Can Motorcycle Helmet Safety Ratings Save Life?

Motorcycle helmets, indeed save lives, but not all the helmets that are displayed and often sold in the market. You need to ensure your country-specific safety rating for your helmet before using a helmet to make sure that you are safe. Almost all governments of States and nations across the world have prescribed helmet safety ratings for their citizens. 

However, the motorcycle helmet safety rating standard and the process of certification usually differ from one country to another. For example, DOT (Department of Transportation) is the standard guideline followed by the US helmet manufacturers. But DOT does not work in Europe. You have to look for an ECE (Economic Commission of Europe) approved helmet in Europe. Similarly, other countries follow their own standards like ISI (Indian Standard Institute) in India and CRASH (Consumer Rating and Assessment of Safety Helmets) in Australia.

Are you all prepared to buy a helmet or replace the old one or the one that does not meet the required safety rating of your country? Know all about helmets, their safety ratings, and the right helmet that can save your life before stepping out to buy one.

Motorcycle Helmet Safety

Relevance of Helmets towards Saving Lives

Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is putting yourself in an accident. It is because you do not know how and when accidents will occur. If people knew when and how they would face an accident there would not be any accident at all. Similarly, using a helmet that does not ensure safety is no less risky than not using a helmet. In fact, riding without a helmet and using a helmet without a safety rating is equally unsafe and unsecured.

As per the “US Department of Transportation-National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)”, following are the statistics on motorcycle crashes and the advantages of wearing helmets with safety certifications:

  • The total number of motorcycle fatalities in the US from 2008 to 2017 is 48728 which comes to around 4800 fatalities every year and is 14% of the total fatality on the US roads.
  • In 2017 alone 5172 people were killed due to motorcycle crashes.
  • 1,772 lives got saved due to helmets in 2015 and 740 people could have survived if they wore a helmet.
  • As per CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 1859 people survived because of the helmet in 2016 and an additional 802 people could save their life if they wore helmets.
  • The same report says that helmets, especially the safety rating ones, reduce 37% of motorcycle fatalities and 69% of head injuries in crashes.

The contemporary helmet consciousness was not the same until 1935. It all started with Sir Hugh William Bell Cairns the Australian neurosurgeon after his study about his patient T E Lawrence popularly called “Lawrence of Arabia”. However, the concept of the helmet evolved through a long process, and the first protective helmet was patented in 1950 by Herman Roth. 

This helmet was designed with a non-resilient inner liner, floating suspension, visor, and a chin strap. The Roth helmet continued until the motorcycle crash and death of racer Peter Snell in 1956. Then, Peter Snell’s friends formed the Snell Foundation that worked extensively, and launched the Snell helmet which is now considered as the best safety-rated helmet.

The Necessity of Wearing a Helmet with Safety Rating

Many people do not prefer to wear a helmet while riding the motorcycle as they do not feel comfortable. If you fall under this category of people, you should know what happens to your head when you meet with an accident. 

However, you are not alone who do not prefer to wear a helmet. As per the NHTSA statistics published by the “Insurance Information Institute”, people who use helmets are 71% in the US in 2020 which means a huge number of 29% of people do not use helmets. As many as 5014 people died due to motorcycle crashes in 2019. Ultimately, the maximum number of these unfortunate victims was from this 29% who did not wear helmets. Since you are also one of these 29% non-users of the helmet, imagine what might happen to you in your next riding!

When you ride a motorcycle, you ultimately share the space in the road with other fast-moving vehicles like cars, trucks, buses, etc. Being a motorcycle rider, you are too tiny to get enough visibility on the road and you do not have adequate protection from the factors around you. Therefore, when you crash the major injuries leading to death are your head and neck. Even if you survive out of the head or neck injury it might cost you a lot in terms of finance, longtime treatment or care, disability, and maybe a lifelong trauma.

How a Helmet with Safety Rating Protects Your Head?

A helmet with a safety rating takes care of your brain and protects it from injury and that’s how you survive fatality. It is because the smallest injury in the brain can lead to death. Your brain is covered by the skull and sits on the bone base of the skull. Similarly, the spinal cord goes through a hole towards the bottom of the brain through your neck. Both the brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a tissue called dura which plays a crucial role in protecting the brain and spinal cord as well.

There is a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid in between the brain and dura that acts as a cushion when the head meets a shock. In fact, your brain stays in a kind of floating state on the cerebrospinal fluid and can move or float in a very little way in all directions. Two major things happen when your head crashes with something. Either it crashes the skull and directly injures the brain or violently shakes the skull and the brain as well. In both cases, your brain can get seriously injured and make you fall unconscious or die. 

Similarly, there are two types of head injuries, open head injuries, and closed head injuries. In open injuries, your skull fractures and can lead to brain injuries that are often visible. On the other hand, in closed injuries, the skull remains intact but the brain shakes violently out of place leading to intracranial hemorrhage. In whatever the case, whether an injury or shaking and dislocation of the brain, the result is either in death or coma or a prolonged treatment and often lifelong suffering. The only thing that can protect your brain during your ride is a helmet with a reliable safety rating.

How a Safety Certified Helmet Minimizes Fatality and Injuries?

A helmet with a safety rating divides the intensity and force of a motorcycle crash on the head. It further spreads out the impact across the area and thus minimizes the concentrated force of the crash over the head. First, the shell of the helmet prevents the head from directly coming across the elements around you. It also divides the force evenly across the shell. 

The Styrofoam underneath the shell with the padding actually absorbs the shock. Then comes the padding and the chin strap. The padding provides comfort and the chin strap keeps the helmet intact from falling away in the crash. The chin strap also protects you from facial injuries.

