Can helmet cams and intercoms be dangerous?

Can helmet cams and intercoms be dangerous?

Living in our day and age, either you consume helmet cam footage or shoot some yourself, and the same could be said regarding intercoms.

It doesn't matter if we are using them to talk to someone else on the road, take calls on the go, listen to GPS instructions, or to blast the Eye of the Tiger down a twisty road, many riders are die-hard fans of this wonder of technology.

This being, and with so many of us sticking tech on the outside of our helmets, have you wondered if you are jeopardising your safety when doing so?

Are we doing anything wrong when attaching those bulky pieces of plastic on the shells of our helmets?!

I would say that there are some aspects to take into account when trying to answer that.

The first one I'll point out might not be relevant in terms of direct hidden dangers, but it should not be disregard.

  • Aerodynamics

    There are cameras on the market specially designed for helmets, but not even those are an integral part of the helmet itself.

    Good brands spend a lot of time and money making sure their helmets perform to a tee.

    When we add something to them like a camera or intercom, we are ruining that performance, which due to the laws of aerodynamics, will forcefully pull our heads away from a stable position.

    The effects on our neck and back may be irrelevant to most, mainly in the short run, but they exist and cannot be neglected, especially if you aim at riding many hours per day.

    In aerodynamic terms, getting a GoPro on a good helmet is like buying a Ferrari and attaching a small table on the roof.


With this analogy out there, everyone can understand how a helmet cam can ruin, even if ever so slightly, a perfectly aerodynamic head bucket, but that doesn't make the helmet any less safe, or does it?

In 2013, following Michael Schumacher's accident, the helmet cam he was using was implicated as a contributory factor to the severity of the head injuries he sustained.

Following that information, some sports banned the use of helmet cams in competition, even though we still don't have enough reports, studies, and lab tests on this matter.

The reason why we don't have enough testing on this?

Liability.

Action cam and intercom manufacturers tend to advise you to install their products according to helmet manufacturer specifications, and helmet producers advise against sticking anything to their helmets apart from their own approved products.

Since this is an industry standard, there is no need to spend money on testing, as no manufacturer is liable if anything goes wrong, we are.

This being, it is crucial that we are informed about the potential risks of using such products.

  • A rock in the head
A camera attached to a helmet means that there is a spot where you will have:

- A glue or screw attachment
- A camera
- For some, a hinge of sorts linking the camera to the helmet attachment

If you fall, the area where the attachment is, regardless of the camera being there at the time or not, will always be a protruding area where the helmet will not be smooth.

That means that once that area touches the floor, the bike, the car, or wherever your head hits, there will always be a more significant concentration of forces on that spot.

For the helmet, even if you crash on smooth sand, the camera will act like a rock of sorts, pressuring that specific area of the shell.

That extra stress to that specific part of the helmet can be enough to make the difference between the shell and EPS holding up, or not.

Another aspect is rotation, as the cam, intercom, or hinge might get caught, not break out, and force your head into a strange spin, but again, without testing, these are just assumptions.


  • Weight
The energy of a moving object is called kinetic energy, and is equal to one half of the object's mass times the square of its velocity: KE = 0.5 × m × v^2.

The force on impact will be the kinetic energy divided by distance, which will make F = (0.5 × m × v^2) ÷ d

F - 
Force on impact
m - Mass of the object, in this case, head weight plus helmet
- velocity
- distance, which for this example we will assume it will be the distance your head travels due to whiplash

The greater the weight of the helmet, the more force on impact you will have, hence, more danger of serious problems or death.

Let’s play with this information for a second, and for that, we will use the average weight of a human head which is around 4.5 kg , of a helmet at 1.500 kg, we will assume 0.5 meters for the whiplash distance, and a speed of 17 meter per second, which is close to 40 miles per hour.

F = (0.5 x (4.5+1.5) x 17^2) ÷ 0.5 which will be equal to 1734 Newtons, close to 389.8187 pounds of force.

Let us now use a heavier helmet at 1.650 kg, that will bring our impact force to 1777 Newtons, close to 399.4855 pounds of force.

If math adds up correctly, this tells us that a 150 grams difference on a helmet, will produce around 10 pounds of difference on impact, which is something.

As an example, a GoPro 7 Black weights 116 grams, and a SENA 20S intercom weighs 60 grams.


    Assumptions made, and math calculated, I would say it is fair to assume no add-on to a helmet is risk free.

    I do use an intercom on my helmet, and at times I have used helmet cams for specific shots, but I know the risks I’m facing by doing it, it is an educated choice.

    Regardless of what you do, make sure your choice is equally educated, and that you are aware of the risks you choose to face.



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