Is An Airbag For Your Head Really Safer Than A Bike Helmet?

Remember Hövding, the Swedish bike helmet released a few years back that looks like a stylish, poofy collar and supposedly inflates like an airbag upon impact? In a new video, the company explains more about how it works—claiming it's actually much safer than a traditional helmet.

The video goes over the basic Hövding tech: 200 sensors outfitted around the hood measure the movement from an impact, and inflate the helmet in only 1/10th of a second. But the video also gives insight into how bike helmets are tested and rated (at least in the EU), and says that traditional hard-shell helmets are not able to offer the level of protection that a Hövding can.

According to impact tests by the Swedish insurance company Folksam, Hövding has three times the shock-absorbing capacity of a traditional helmet and greatly reduces the chances of serious injury:

With a traditional cycle helmet in this type of accident, the likelihood of serious head injury is approximately 90% and the risk of a fatal injury is as high as 30%. The use of an airbag cycle helmet in the same accident dramatically reduces the risk of injury. The risk of serious head injury is then only 2% and the risk of a fatal injury almost non-existent.

Listed alongside this information (you can see an interactive chart on their site) are testimonials by Folksam's safety experts as well as Swedish consumer advocate agencies that claim the technology is so game-changing, it's akin to installing airbags in automobiles: "Hövding is the biggest thing since the emergence of the cycle helmet and, as a milestone, is equivalent to when the airbag was developed for cars," says Maria Krafft, the Head of Division Traffic Safety & Environment at Folksam.

Of course, we should take all of this with a grain of salt, as the video and research were both funded and produced by the helmet manufacturer. But there has been some pretty extensive research that questions the effectiveness of bike helmets in general. Although some studies do prove that a helmet might prevent your chance of incurring a head injury, they are not designed to fully absorb the impact of a serious collision (which are rare in urban biking settings anyway; these benefits-outweigh-the-risks studies are often trotted out when a city tries to implement a mandatory helmet law).

Even more interestingly, helmets have actually not seen a great deal of innovation as the number of people riding bikes has increased worldwide. There are variations in materials and design, of course; but, for the most part, bike helmets all work pretty much the same way. The field is thus absolutely wide open for new ideas when it comes to how they function. Additionally, Hövding has a "black box" in its helmet that records crash data to share with manufacturers to make the product better. The biggest hurdle I can see, culturally, is that it's hard to "trust" that the bag will inflate—but I suppose that we trust the airbags in our car to work.

Most outlets (including us!) originally reported on Hövding as a fashion alternative—a stylist hood that battled "helmet head"—and they've definitely perpetuated that vibe with their marketing campaign. But it's definitely possible that the company has developed some revolutionary safety features, as well. Maybe soon we'll be wearing airbags on our heads, instead. [Hövding]