNELL approved. It used to be that all of the helmets that were SNELL-approved for racing were fiberglass or fiberglass composite helmets.”
Because all of the helmets involved in the LRRS head injury accidents were plastic, and because, according to HJC, the CL series helmets are SNELL approved, it raise the question of whether or not a polycarbonate plastic-shell helmet is safe for road racing use.
According to SNELL Memorial FOundation General Manager Steve Johnson, racing organizations that simply specify a helmet meeting SNELL standards are actually approving a wide range of helmets and not specifically the ones recommended for competition use.
“We have two standards actually,” said Johnson. “We have an ‘M’ standard that is basically designed around motorcycling and we also say different kinds of motorsports. And then we have an ‘SA’ standard, which stands for ‘Special Applications,’ and it really is more the racing requirement for helmets.
“There are no plastic helmets that will meet the ‘SA’ requirements because it has a flammability test, first of all, and plastic helmets will not withstand that,” Johnson said.
The fact that most racing organizations don’t specifically require that helmets meet the SNELL ‘SA’ standard opens the door for plastic helmets that meet the less restrictive SNELL ‘M’ standard. Complicating matters, SNELL approval is specific to helmet models, and HJC, for example, doesn’t reveal on its website that only two of the four helmets in its CL line are actually SNELL approved. However, Roadracingworld.com has no evidence that the company applies SNELL stickers to every helmet model in the CL line.
The SNELL website, http://www.smf.org/ , includes a listing of which helmets meet SNELL standards in general, and more importantly, which helmets meet the ‘Special Applications’ standard.
The controversy over the HJC helmet ban aside, racing organizations would better serve their racing members by specifying that helmets must meet SNELL SA standards.
The controversy also calls into question media speculation that “softer” non-SNELL helmets offer more protection against head injuries than helmets meeting SNELL specifications, even in racing applications. That speculation was based in part on a decades-old study of street crashes, which looked at injuries suffered by riders in those crashes.