A buyer’s guide to motorcycle helmet

Wearing a helmet effectively reduces head injuries among motorcyclists; even so, a substantial proportion of motorcycle riders who wear helmets still sustain head injuries in crashes. Open-face, or 3/4 helmets, cover the head completely and most of the chin and cheek area for almost all motorcycle riders, and give a great deal of safety and protection while still giving a great deal of comfort on hot days. Helmets that don’t meet the standards are known as “novelty helmets.” If you want to know which motorcycle helmets people are buying the most, visit motorcyclehelmetadviser.com.

A recent study found riders using novelty helmets were about twice as likely to die in crashes than riders wearing certified, full-face helmets ( Rice, 2017 ). NHTSA laboratory tests also suggest that head injuries are much more likely with novelty helmets than with certified ones ( NHTSA, 2007 ). Canada’s motorcycle helmet laws are easy to understand because they are fairly uniform across all 10 provinces and three territories: all passengers on a motorcycle or motor-assisted bicycle must wear crash helmets at all times securely fastened under the chin.

According to a 2010 survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, compliance in wearing helmets in states where use is required for all motorcyclists was 86% versus 55% in states where it was not 8 Similarly, in a retrospective review of motorcycle collisions in the National Trauma Data Bank, helmets were worn in 90% of motorcycle collisions from states with universal laws 14. In 2008, the federal government estimated that the use of helmets saved the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists, and if all motorcyclists had worn helmets that year, an additional 823 lives could have been saved 5 Overall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets are 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41% for motorcycle passengers 6 Currently, only 19 states have mandatory universal motorcycle helmet laws in place, 28 states have partial helmet laws, and three states have no helmet laws at all 7 This is a significant difference compared to the legislative requirements in 1975 when mandatory helmet laws were congressionally mandated. The results of this case-control study indicate that of the three commonly used helmet types, half-coverage helmets provide the least protection against head injuries for motorcycle riders when a crash occurs, and no significant difference in the protection was detected between full- and open-face helmets.

Helmet-related characteristics consisted of helmet use (helmeted or non-helmeted), helmet type, helmet ownership (driver or other), helmet fit (good or poor fit) and helmet cost (<300, 300-600 and >NT$600) (the exchange rate at the time of the study was ~US$1.00 = NT$32.00), the manner of wearing the helmet (covering the entire head, worn on the back of the head or worn in reverse), fastening status (firmly or loosely fastened), helmet visor (pulled down, not pulled down or without a visor) and helmet fixation during the crash (fixed on the head, displaced but still on the head or had come off). 24 The use of borrowed and poorly fitting helmets is widely reported in many developing countries and more than one-third of riders exhibit improper helmet use, such as wearing it on the back of the head and having a loose chin strap. Results A conditional logistic regression analysis showed that compared with helmeted motorcyclists, non-helmeted motorcyclists were more than four times as likely to have head injuries odds ratio (OR) 4.54; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.25-16.5 and ten times as likely to have brain injuries (OR 10.4; 95% CI 1.82-59.2). Compared with motorcyclists wearing full-face helmets, those wearing half-coverage helmets were more than twice as likely to have head injuries (OR 2.57; 95% CI 1.50-4.40) and brain injuries (OR 2.10; 95% CI 1.01-4.38).

This exemption includes very specific legal requirements , and does not excuse other riders from wearing approved motorcycle helmets when riding on public roads. It is estimated that the economic burden of injuries and deaths from motorcycle-related crashes in one year totaled $12 billion 15 Hospital charges for riders wearing helmets are significantly less than charges for those not wearing helmets ($4184.26 versus $7383.31). The Snell Memorial Foundation has developed stricter requirements and testing procedures for motorcycle helmets with racing in mind, as well as helmets for other activities (e.g. drag racing, bicycling, horseback riding), and many riders in North America consider Snell certification a benefit when considering buying a helmet while others note that its standards allow for more force (g’s) to be transferred to a rider’s head than the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standard.

Motorcycle helmets are generally designed to distort in a crash (thus expending the energy otherwise destined for the wearer’s skull), so they provide little protection at the site of their first impact, but continued protection over the remainder of the helmet. The motocross and off-road helmet has clearly elongated chin and visor portions, a chin bar, and partially open face to give the rider extra protection while wearing goggles and to allow the unhindered flow of air during the physical exertion typical of this type of riding. Studies have shown that full face helmets offer the most protection to motorcycle riders because 35% of all crashes showed major impact on the chin-bar area.

Although it was once speculated that wearing a motorcycle helmet increased neck and spinal injuries in a crash, recent evidence has shown the opposite to be the case, that helmets protect against cervical spine injury , and that an often-cited small study dating to the mid-1980s, “used flawed statistical reasoning”. In many Asian countries, more than one-third of motorcycle riders were found to wear a helmet improperly, such as wearing it unfastened or loosely fastened in order to exhibit ‘token’ compliance with helmet-use laws, and some even put on a helmet only when the police are nearby. Of 377 motorcyclists interviewed at petrol stations who had experienced a motorcycle crash in the past year, 1.9% were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

Improper helmet use that might impair the maximum protection in a crash was ascertained in terms of a borrowed helmet, a poorly fitting helmet, a poor-quality helmet (indicated by helmet cost <NT$300), an incorrect manner of wearing the helmet, being loosely fastened, no use of the visor and the helmet having come off during the crash. During the interview, information was collected about helmet-related characteristics (see below), motorcycle licensure, safety-related traffic violations in the past year, riading speed, alcohol consumption at the time of the crash, motorcycle engine volume (≤50, 70-110 and ≥125 cc), collision type (rear-end, head-on or single-vehicle crash) and collision object (moving motorcycle, moving car, other moving object, stationary object and no object hit). Empirical evidence strongly supports the conclusion that wearing a helmet protects motorcycle riders from the high risk of head injuries and death.

That is where we come in. While many riders know the importance of wearing motorcycle helmets, the nuances and intricacies that separate helmet makes, models, styles, and features, are enough to throw a bit of unnecessary confusion into the buying process as you shop for the best choice for you. Also, the mortality by head injury dropped 42% in those wearing motorcycle helmets at the moment of the crash. According to a study from 2008 about motorcycle crashes of riders with and without helmets, the results back up the idea of wearing one.

To get the most protection for your head while riding your motorcycle, full-faced helmets are the way to go. Full-faced helmets provide maximum protection for riders as the entire piece of equipment is forged into a single item and has no weak points like a hinge system brings to a modular helmet.

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