Recalls in Review: A monthly spotlight on trending regulatory enforcement issues at the CPSC.

As bicycles become a go-to social distancing option for consumers, we turn our attention in this Recalls in Review segment to an associated (and also closely regulated) product—bicycle helmets.  The CPSC mandates that all bicycle helmets manufactured or imported since March 17, 1995 meet the standard set forth in 16 CFR Part 1203.1(c).  This mandatory standard covers bicycle helmets and multipurpose helmets that can be used when riding a bicycle.  The standard does not cover helmets marketed for exclusive use in another designated activity, such as baseball or skateboarding.  (16 CFR Part 1203.4(b)).

The Commission has conducted 26 bicycle helmet recalls, with the first occurring in 1995 and the latest just last week.  CPSC attention to helmets remains fairly steady over time, with at least one recall most years, and no significant enforcement “spikes” at any point.

Seventy-seven percent of all bicycle helmet recalls were conducted due to a failure to meet the requirements of the federal safety standard, according to the recall announcements.  Most of the helmets failed to meet the impact requirements, though some recall announcements failed to specify why the helmets failed to meet the safety standard.

Fifteen percent of the bicycle helmet recalls involved alleged defects with the helmet’s chin strap.  Two recalls were conducted because the chin strap buckle could release in an accident, one because the chin strap itself could fail, and another because the chin strap contained small plastic pieces and magnets that could come loose. For a helmet to provide protection during an impact, it must have a chin strap and buckle that will stay securely fastened.

Most bicycle helmet recalls were conducted despite no reported incidents involving the product (84%).  Unsurprisingly, all but one of the recalls were aimed at preventing head injuries.  The remaining recall was conducted to prevent choking and magnet ingestion hazards posed by small plastic pieces and magnets that could come loose from the chin strap.

In a prior Safety Alert, the Commission has urged consumers to examine helmets carefully and to look for a label stating that the helmet conforms with the CPSC standard.  Although bicycle helmets cannot prevent concussions, CPSC compliant helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries during a fall.  A bicycle helmet should have a snug but comfortable fit on the rider’s head. Neither twisting nor pulling should be able to remove the helmet or loosen the buckle on the chin strap.

Consumers should also keep themselves up to date on helmet recalls and follow instructions for replacement or refund when necessary.  A replacement helmet, or consumer choice between replacement and refund, are the typical remedies offered by recalling firms.  Less often, the remedy may be limited to a refund or store gift card.

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About Recalls in Review: As with all things, but particularly in retail, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s trending with consumers.  Regulatory enforcement is no different – it can also be subject to pop culture trends and social media fervor.  And this makes sense, as sales increase for a “trending” product, the likelihood of discovering a product defect or common consumer misuse also increases.  Regulators focus on popular products when monitoring the marketplace for safety issues.

As product safety lawyers, we follow the products that are likely targets for regulatory attention. Through Recalls in Review, we share our observations with you.