But what about the cyclist who wants a better helmet? What about the manufacturer that would prefer putting the $180 of "value added" into better engineering and better materials
What kind of "value added" features do you want? You give no specifics. There are lots of expensive helmets with better graphics, better ventilation, more sophisticated suspensions, etc. but other than style and possibly a small increase in comfort what value do they bring?
As to exceeding the CPSC safety standards, if a manufacturer found materials that would provide better protection without a major weight gain they would certainly do it as it would be a major sales advantage. Bike helmets have significantly improved in impact protection and reduced weight over the years so there must be an incentive to do so over and above legislative coercion.
The threat of lawsuits from providing "too much safety" is a red herring. Ever read the disclaimers in any helmet of any type sold for any purpose? They all say this helmet cannot protect you from all possible hazards. That's their legal defense and I haven't heard of anyone successfully suing Bell.