This Invention Could Save Your Life

A new invisible bike helmet could revolutize the way people move. But it’s got a steep climb to commercial success in the United States.

National Journal
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Matt Berman
Nov. 15, 2013, 3 a.m.

It looks like a trash­bag com­ing out of a finely-pat­terned neck-pil­low. But if you find your­self col­lid­ing with a Volvo on your bike, it could ac­tu­ally save your life.

Meet Hövd­ing, the in­vis­ible bike hel­met. It’s a real, ac­tu­al thing. But it won’t be so easy for it to come to mar­ket in the United States.

Here’s a three-minute doc­u­ment­ary about the Swedish hel­met and its founders:

Bi­cycle in­jur­ies are ob­vi­ously ser­i­ous busi­ness. The 677 cyc­ling deaths in 2011 (the last year for which there’s data) made up 2 per­cent of all mo­tor-vehicle traffic deaths. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al High­way Traffic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, 48,000 bikers were in­jured in crashes. At the same time, bike rider­ship has been on the rise in the United States.

And yes, hel­mets make a big dif­fer­ence. Hel­met use re­duces the risk of head in­jury by 85 per­cent, says the In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety. But use isn’t at all uni­ver­sal. The most re­cent gov­ern­ment study in 1999 pegged hel­met use at about 50 per­cent. And state laws that man­date hel­met use, ac­cord­ing to this map from IIHS, aren’t really for­cing any­one’s hand:

Part of the is­sue with hel­mets comes down to a simple mat­ter of clunk­i­ness. Sure, mak­ing a bi­cycle hel­met a bit less bulky and ugly won’t ne­ces­sar­ily save hun­dreds of lives. But the in­vis­ible hel­met has the po­ten­tial to help kick up the num­ber of people who use hel­mets, and feel com­fort­able on a bike in gen­er­al.

If the doc­u­ment­ary above didn’t con­vince you that a bat­tery-powered hel­met with sensors could save your head from a crash, check out this crash test video, which has been viewed nearly 2 mil­lion times on You­Tube:

The hel­met didn’t just pass European in­spec­tion. It also suc­ceeded in a test by a Swedish in­sur­ance com­pany that went at high­er max­im­um speeds than the European stand­ards, and it per­formed bet­ter than 12 oth­er more-stand­ard bike hel­mets.

But there are a couple prob­lems. First and fore­most: gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion.

The hel­mets are on sale right now in Sweden, but they can’t leg­ally be sold in the United States as a safety hel­met un­til they pass the tests of the Con­sumer Product Safety Com­mis­sion.

(Hövding) Hövding

(Hövd­ing)The tests, which are known to be stricter than those in Europe, have a few ob­vi­ously dif­fi­cult ele­ments for the in­vis­ible hel­met. Many of the reg­u­la­tions have to do with the po­s­i­tion­ing of the hel­met in dif­fer­ent situ­ations, which can be a bit con­fus­ing when the hel­met is, you know, an airbag that comes out at the last minute.

The gov­ern­ment isn’t the only thing in the way. The hel­mets re­tail right now for €399, or just over $537. Without get­ting that price down, it’s hard to ima­gine all that many people buy­ing an in­vis­ible hel­met, no mat­ter the fash­ion ap­peal.


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