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Rearguard and action cams safety

Introduction:

After our last photo of Rearguard, showing how a GoPro mount can be attached to the rear mesh, we received a post expressing safety concerns (here is the link to the post).

Here is the quote:

“That is really dangerous idea. The world champion F1 driver Michael Schumacher got fucked up in a skiing accident when the mounting for his go-pro tore through his helmet and punctured his brain. If you are going to do that it needs a bigger footprint.”

This is an important consideration, and should definitely be taken extremely seriously. We’ve spent some time reading about Schumacher’s case, as well as the general topic of mounting action cameras on helmets.

This is what we have concluded:

1. The wearing of action cameras on helmets during sports activities, especially high risk and extreme sports, is incredibly common. It is almost ubiquitous in biking, rock climbing, and skiing or snowboarding, all of which have a

Image of a skier with a mounted action cam

particularly high risk of head injuries resulting from collisions and falls. However, despite tens of thousands of people doing this every year, and despite thousands of crashes and falls, there is no clear evidence that mounting a camera in this way adds a significant risk of injury. This quotation is from an article which addressed this topic directly, specifically in reference to the death of Schumacher and concerns that his action camera contributed to his fatal injury.

“Conversely, mountain bikers have been using helmet-mounted cameras in mass numbers for years, as couple of minutes’ browsing YouTube shows. Crashing’s part of the game (whenever two or three mountain bikers are gathered together, they will start comparing scars) but we were unable to find any reports of serious injuries linked to camera mounts.”

2. While there’s some uncertainty about how the GoPro mount interacted with Schumacher’s helmet in such a way as to contribute to the injury, it is well documented that the helmet broke into two clean pieces. This is very important, because it shows that the GoPro mount didn’t actually injure Schumacher by piercing or puncturing his helmet. If it had, the helmet would be largely intact, and there would be an obvious hole where the GoPro mount entered. Whether the fatal injury was caused by the mount piercing his skull subsequently, or by the fact that his head hit a rock when he fell, or some combination of both, is still unclear.

The mounting hole in question

3. Fencing masks are made of steel mesh, which is very different to the unibody polymer construction of typical biking and skiing helmets. Those helmets crack and break into large pieces upon impact, whereas fencing mask mesh bends. Additionally, Rearguard is significantly longer than a standard fencing mask, and much longer than a cycling or skiing helmet. In Rearguard, the user’s head is at least 50mm away from the rear mesh. A GoPro mount would have to either bend the entire mesh by 50mm just to contact the mask tongue, or pierce the mesh completely. Given the mount’s plastic construction, it is extremely unlikely that an action camera mount will travel straight through the mesh and into the head.

4. When wearing Rearguard, the user also has a nape protector which fits just behind the rear mesh. This protector has a layer of 800N fabric, and ABS plastic inserts. Behind that, is the mask tongue. Consequently, in order to connect with the user’s head, an action camera mount would need to travel through the steel rear mesh, through the 800N back of head protector, and through the mask tongue. This is a lot of material to pierce through.

5. Action camera mounts are made of brittle plastic, which breaks easily upon impact, as many action camera users can attest. GoPro has addressed this topic specifically, subsequent to Schumacher’s death. These quotations are both from the article cited previously.

The mount fixed to the hole

“Shortly after Schumacher’s crash, VeloNews received a letter from a reader(link is external) questioning the safety of helmet-mounted cameras. Phil said he’d asked GoPro, and been told: “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.”””Giro’s Eric Richter said: “We studied this issue thoroughly, including significant testing at our in-house DOME test lab with both Go-Pro and Contour units. Our mounts cause no significant additional loads for the neck nor brain rotation due to well designed breakaway features.”Michael Grim of Specialized said: “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.”

6. It should be noted that GoPro has said that while their adhesive mounts obviously provide the best breakaway protection, they do advise against cameras “hard mounted or bolted” to a helmet. However, their reasoning for this has nothing to do with the danger of the bolt or mount piercing the helmet and entering the skull. Rather, they are concerned with the possibility of leverage or rotation from the mount compounding the danger of a fall.

Conclusion:

Here’s a quote from the article: “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.” Given the comments by action camera companies, given the very short bolt length required to mount an action camera to the back of our mask, given its distance from the skull, given the multiple layers of protection between the head and the mount, and given the ease with which the plastic mounts break on impact, we think the danger of bolting such a mount to the rear of the mask is low. However, it’s worth pointing out that if you prefer to avoid this, Rearguard’s wide, flat rear mesh provides a perfect surface for mounting an action camera with an adhesive mount, which will breakaway much easier. Nevertheless, we’ll conduct some experiments with Rearguard’s rear mesh holes, and update our advice on their usage once we’re done.

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