Motorcycles embrace the spirit of American freedoms. Many riders enjoy the feeling of the open road and the nimbleness that motorcycles provide. Riding is also practical and can decrease the amount of fuel needed to travel.
However, motorcycles are also the most dangerous type of motor vehicle transportation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2017 alone, 5,172 motorcyclists lost their lives on American roads. Per mile traveled, motorcyclists were 27 times more likely to die in a vehicle crash than motorists in passenger cars.
Helmets Decrease the Risks
Helmets saved the lives of 1,872 motorcyclists in 2017, as estimated by the NHTSA. Nearly 750 individuals would have survived if they had worn helmets while on their bikes that same year.
It is widely known and documented that helmets can prevent or reduce the risk of motorcycle accident injuries and fatalities. Most states have laws requiring a helmet when riding a motorcycle or a similar motor vehicle. Even still, the NHTSA reports that just over 42 percent of motorcycle riders forgo helmets.
One of the most common severe injuries to motorcyclists is the head and facial injury. The same report shows that more than 15 percent of motorcyclists hospitalized after an accident suffered head injuries, and close to 17 percent suffered facial injuries. About 17 percent of all motorcyclists injured sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but this group accounted for 54 percent of riders who died after getting to the hospital.
TBI is a substantial cause of death in motorcycle accidents. By wearing a helmet, motorcyclists decrease their risk of incurring a TBI and other head and facial injuries. Motorcycle helmets encase the head and protect it from direct impact with the road, other vehicles, and other objects in the crash environment. Helmets also protect against road rash and some severe head injuries from being drug across the road or from crushing injuries.
Helmets Have Many Benefits
Of course, the most critical benefit of a helmet is safety but helmet wearing. At the same time, a quality helmet makes riding a motorcycle more fun and comfortable. Even if you don’t want to wear a helmet for safety reasons, consider these other benefits.
- Cut down on wind noise
- Decrease windblast on your face and eyes
- Deflect bugs and other debris in the air
- Provide comfort during changing weather conditions
- Reduces rider fatigue
What to Look for in a Motorcycle Crash Helmet
Helmets are the most essential piece of safety gear you can wear. Helmet use is not a “cure-all” for motorcycle crashes and injuries, but helmets ensure better outcomes in an accident.
If you’re going to take the time and effort to wear a helmet, you should ensure that it is the best possible one for you. Understandably, color, design, and price will play a role in your decision about which helmet to buy, but put safety and comfort first. The best motorcycle crash helmet is new, with several crucial specific characteristics.
Select a Motorcycle Specific Helmet that Meets Federal Safety Standards
First, make sure that you are looking at helmets specifically designed and manufactured for motorcycle riding. Helmets are used in all sorts of environments to protect the head, such as construction hardhats, football and other sports helmets, and Kevlar caps in the military. Motorcycle riding is not the intended application for such headwear.
Only use a helmet manufactured to comply with DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) standards, including meeting Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. In many states, this is the law. Unfortunately, many motorcycle riders chose helmets that are novelties and designed to provide protection.
Look for the following to determine if a helmet meets federal safety standards:
- DOT sticker – Helmets that meet FMVSS 218 must have a sticker on the outside back of the helmet with the letters “DOT.” This sticker shows that the helmet is certified and meets or exceeds FMVSS 218. Beware that some novelty helmet merchants supply DOT stickers separately for bikers to place on non-complying helmets. Under these circumstances, the DOT sticker is invalid and fails to certify compliance.
- Snell or ANSI label – Another good indicator that a helmet meets the federal safety standard is the presence of labels on the inside, showing that it meets the standards of non-profit, private organizations like Snell or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Invalid DOT stickers are not typically on a helmet with a Snell or ANSI label.
- Manufacturer’s labeling – Under FMVSS 218, helmet manufacturers are mandated to place a label on or inside the helmet showing the manufacturer’s name, model, size, month and year of manufacture, construction materials, and owner’s information. If a helmet doesn’t have this labeling, it doesn’t meet the Federal safety standards.
- Specific helmet characteristics – The design and weight of a helmet, the width of the inner liner, and the quality of the chin strap and rivets are additional clues to help you differentiate safe and approved helmets from non-complying ones.
Each organization that safety tests helmets will use rigid testing procedures to look for:
- Impact – the shock-absorbing ability of the helmet
- Penetration – the helmet’s ability to resist a blow from a sharp object
- Retention – the chin strap’s ability to remain fastened without stretching or breaking
- Peripheral vision – the helmet must provide a minimum side vision of 105 degrees to each side (for most people, usable peripheral vision is only about 90 degrees to each side.)
Consider Helmet Specifications and Features
There are multiple physical characteristics that you should look for when selecting the best motorcycle helmet and determining if it meets safety standards.
