The performance characteristics of football helmets are currently evaluated by simulating head impacts in the laboratory using a linear drop test method. To encourage development of helmets designed to protect against concussion, the National Operating Committee for Standards in Athletic Equipment recently proposed a new headgear testing methodology with the goal of more closely simulating in vivo head impacts. This proposed test methodology involves an impactor striking a helmeted headform, which is attached to a nonrigid neck. The purpose of the present study was to compare headform accelerations recorded according to the current (n=30) and proposed (n=54) laboratory test methodologies to head accelerations recorded in the field during play. In-helmet systems of six single-axis accelerometers were worn by the Dartmouth College men’s football team during the 2005 and 2006 seasons (n=20,733 impacts; 40 players). The impulse response characteristics of a subset of laboratory test impacts (n=27) were compared with the impulse response characteristics of a matched sample of in vivo head accelerations (n=24). Second- and third-order underdamped, conventional, continuous-time process models were developed for each impact. These models were used to characterize the linear head/headform accelerations for each impact based on frequency domain parameters. Headform linear accelerations generated according to the proposed test method were less similar to in vivo head accelerations than headform accelerations generated by the current linear drop test method. The nonrigid neck currently utilized was not developed to simulate sport-related direct head impacts and appears to be a source of the discrepancy between frequency characteristics of in vivo and laboratory head/headform accelerations. In vivo impacts occurred 37% more frequently on helmet regions, which are tested in the proposed standard than on helmet regions tested currently. This increase was largely due to the addition of the facemask test location. For the proposed standard, impactor velocities as high as 10.5 m/s were needed to simulate the highest energy impacts recorded in vivo. The knowledge gained from this study may provide the basis for improving sports headgear test apparatuses with regard to mimicking in vivo linear head accelerations. Specifically, increasing the stiffness of the neck is recommended. In addition, this study may provide a basis for selecting appropriate test impact energies for the standard performance specification to accompany the proposed standard linear impactor test method.

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