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Motorcycle Helmets

*The following article is an opinion. It is important to note that many riders and motorcycle groups contend that helmet laws interfere with their freedom. They feel that adults are capable of assessing risks and making their own decisions about wearing a helmet.

These groups also challenge the "social burden" of the medical costs argument. They contend that this rationale is not persuasive because motorcycles represent a very small percentage of the vehicles in accidents nationwide.

Twenty states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia require all riders to wear helmets. Colorado, Illinois and Iowa do not mandate any helmet use. The 27 other states require that a specific segment of riders wear them, usually those under age 18. Each year, many bills are introduced in state legislatures across the country that deal with helmet laws, more than 35 in 2000.

With all that being said, here you go!

Should you wear a helmet?  Yes.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): "Unhelmeted motorists are 29 percent less likely to survive a crash and 40 percent more likely to die from a head injury"


"Motorcycle helmets are 67-percent effective in preventing brain injuries. Unhelmeted motorcyclists are more than three times more likely to suffer brain injuries in crashes than those using helmets."

("State  Legislative Fact Sheet",

Admit it, you like your brain, and even more so, you like your face.  And if you're like us, you like your motorcycle.

So ride your motorcycle, protect your head, protect your face.  Wear a helmet.

If that's not enough to convince you, consider this:

A recent University of Michigan study found that "Motorcycle riders who crash without a helmet rack up far larger hospital bills than those whose heads were protected in a crash, a U-M study has found."

The study analyzed data for 216 motorcycle crash victims brought to the U-M Health System (UMHS) Trauma Burn Center between 1996 and 2000.

On average, helmet use led to average hospital costs that were about 20 percent, or $6,000, less than costs for those who didn't wear helmets.

"Hospital costs higher for helmetless motorcycle crash victims",

So, a helmet can even save you money. Enough said.

The first thing to do when buying a helmet is to look for D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) Certification.  You don't even have to do that much research when buying a helmet, the D.O.T. has done it for you.  Look at the back of any helmet you are considering, make sure there is a D.O.T. sticker on the back.

The D.O.T. standard requires that a helmet soak up a significant amount of impact energy, prevent most penetration, and have a fastening system that will withstand significant force.

An additional certification that is offered to helmet manufacturers is that of the Snell Foundation.  To learn more about Snell Certification, visit their website.

One of the main features of a D.O.T. certified helmet is an expanded polystyrene foam liner.  This material absorbs the energy of an impact.  This material survives only one hit, so a helmet should be replaced after even a minor accident.

Once you've found a D.O.T. approved helmet you need to try it on.   A good helmet will pass the roll-off test.  With the helmet secured on, grab the rear edge of the helmet and try to roll it forward off your head.  Even when it hurts a bit, try to get it off.  If it comes off, this is not the helmet for you.  Make sure the chin strap stays on snugly and is securely fastened to the helmet.

A full or open face helmet should grip your cheeks and head slightly (not too tight, you're not trying to end up with a headache).  A good sizing test is to shake your head, a well-fit helmet will hold snugly.

When you are trying it on, make sure the helmet is also comfortable.  Leave it on for a good 15 minutes to make sure it is the helmet for you (resist the temptation to knock your head against the wall). 

A recent study (January 2003 issue of "Annals of Emergency Medicine") found that motorcyclists with facial injuries are 3.5 times more likely to have a brain injury and those with facial fractures are 6.5 times more likely to have such injuries than those without facial damage. The study, conducted at the UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles, California with Dr. Jess Kraus as lead author looked at 5790 motorcyclists injured in crashes and reported that one in four had facial injuries with 411 sustaining facial fractures.

So, that makes it worth considering what type of helmet to purchase.

Full coverage helmets cover your entire head and face.  The shell wraps around your cheeks, jaw and chin and a clear acrylic visor covers your area of vision.  Full coverage helmets are vented and secured with a chinstrap.  This type of helmet offers the most protection and also allows you to seem highly mysterious.  Additionally, when a bug comes flying at you at 60 mph, you won't be having your breakfast force fed to you.

A ¾ or open face helmets is similar to a full helmet, but does not cover the face fully.  The face is left open, with the shell covering the brow line to the base of the neck.

A half-shell or beanie helmet just covers the top half of the head.  These offer the least protection to the rider.

Many helmets come with additional features.  Vents are often offered and can help you keep cool while riding.  Vents can be located on top of the helmet, on the face, or on the chin, all allowing you to cool different parts of your head. Other comfort features you might encounter are padded straps and different, interchangeable padding shapes to fit your head.

Before you buy that black helmet, let's revisit that ever popular topic, visibility.  Your head will be at a driver's eye level, so it is worth it to buy a helmet that includes color or to add reflective visibility strips

If this hasn't convinced you to buy a good helmet, I'm going to offer one more fact.

According to the Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, in single vehicle motorcycle crashes, helmet use among fatally injured motorcyclists was below 50%.

So even if you don't like your brain and your face, I bet you like your life.

Want some down and dirty facts?  Check out the Highway Administration's compliance testing here:

So what else do you need?

Jacket Information on Types of Materials
Pants Information on Reflectivity
Riding Suits Helmets
Gloves Accessories and Products for Increased Visibility



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