Look for a helmet with:
- A tough outer shell – Some family of fiber-reinforced composites or thermoplastics like polycarbonate should make up the outer shell. This material’s design causes it to compress when it hits something hard, dispersing the energy of an impact to decrease the force before it impacts your head.
- A thick inner liner – Firm polyester foam (Styrofoam), about one-inch thick, should line the inside of the helmet. If the inner liner isn’t visible, you can feel for its thickness. Watch out for helmets with only soft foam padding or no padding at all. This layer also helps absorb shock and cushions your head.
- Comfort padding – This is a soft foam and cloth layer that is next to your head. It keeps you comfortable and helps the helmet to fit snugly.
- A robust chinstrap and rivets – Also known as the retention system, you want to be sure that the helmet will stay on if you are in a crash.
- Enough weight – Safe helmets should weigh around three pounds and have more of a substantial feel. Stay away from helmets that weigh around a pound or less.
- An approved design – Approved helmets don’t have anything on them that extends more than two-tenths of an inch from the helmet’s surface. Visor fasteners are permitted, but a spike or other decorations protruding further from the helmet are not.
- A full-face design – If the helmet has a full-face design, the chances that it is not approved are slim, although not all approved helmets must have this feature.
- Reflectivity – Many states require helmets to have a specific amount of retroreflective material. You can find out if a helmet meets these standards by reading the manufacturer’s information and checking with your local motor vehicle department.
The shell and liner work together to compress and spread impact forces throughout the helmet’s material. The more the helmet deflects and absorbs the impact’s energy, the less force will reach your head and potentially cause brain damage.
Quality, safety-approved helmets often delaminate, crack, or break when impacted. This breakdown isn’t a sign of a poorly made helmet but of a helmet that did its job. The liner isn’t as resilient to these forces, but its damage might not be readily visible. Even if it looks normal, replace a helmet after it has been in a crash, as it has lost its protective value. Avoid a used or hand-me-down helmet, since you can’t know the nature of the inner line’s integrity or if it already went through a crash. Wearing one of these helmets will not provide you near the protection that a new one will.
Designers and manufacturers are working to make helmets less expensive, stronger, and more comfortable. Helmets are not bulky and cumbersome like they used to be. Stay away from “shorty” half-helmets. They protect less of your head and are more likely to inadvertently come off your head in an accident.
Ensure a Good Fit
You don’t merely want to guess at the size of the helmet you need. A motorcycle helmet must fit well to provide proper comfort and protection. A good starting point is to find a helmet size that matches your hat size. Most helmets are labeled and sold as XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, or XXL. You might need to reach out to the manufacturer for size equivalents. Helmet sizes are often different between manufacturers and even model types. It is impossible to ensure you are selecting the right helmet size without trying it on.
When you try the helmet on, a correct fit will feel snug or possibly even a little tight until it is in the correct position on your head. Helmets need to fit square on your head and not tilted back like a hat. If you select a helmet that is too large, it will be noisy and allow wind to come in, move up and down on your head at inconvenient times, and it will be more likely to come off of your head in a crash when you need it the most.
Once you have the helmet in place on your head, make some additional fit checks before fastening the straps:
- Do the cheek pads touch your cheeks without pressing on them uncomfortably? If the helmet fits well, you should answer, “Yes.”
- Are there no gaps between your temples and the brow pads? There shouldn’t be any gaps.
- If a neck roll is present, does it push the helmet away from the back of your neck? It should not.
- If it is a full-face helmet, press on the chin piece. Does the helmet or face shield touch your nose or chin? If it does, wind pressure will likely do this at speed.
- When you remove the helmet, does your head feel sore, or are there any red spots on your forehead? If so, you should select the next size up as these pressure points can be quite uncomfortable while riding and can even cause headaches.
No matter how much your helmet costs, it is an investment in your safety and well-being. Making sure it meets applicable safety standards, is not counterfeit, and fits correctly is the best way to choose the helmet that is right for you.
Motorcycle Helmets and Liability in Crashes
Even the best helmet is no guarantee against injury. However, without a helmet, you are more likely to have severe head injuries than a rider who is wearing one.
Whether you were wearing a helmet or not or abiding by your state’s motorcycle laws or not won’t change the fact that a negligent driver caused your accident. Your lack of a helmet or wearing a poor-quality helmet didn’t cause them to hit you or cause a crash.
Other drivers are responsible for their actions. If they acted recklessly or carelessly and caused your injuries, it can be informative and beneficial to speak to an attorney to find out what your rights are. Other drivers may owe you compensation for any damages you suffer as a result of your motorcycle accident.
Don’t let your lack of a helmet keep you from seeking the justice you deserve after a motorcycle accident. Contact Brauns Law, PC today for a free consultation.