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
Matt Berman
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
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)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.

What We're Following See More »
WIDELY DEBUNKED CLAIM
Trump: Clinton Camp Started Birtherism
7 minutes ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Donald Trump, when pressed by Lester Holt on why he finally admitted that President Obama was born in America, repeated his widely debunked claim that it was started by Hillary Clinton.

“AFRICAN AMERICANS” ARE “LIVING IN HELL”
Conversation Shifts to Race
14 minutes ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Hillary Clinton went point by point on how race can so often determine the treatment that people receive, mentioning recent shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte, calling for restored trust between communities and police, and demanding criminal justice reform. Trump responded by calling for law and order and touting his endorsements from police unions. He then said that “African Americans are living in hell,” saying they are just walking down the street and getting “shot ... being decimated by crime."

JUST AS CLINTON INVITES VIEWERS TO VISIT HER SITE
During Debate, Trump Site Appears to Be Down
32 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Just as Hillary Clinton was inviting debate viewers to visit her site for real-time fact checking, there appeared to be a problem with Donald Trump's own campaign website. For about a 15-minute period, a blank page or an error message appeared when we tried to load the Trump site.

INTERRUPTS CLINTON MULTIPLE TIMES
Trump Comes Out Swinging
44 minutes ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Donald Trump has come out in the first segment of this debate raring to go. Trump has interrupted nearly every answer being given by Hillary Clinton, talking over her time and again. Clinton is sticking to her guns, smiling while Trump speaks and then calling on people to go to her website and see the fact checking being done.

AMERICA IS A “PIGGY BANK”
Clinton Opens Positive, Trump Mentions Difficulties
1 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Each candidate opened the debate sticking to their campaign's script. Hillary Clinton opened with a call for how to affect the future while Donald Trump spoke about many of the plights being faced by American workers today. Clinton discussed innovation, helping small business, and equal pay for women. Trump, in turn, discussed how jobs are leaving America, calling our country the "piggy bank" for other nations.

×