What are the Different Types of Helmet Safety Ratings You Should Choose?

The contemporary motorcycle helmets come with an inner liner made out of expanded polystyrene (EPS) which acts as the impact absorber in the helmet. They also contain EPS foam in the lower area and come with padding for comfort. The outer part of the helmet usually comes with a shell-built design made out of thermoplastic or polycarbonate. The last and major component of a present-day helmet is the chin strap that not only protects you from facial injury but also keeps the helmet intact during a crash.

Similarly, there are three different types of helmets namely the full-face helmets, ¾ helmets, and ½ helmets. Full-face helmets are considered the best in terms of protection and safety. However, people also prefer ¾ and ½ helmets for comfort reasons and some people feel suffocated when the entire face is covered by a full-face helmet. On the other hand, a full-face helmet covers the entire head, face, and neck ensuring full protection. Secondly, the chin bar is an added protection feature, especially for the face and jaws. Thirdly, a full-face helmet can give you protection from adverse environments and climate including debris, dust, bugs, etc.

Below are the different safety ratings of motorcycle helmets:

  • DOT Rating.
  • ECE Rating.
  • SNELL Rating.

DOT Rating or DOT Certification

DOT stands for “Department of Transportation” which is the legal authority for helmet safety rating in the US. The testing or certification process of DOT is rigorous and rigid but it does not carry out the test for every helmet. Rather DOT tests are random tests and often carried out by third-party testing experts or companies. 

The DOT testing process involves impact testing and multiple drops, retention system assessment, penetration resistance test, and qualification in the field of vision. You may not find the DOT standard sticker on every motorcycle in the US. It is because many helmet brands simply do not withstand the rigorous testing process. If you find difficulties in identifying DOT certified stickers, then look for the stickers that read DOT FMVSS 218 on almost every DOT rating helmet.

ECE Safety Rating or Certification

You may not possibly find a helmet with an ECE sticker in the US because the ECE rating is used in Europe. ECE stands for “Economic Commission for Europe” and involves intensive assessment and reads ECE 22 05 on the stickers. However, the ECE testing process is more diversified and rigorous than the DOT. But, ECE is a later version of certification in comparison to DOT.

The best thing about the ECE certification is its quality of overall safety features. Besides the other safety components, it includes shell materials and face shields in testing. Another unique component of ECE testing is its cross-checking procedure. Each helmet has to go through a strict test by multiple testing companies. These companies must have accreditation by ECE. 

However, the ECE certification which is considered the best for Europe may not be compatible with the US due to certain reasons. The first is its testing scheme of low impact energy grade. Secondly, the ECE assesses only a single impact which may not accurately show the actual situation in the crash. Similarly, the acceleration of speed and peak is much higher in the US than in Europe. Therefore, though the ECE test is diversified and more intensive than the DOT, ECE might not be as effective in the US as DOT. 

SNELL Rating or Certification

The SNELL rating or certification is developed by the SNELL Foundation after the tragic death of famous racer Peter Snell. The SNELL-certified helmets are considered the best and are popular among technicians, bikers, engineers, etc. SNELL certification is counted as Gold Standard in the helmet rating industry. SNELL certification involves two types of testing namely the SNELL M2015 and the SNELL M2020. Besides this, the rigorous assessment of SNELL certification includes the stress handling capacity of the helmet by transferring 150-grams of energy between 2 blows method.

The SNELL testing does a full autopsy which is not done by other certifications. The technicians in SNELL assessment do a thorough checkup of the entire components beginning from compatibility to Bluetooth comm or liner. They also perform multiple tests in different places until they are sure about the impact. SNELL rating beyond debate is the most reliable and the best except for the design which looks like its only drawback. The SNELL helmet rating is designed for the purpose of racing in its peak acceleration. 

Is There Anything Beyond Safety Ratings that is Essential to Save Life?

When someone asks whether the safety rating of helmets is enough to save lives and you say “yes”, you are perhaps wrong somewhere. It is not enough if you have a DOT or ECE or SNELL certified helmet. You need to keep a close watch on your helmet and must replace it with a new one in the following situations or conditions.

  • You should replace a helmet every three years if you are a frequent user of the helmet. Even if you do not use it frequently, the general rule of replacing a helmet is five years at the most.
  • You must never wait to replace the helmet if it has met with an accident. You may find not much damage in the helmet after the crash. But who knows anything affected the helmet and it may not give you the perfect protection?
  • If the components like pads, liner, interior, etc. are loose then they are the sign that you need to replace them. A helmet that does not fit your head appropriately or fits loosely is a potential risk and might not provide adequate protection.
  • You should never continue with the helmet that developed cracks on the outer shell or showed signs of breaking apart. The outer shell plays a crucial role in protecting your head by absorbing the force of the crash.
  • Replace the helmet if the liner or padding smells bad or if you discover foam residue on your neck or shoulder. The liner and padding not only provide comfort but are also responsible for absorbing impacts.
  • Many people manage with a broken lock or damaged chin strap. Remember, chin straps and locks are important because they protect your face and keep the helmet intact in a crash. Therefore, never try to fix the lock yourself or manage with the damaged chin strap as many riders do. Just replace the helmet and you are safe and confident.

Life is precious and everyone dreams of living a successful, prosperous, meaningful, and happy life. You must never just spoil the happiness of your life by ignoring a simple thing like the helmet safety rating. No helmet as well as non-safety rating helmets are potentially risky and can drag you to death or ruin your entire life and make it miserable. So, be prudent and ensure an appropriate safety rating when you are buying your helmet.

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