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Technical FAQ: Are helmet cams safe?

A reader asks action camera makers about the safety of their helmet mounts and we ask for feedback from Giro, Specialized, and Troy Lee

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Action cameras are exploding as action sports athletes have widely adopted the technology over the last half-decade. Some folks are attaching these devices, made by brands including GoPro, Contour, and Sony, to their helmets. This phenomenon brought on a reader question this week regarding the safety of mounting an action camera to a helmet. He checked in with two camera makers. We asked for feedback from three helmet makers. Read on to see what they said.

Are helmet cams safe?

Dear Lennard,
Does attaching a GoPro or other camera to a helmet reduce the safety benefits in any way? Does it make a difference if it is glued on or strapped through the vents?

I got some comment from Contour:

All of our mounts for helmets are secured with double-sided adhesive tape. The mounts themselves are of plastic construction. Whilst both are strong enough to hold the cameras in place, during an impact directly on the mount, the mount will usually break. The adhesive has been selected as it is the least reactive when applied to various hard surfaces.

Helmet manufacturers, understandably, will always turn down a claim if an unofficial accessory is fitted and causes injury to the wearer. This even includes visors that are not from the manufacturer. It’s a “belts and braces” way to avoid litigation.

I hope that helps you a bit. As for specifics as to the testing carried out, I am unable to release these publically, but I can assure you that they are designed with safety in mind.

And from GoPro:

I am glad that you reached out to us regarding your helmet. We do not have any testing resources available regarding the effects of mounting a camera on your helmet and the impact on the helmet’s safety as a result.

Our mounts are not designed to withstand significant impact, in the event that you do significantly impact your helmet the mounting parts and adhesive would likely not stay or adversely affect the performance of the helmet.

We have not done widespread testing of different helmet brands, in most instances a camera will more likely dismount than damage the helmet. Our policy is that it is up to the customer to ensure their camera is mounted safely and securely, we can not accept any liability regarding the way that a mounted camera my impact the user’s safety in the event of a crash.

Thank you for looking into it; for now I am using a K-Edge handlebar mount.
— Phil

Dear Phil,
That is a great question, especially in light of what happened to Schumi in December. It’s a shock. Like Superman becoming a quad. When I lived in Ferrari-crazed Italy with my family a dozen years ago, at the peak of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One career with the iconic Italian carmaker, he was like Superman. And when I heard he was in a coma from a ski accident, I assumed he wasn’t wearing a helmet. But he was! With a helmet cam that conceivably caused the helmet to fail.

I was also recently reading an article about wearable cams causing a surge in accidents in the March 2015 issue of Outside Magazine (“The Danger Zone”, p. 28). Clearly, there are some very questionable helmet cam mounts out there that can really tweak the wearer’s neck or weaken his or her helmet (some, like Sumomoto’s aluminum GoPro arm mount require the user to drill two holes in the helmet to attach its foot-long rotatable curved beam). There seems to be no online link to the story. Sorry.

Here are responses to your question from Giro (which is part of the same parent company as Bell), Troy Lee, and Specialized.
― Lennard

From Giro:

We studied this issue thoroughly, including significant testing at our in-house DOME test lab with both Go-Pro and Contour units that are used on cycling, snow, and powersports helmets. We’ve also helped to initiate an ASTM standards subcommittee to collaborate with others scientists and our competitors on this topic. Our mounts cause no significant additional loads for the neck nor brain rotation due to well designed breakaway features.

Due to the variety of alternative methods that someone might use to attach a camera or light to their helmet, and the fact that every crash is a unique event, we cannot offer any claim for mounts that we did not design for this purpose.
— Eric Richter
Sr. Brand Manager, Giro Cycling

From Specialized:

We have discussed this. We believe that a good GoPro mount should “break away” in an impact. We think this is the main thing. There is still risk that the camera could still cause injury, but not worse than rocks, eyewear, etc. There is always risk of injury in an accident, regardless. So, it’s always best to keep the rubber side down.

From our experience, so far (I say so far, because it is still a relatively new area for helmet use/accident data), most of the adhesive mounts do break away fine. It seems a bigger problem that cameras get knocked off and lost. So, tethering the camera may also be wise, while still providing the breakaway feature. We think it’s a bad idea to have a camera “hard mounted or bolted” to the helmet, as this may increase risk by adding leverage to rotation in an impact. Standards often state that “protrusions over 5mm in height, off of the surface of the helmet, must break away in an impact”.
— Michael Grim
Helmet Manager, Specialized

From Troy Lee:

We have done some testing with our helmets in proto form, with integrated helmet mounts and we are not convinced to move forward with it.

— Craig “Stikman” Glaspell
Bicycle Global Marketing Manager/Bicycle Athlete Manager, Troy Lee Designs