A Safety Geek’s Guide to Motorcycle Helmets

Jan 24, 2020 | Firm News

In previous articles, we’ve discussed in detail how helmets save lives and even save motorcyclists money. In statistics alone, there’s a lot of information to gain about how helmet use dramatically enhances a rider’s safety.

But we’re not content to stop there. At Wittmer | Linehan, we’re passionate about the wellbeing of motorcyclists, and we’re determined to ensure riders have all the information they need to educate, improve and prolong their riding experiences.

Back to helmets. At first glance, the helmet appears to be a fairly rudimentary device — something you strap onto your head that is harder and more durable than the precious parts of your body directly underneath.

The modern helmet is more sophisticated than ever. The latest in helmet technology includes materials such as lightweight hybrid fiberglass and Kevlar, the impact resistant fibers known to stop a bullet. Many helmets are designed with vents that maximize cooling airflow and keep a face shield from fogging up. Some even come with antimicrobial liners and BlueToothTM Technology!

There are three main types of helmets. A full-face helmet covers the entire head and face, with a face shield that can flip up when you’re not on the move. A three-quarter helmet has most of the same protective components, but doesn’t include a chin bar and may not always come with a face shield. A half helmet may have a small visor but no face shield, and the shell of the helmet only protects the top and back of the head.

A 2011 study by the Institute of Injury Prevention and Control (IIPC) surveyed more than 400 motorcycle riders who sought medical attention for head injuries after a crash. The researchers found that compared with helmeted motorcyclists, non-helmeted motorcyclists were more than four times as likely to have head injuries and ten times as likely to have brain injuries. Compared with motorcyclists wearing full-face helmets, those wearing half-coverage helmets were more than twice as likely to have head and brain injuries. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation also upholds the full-face helmet as the most protective.

Studies by the IIPC and similar organizations aren’t the only way we know about the efficacy of helmets. The best helmets undergo rigorous inspections and tests before they’re put into practice on the highway. When shopping for a helmet, one of the first things you should look for is a DOT stamp of approval. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined qualifications in three different performance standards for helmets: how well they transfer a shock away from the head (impact attenuation), how well they deflect sharp objects (penetration), and how well they stay on the head in an impact (retention).

If you find a helmet that also carries a Snell stamp of approval, then you’ve got a real winner. The Snell Memorial Foundation also tests helmets worn in competitive auto racing, bicycling and other sports in which helmet use is strongly advised. While the DOT sets the bar for minimum helmet safety standards, qualification for DOT certification is determined by the helmet’s manufacturer, which essentially makes it an “honor system.” Snell technicians actually test a sample of a helmet line before giving certification. They also regularly purchase Snell-approved helmets and bring them back to the lab for follow-up tests. Snell’s tests are more comprehensive than the DOT’s. Their helmets are required to withstand higher impacts and absorb more energy. They are also tested for impacts on more types of different surfaces. Snell asserts that all their helmets meet or exceed DOT qualifications.

There is one type of helmet that we haven’t addressed as worthy of a safety geek’s attention: the novelty helmet. Novelty helmets are often stylish, flashy and inexpensive compared to a certified helmet, but they offer a protection level of next to nothing in a real-life crash situation. In some states it’s illegal to ride on the highway with a novelty helmet. A real-world survey has yet to be conducted on their efficacy, but in 2007 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the results of a laboratory study on seven types of novelty helmets. Computerized impact attenuation test simulations showed a 100 percent likelihood of brain injury and/or skull fracture in a novelty helmet wearer. When you shop for protective gear, a certified helmet is well worth the investment.

We hope you learn something from this article, and every article in which we address safety on the road. But if none of the above was new to you … congratulations! You’re in a class of motor vehicle owners who respect their fellow drivers and will enjoy many miles of open road. Suddenly a safety geek sounds like a pretty cool thing to be.

If you have any questions about the laws governing helmet use, insurance and motorcycling in Florida, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at the law offices of Wittmer | Linehan.