Your helmet can save your life, period. But you should know there are evil forces out there trying to sell you a faux-helmet – one that’s not compliant with federal standards.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all motorcycle helmets sold in the United States meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. This standard defines minimum performance levels that helmets must meet to protect the head and brain in the event of a crash. California requires use of helmets that meet FMVSS 218 requirements, which we call DOT compliant helmets.
Some motorcycle riders are violating California and federal laws by wearing unsafe helmets that aren’t DOT compliant. Most of these helmets are designed to be sold as novelty items, but some unscrupulous stores (and careless riders) use these helmets to circumvent the law.
That means some motorcyclists purchase these novelty helmets with the mistaken belief that they offer protection. With these tips, you won’t need to rely on ‘the force’ to lead you to your helmet; you’ll know exactly what to look for.
Here’s how to identify unsafe novelty helmets as well as how to distinguish unsafe helmets from those that meet the federal safety standard. Look for:
Thick Inner Liner
Helmets meeting the minimum federal safety standard have an inner liner usually about one-inch thick of firm polystyrene foam. Sometimes the inner liner will not be visible, but you should still be able to feel its thickness. Unsafe helmets normally contain only soft foam padding or a bare plastic shell with no padding at all.
Sturdy Chin Strap and Rivets
DOT compliant helmets have sturdy chinstraps with solid rivets.
Depending on design, unsafe helmets weigh only one pound or less. DOT compliant helmets generally weigh about three pounds. These helmets provide a more substantial feel. Think of it as a vault for your head; it must be indestructible.
Design/Style of Helmet
The DOT safety standard does not allow anything to extend further than two-tenths of an inch from the surface of a helmet. For example, visor fasteners are allowed, but a spike or other protruding decorations are not. The spikes might look cool, but they’re an indication that the helmet is a novelty and unsafe.
A design such as the German Army style or skullcap style may be a clue to an unsafe helmet. Unsafe helmets are noticeably smaller in diameter and thinner than ones meeting the DOT standard. However some German Army style helmets may meet Federal requirements.
Familiarize yourself with brand names and designs of helmets that comply with DOT requirements. For example, a full-face design is a good indicator of a safe helmet. To date, we have never seen a full-face design novelty helmet.
DOT compliant helmets must have a sticker on the outside back of the helmet with the letters “DOT,” which certifies that the helmet meets or exceeds FMVSS 218. It’s important to note that some novelty helmet sellers provide DOT stickers separately for motorcyclists to place on non-complying helmets. Of course, the DOT sticker is invalid in that case.
Snell or ANSI Label
In addition to the DOT sticker, labels located inside the helmet showing that a helmet meets the standards of private, non-profit organizations such as Snell or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are good indicators that the helmet meets or exceeds the DOT standard. To date, we’ve never seen a novelty helmet that has a phony DOT sticker in addition to a phony Snell or ANSI label.
Manufacturers are required under FMVSS 218 to place a label on or inside the helmet stating the manufacturer’s name, model, size, month and year of manufacture, construction materials, and owner’s information. A helmet that is not DOT compliant usually doesn’t have this informative manufacturer label.
Remember, a DOT sticker on the back of the helmet and proper inside labeling do not necessarily indicate that a helmet meets all DOT requirements. Many helmets have counterfeit DOT stickers and a limited few also have manufacturer’s labeling. But the design and weight of a helmet, thickness of the inner liner, and the quality of the chin strap and rivets are extra clues to help distinguish safe helmets from non-complying ones.
Knowing what to look for in a helmet will keep you from succumbing to the dark side and allow you to ride another day. Your best bet is to visit a reputable shop – one that cares about the safety of its clientele.