Choosing a Helmet

While color, design and price may be a part of your decision about which helmet to buy, think first about protection and comfort and about to choose the right helmet.

A full-face helmet gives the most protection since it covers more of your face. It usually has a moveable face shield that protects the eyes when it is closed. A three-quarter, open-face helmet is also a choice of some riders. It is constructed with the same basic components, but doesn’t offer the face and chin protection of full-face helmets. If you use an open-face helmet, you should have a snap-on face shield in place when you ride, or buy a pair of goggles that can withstand the impact of a stone or other debris. Prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses are not sufficient protection, and they might move or fly off. A “shorty” half-helmet protects even less of your head. It is more likely to come off your head upon impact. Therefore, “shorty”, half-shell helmets are not recommended. Novelty helmets – characterized by a thin or non-existent liner – must be avoided. You can choose between all these, but you need to choose the right helmet.

A lot of good helmets are available today, in a range of prices. One look around your dealer’s helmet display will convince you that nearly any look you could want from a helmet is readily available. Many manufacturers are color-coordinating their helmets with the newest motorcycle models.

And the days of heavy or cumbersome helmets are over. They’re made of lightweight, modern materials and are improved each year. Manufacturers are also working to make them less expensive, stronger and more comfortable.

What you must know when you choose the right helmet is that it meets minimum safety standards. The way to find a well-made, reliable helmet is to look for the DOT sticker on the inside or outside of the helmet. The sticker means the helmet complies with the safety test standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation. A Snell sticker may also appear on a helmet, meaning the helmet also complies with standards set by the Snell Memorial Foundation.

Each organization has rigid procedures for testing:
Impact – the shock-absorbing capacity of the helmet.
Penetration – the helmet’s ability to withstand a blow from
a sharp object.
Retention – the chin strap’s ability to stay fastened without
stretching or breaking.
Peripheral vision – the helmet must provide a minimum
side vision of 105 degrees to each side. (Most people’s usable
peripheral vision is only about 90 degrees to each side.)

ALL new adult-sized helmets for on-highway use must meet DOT standards. Helmet dealers and distributors must ensure that all the helmets they sell bear the DOT sticker. Whatever your helmet choice, be sure it has this certification. You don’t want an inferior helmet or one designed for another purpose. If someone tries to sell you one
without it, don’t buy it. If your helmet has no DOT sticker, do not wear it, regardless of its age. Snell has been testing helmets for decades. The use of Snell standards by helmet manufacturers is voluntary. Unlike DOT standards, Snell
testing is revised (most recently in 2010) as helmet design and technology improve. Both agencies attempt to reproduce, under test conditions, the situations that are hazardous to motorcyclists. Their testing methods differ,
but the intent is the same: to make certain any helmet they recognize has life-saving, shock-absorbing minimums.

Since head injuries account for a majority of motorcycle fatalities, protection is vital. (Head injury was specified on 42 percent of the death certificates for motorcycle operators and passengers in California in 1987-88; Romano PS, McLoughlin E. (1991). Helmet use and fatal motorcycle injuries in California, 1987-88. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. May 1991; 6(2):21-37.) Even the best helmet is no guarantee against injury. However, without a helmet you are more likely to have serious head injuries than a rider who is wearing one.