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How can I tell the difference between safe and unsafe motorcycle helmets?

Many bikers make the mistake of assuming that all motorcycle helmets are created equal. While motorcycle helmets that meet the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) safety standards save over a thousand lives each year, three times as many bikers will be injured or killed due to improper head and neck protection.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposal to help motorcyclists understand the dangers of novelty motorcycle helmets. These helmets are designed to look good, but are often poorly-constructed and offer little to no crash protection.

A few common choices that place aesthetics above safety include:

  • Novelty helmets. Over 4,500 motorcyclists were killed in 2013, many as a result of improper novelty helmets. Although many such helmets are sold with a disclaimer that they are not for active road use, NHTSA claims that many are frequently marketed to motorcyclists using helmet pseudonyms. Manufacturers may call their helmets “lids,” “brain buckets,” “beanies,” “rain bonnets,” “novelty helmets,” “universal helmets,” or “loophole lids,” and are designed to cover a smaller area of the head than road-safe helmets. A recent study indicated that over half of all motorcyclists wearing a novelty helmet who were treated in emergency rooms after crashes suffered serious head injuries, while less than 20 percent of riders wearing a DOT-certified helmet suffered similar injuries.
  • Inadequate helmets. In order to help consumers find safe helmet options, NHTSA’s proposal would also add a concrete definition of “motorcycle helmet” to allow product makers to comply with federal laws. By providing strict regulations on inner liner thickness, outer shell durability, and chin strap strength, officials and consumers would be able to easily identify which helmets are incapable of meeting the minimum performance requirements.
  • No helmets. Riding without any helmet at all is still the most dangerous safety violation for motorcyclists. Over half of all unhelmeted motorcyclists who died in traffic accidents were killed due to severe head injuries.

How to Choose the Safest Motorcycle Helmet for You

All riders should choose a helmet that is safety-approved and road legal by DOT standards, while a mark of testing and approval by Snell standards adds an extra layer of safety. Once you have your approved helmet, you should ensure that the helmet fits you adequately, checking that there are no gaps at the front, back, or sides of your head when the chin strap is comfortably tightened. For more information on how you can stay safe while riding your motorcycle on Kansas City roads, read our free book, The KC Biker Bible.

James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.

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