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Which helmets are the safest? Rankings suggest most get failing grade

WATCH: Experts in the United States did extensive testing of some of the most popular helmets on the market. They found the vast majority, especially the expensive ones, do a terrible job protecting kids from concussions. Reid Fiest reports.

Hockey players put on a helmet before hitting the ice to protect from injury but new U.S. ratings suggest that some of the helmets studied aren’t safe.

After three years of meticulously studying helmets on a five-star scale, American scientists out of Virginia Tech say that only one of 32 helmets garnered three stars. All of the other models fared poorly in lab tests that simulated the hits hockey players face during game time.

“Our focus is to improve the safety of the sport, and we have spent a great deal of time developing the methods and relaying these to the manufacturers so that they can optimize their designs,” Dr. Stefan Duma, head of the university’s biomedical engineering department, said in a statement.

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“Our hope is to see new helmets come into the market with improved performance,” he explained.

READ MORE: Canadian docs release 1st national guidelines on concussion in kids

The 32 helmets are new models from manufacturers such as Warrior, Reebok, Bauer, CCM, and Easton. Global News reached out to the companies for comment but did not yet receive a response by Monday afternoon.

In their lab and on an ice rink, Duma and his team conducted more than 2,000 impact tests. Three energy levels were used.

Turns out, six helmets earned two stars – an “adequate” ranking, 16 helmets received one star – a “marginal” ranking, and nine helmets garnered zero stars, which was described as “not recommended” on the 5-point scale.

The sole helmet that received 3 stars – “good” – was the Warrior Krown 360. See the full rankings of the 32 helmets here.

BY THE NUMBERS: HOCKEY HELMET RATINGS

  • 0: Helmets rated four stars and above
  • 1: Helmet rated three stars
  • 6: Helmets rated two stars
  • 16: helmets rated one star
  • 9: Helmets rated zero stars
  • $27 to $270: Price range of helmets tested
  • 64: Number of helmets tested, two each of 32 models
  • 227: Average number of head injuries suffered by average hockey player annually
  • 2,000+: Impact tests in lab and rink to create ratings

Source: Virginia Tech Institute and State University

Cost had no effect on a helmet’s safety ranking. Some $100 helmets did a better job than those that cost $300, for example.

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The university has already ranked football helmets. Its next steps are to look at helmet sensors for reliability and accuracy. Bike, construction and lacrosse helmets are also on the list of future products to investigate, according to the project’s website.

READ MORE: Ice hockey makes up nearly half of all head injuries in young Canadian athletes

“Although all helmets currently being sold satisfy minimum safety requirements specified by standards organizations, not all helmets are created equal.  Two helmets that pass the same standard may offer different levels of impact protection,” the site says.

The experts remind consumers: no helmet is concussion-proof.

“Any athlete can sustain a head injury, even with the very best head protection.  The helmet ratings identify the helmets that best reduce your chances of sustaining a concussion.  With that stated, helmets are only one piece of the equation to minimizing concussion risk,” they say.

Their full findings were published in the April edition of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. Read the study here.

Late last year, Bauer agreed to stop making claims that its RE-AKT helmet could prevent concussions in hockey players. It even made a $500,000 donation of equipment to a registered Canadian charity supporting youth participation in sport, according to a deal struck between the hockey equipment manufacturer and the Competition Bureau.

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READ MORE: Bauer removing performance claims from helmet, Competition Bureau says

In 2013, an international panel co-chaired by Canadian experts said that even the most advanced protective equipment, such as helmets and mouth guards, don’t necessarily prevent a concussion.

“This is not to downplay the importance of protective equipment,” co-chair Dr. Willem Meeuwisse told Global News.

“What is not true is that helmets and mouth guards prevent concussion because what we are talking about is the shaking of the brain inside a hard skull. Putting more padding around the hard skull may not reduce the amount of brain movement . . . it might increase it in some cases,” he said.

READ MORE: Mood swings, memory loss first symptoms of brain disease in hockey, football players

Meeuwisse leads the University of Calgary’s Brain Injury Initiative. He and his colleagues collaborated with counterparts from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Scandinavian countries for their research.

Their new guidelines, updated for the fourth time since they were first issued in 2001, also offer advice on how to diagnose and treat concussion during recovery.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca