SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall has asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate whether safety standards for football helmets are adequate to protect players from concussions and other head injuries.
The Democratic senator made the request in a letter Tuesday to the commission's chairman.
Udall serves on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the commission.
In his letter, Udall said manufacturers voluntarily adopt the current safety standard, which evaluates a helmet's ability to withstand a direct blow. But Udall said the standard doesn't assess whether a helmet is adequate to prevent concussions from hits that spin a player's head.
Udall also said the standard doesn't distinguish between helmets used by younger players or those for stronger professional players.
Helmets used in the NFL - and NCAA or high school football, for that matter - are supposed to pass a test developed by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), a nonprofit corporation. The group's website notes that it establishes "voluntary test standards," that "manufacturers test their own helmets" and that "NOCSAE does not possess a surveillance force to ensure compliance with the standards."
The testing method established in the 1970s remains essentially the same today. The goal then was to prevent sudden death, skull fractures and brain bleeding in football - not stop concussions as they are defined now - and there's universal agreement that goal has been achieved. But NOCSAE says it would like to find a way to update the standard and testing to better account for concussions, once more is known about the forces that cause them.
Concussions occur when the brain moves inside the skull from an impact or a whiplash effect.
In a series of interviews with The Associated Press in November, representatives of the NFL, its players' union and the four equipment companies that make every helmet worn in the league all agreed there's no football helmet - in production or on drawing boards - that can eliminate concussions. And there might never be one.
The NFL acknowledges that the lack of a perfect helmet contributed to its decision to use hefty fines and the threat of suspensions to cut down on dangerous hits. It's also why the league's head, neck and spine medical committee is holding a two-day meeting next week to look into new ways to test and design helmets.