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Throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

NOCSAE Ruling On Helmet Sensors Generates Controversy

Voiding of helmet certification if helmet modified in any way criticized as a step back for player safety


SafeBrain: let parents decide

In a statement to MomsTEAM, another of the helmet sensor companies, Canadian-based

"The recent statement released by NOCSAE addresses a couple of very important issues," the company said. "The structural integrity of any helmet is of the utmost importance for the safety of athletes in contact sports. NOCSAE certifies these helmets from the manufacture, [so that] removing padding or modifying the structure of the helmet could be extremely detrimental."

But, said SafeBrain, lightweight helmet sensors are fundamentally different. "According to Dr. Martin Mrazik Clinical Neuropsychologist & NHL/CFL concussion consultant, ‘The best thing we can do for the player with a potential head injury is to provide immediate evaluation...' SafeBrain helps do just that. We have over three years of testing behind our product. We have made certain that our sensor does not change the structural integrity of a helmet. SafeBrain sensors are attached to the helmet using double-sided tape, the weight of the sensor is approximately an ounce and the tiny size of our sensor does not alter the geometry of the shell."

"SafeBrain and the NOCSAE are working towards the same goal, the ultimate protection of our athletes." Because it believed its product was of "immeasurable benefit" to athletes, the company expressed the view that "the ultimate decision [about whether to use it] should be left to the parents of the athletes and the athletes themselves."

Helmet companies support NOCSAE

Not surprisingly, helmet manufacturers reacted positively to the new NOCSAE rule, although at least one was careful to differentiate between helmet sensor products, like the Shockbox, Brain Sentry, and gForce Tracker, and supplemental impact protection devices, like Guardian Cap.

Schutt. In a statement to MomsTEAM, Robert Erb, CEO of Schutt, said that while "We work with a number of inventors and outside companies to help them understand helmet impact dynamics, we do not certify or approve the use of third party products in our helmets. We make the best protective gear and prefer that nothing be added or subtracted from the manufactured product. When it leaves our facility, it is fully compliant with NOCSAE and other regulatory bodies, and it is fully insured and warranted. A company that seeks to alter the helmet in any way needs to do its own certification under NOCSAE standards and needs to fund its own insurance. This is no different than after-market automotive or electronic enhancements."

Erb noted that Schutt specifically advises purchasers of its helmets that "alterations, additions or component deletions or removals you make to the helmet may void [its] warranty and could adversely affect the protective capabilities of the helmet."

As far as helmet sensors are concerned, Erb said that, while Schutt was "not currently contemplating getting into the electronic sensor business," as its "expertise was in the creation of protective gear and energy management under a variety of temperatures and environments, ... we are always open to working with third-party electronic companies and universities."

Erb stated that "the real underlying question is not whether sensors can be put into helmets, but what data can be relied upon to create a predictive model." He noted that "the epidemiology of concussions is not yet fully understood. There are no laboratory models or FEA models that have proven particularly predictive. And a concussive injury - at least at this stage of scientific inquiry - has far too many variables, including genetic predisposition to injury, environmental factors, and rotational and angular forces, neck girth and strength, player position, and point of impact."