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Virginia Tech expands, updates helmet ratings

Wednesday - 1/30/2013, 12:21pm  ET

seau.jpg
In this Oct. 7, 2007 file photo, New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau runs with the ball after an interception during New England's win over the Cleveland Browns in a football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The family of Junior Seau has sued the NFL, claiming the former linebacker's suicide was the result of brain disease caused by violent hits he sustained while playing football. The wrongful death lawsuit, filed Jan. 23 in San Diego, blames the NFL for its acts or omissions that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head. Helmet manufacturer Riddell Inc., also is being sued by the Seaus, who say Riddell was negligent in their design, testing, assembly, manufacture, marketing, and engineering of the helmets used by NFL players. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

WASHINGTON - Football soon won't be the only sport with safety rated protective helmets.

The rating system conducted by Virginia Tech- Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences is expanding to include helmets for hockey, baseball, softball and lacrosse.

That will give players and sports programs the ability to make informed choices when buying a helmet. The school hopes the new ratings will also encourage manufacturers to improve the safety of their helmets.

The university's research center believes the ratings will help reduce the number concussions in these sports, a problem which has become a public health priority. A many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year in the United States

"Before these rating systems there was no bio-mechanical data out there that's independent for people to make a decision," says Stefan Duma, professor of biomedical engineering and department head at Virginia Tech. "When you look at the worst performing helmets compared to the best performance helmets, the difference is dramatic. The lower acceleration results in lower risks."

The announcement comes as new research published this month shows that the likelihood of a concussion depends on the acceleration and rotation of the head. Virginia Tech, the National Institutes of Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are funding the research.

Such data will be used to predict the likelihood a blow will result in a concussion when the helmets are tested in the laboratory, the university says.

"All the standards before this only look at linear. But now we're including rotation, which is a component of all the head impacts," Duma tells WTOP.

New football helmet ratings will include data that looks at rotational acceleration beginning in 2015.

Hockey helmet ratings are due out this fall. Youth football results will be released in 2015 followed by baseball, softball and lacrosse in 2016.

Despite the advances in testing and helmet design, Duma notes that no helmet can prevent all concussions.

"The most effective strategies to reduce concussions in sports involve modifying league rules and player technique to limit exposure to head impacts," Duma says.

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WTOP's Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @kingWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)