Motorcyclists love the freedom of the open road. Many states, however, mandate helmets. Motorcyclists in Texas, for example, have options: While those under the age of 20 who operate a motorcycle must wear an approved crash helmet, those over the age of 20 who have passed an approved safety course may opt to not wear a helmet.
Documented Proof: Helmets Save Lives
While many motorcycle enthusiasts prefer the freedom of not wearing a helmet, there is documented proof that wearing a helmet saves lives. Crashes can throw motorcyclists and their passengers from a motorcycle. The impact of their heads on the pavement can result in traumatic brain injuries (TBI) which can be life-altering, or they can lose their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a helmet can prevent 37 percent of all roadway deaths that occur with motorcycles. This leaves those who operate a motorcycle with the question of which motorcycle crash helmet is best suited for their needs.
Understanding Approved Motorcycle Helmets
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) governs helmet safety standards as such: “[Q]uasi-static load application rate for the helmet retention system; revises the impact attenuation test by specifying test velocity and tolerance limits and removing the drop height test specification; provides tolerances for the helmet conditioning specifications and drop assembly weights…”
This “legalese” is confusing, but it means helmets must pass these tests:
- Impact testing – These tests require the helmet to withstand a certain amount of force to protect the rider. Tests are done on various surfaces to determine safety.
- Positional stability (roll-off) test – This set of tests ensures the helmet remains on the rider’s or passenger’s head during riding and in the event of a crash.
- Dynamic retention test – This set of tests determines whether the required chin straps will remain secure on the helmet. This is specifically for the area protecting the jaw.
- Chin bar test – This is similar to the above-referenced test but focuses on the chin bar which must remain in place.
- Shell penetration test – Motorcycle operators often must contend with flying debris. This test ensures the helmet will withstand the force of a projectile without nearing the user’s skull.
- Face shield protection test – It is great to have a face shield to protect your nose and eyes from bugs and other debris. These tests ensure they protect your face from projectile damage.
These tests are not all required by the DOT regulations and they rely on data provided by manufacturers to certify a motorcycle helmet. The standards protect the rider’s head during a motorcycle crash to minimize the risk to the brain from an accident.
Novelty Helmets Versus Tested Helmets
Some states don’t require or allow novelty helmets. Novelty helmets are designed for style, not safety.
Snell Foundation (previously known as Snell Memorial Foundation) is a not-for-profit organization that regularly tests helmets for safety—and unlike DOT standards, it tests any helmet submitted to it. Snell’s standards are much more rigorous than those required by DOT.
Fit Is Important in Finding the Best Motorcycle Crash Helmet
One of the key factors in finding the best helmet is making sure it fits properly. Not every head is the same size and not every manufacturer of helmets designs their sizes the same. Therefore, a small from one manufacturer could be a medium from another.
The other factors that determine which helmet is best for your needs include:
- Airflow – The proper airflow when you are operating a motorcycle is important for both safety and comfort. The amount of air that seeps into the helmet can impact your hearing and therefore your safety while operating.
- Face shields – Motorcycle helmets may use full and half shields. Some helmets come in various styles while other helmets allow for a detachable shield.
- Inside cushioning – Long-distance bikers prefer a helmet with cushioning on the inside. Do not mistake this cushion for a safety factor as it is designed solely for comfort.
Motorcycle operators and their passengers should find a properly fitting motorcycle helmet to provide the maximum possible protection in case of a motorcycle crash. While a helmet may appeal to you because it “looks good,” you want to protect your head and face from potential injuries in the event you are involved in a motorcycle crash.
Normal Wear and Tear and Replacement Helmets
Motorcycle operators are encouraged to replace helmets on average every five years. This is not a ploy by manufacturers to grow their sales. Over time, motorcycle helmets can lose their effectiveness. Body oils, weather, and the fumes from traffic can degrade the helmets. Motorcycle operators and their passengers should always conduct safety checks on their helmets and replace them if there are signs of degradation.
Motorcycle accidents are terrifying, and victims can suffer serious injuries, particularly if they travel without a helmet. Even those operators and their riders who have waivers from the requirement to wear a helmet should consider wearing a well-made and certified helmet to help protect them in a motorcycle crash.
If you or a loved one were in a motorcycle crash, you have rights. These rights do not diminish if you were legally traveling without a helmet. Regardless of the extent of your injuries, contact a motorcycle accident attorney to protect your rights.