Novelty Motorcycle Helmets Targeted By New NHTSA Rule

Federal safety regulators have proposed stricter motorcycle helmet rules, following concerns about the popularity of novelty helmets that are often poorly constructed and do not offer riders full protection.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) issued the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) May 20, which are designed to address unsafe novelty motorcycle helmets and help state officials enforce existing motorcycle helmet laws.

“Motorcycle rider deaths are disproportionally high,” said Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary. “Our nation lost 4,668 motorcyclists in 2013 alone and protective helmets could have saved many of those lives.”

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Novelty motorcycle helmets often do not meet DOT safety standards for crash protection, yet they are typically marketed and sold for on-road use.

The products cover a smaller portion of the head, have thin liners and do not properly absorb the force of a motorcycle crash. They are often sold with disclaimers stating they are not for highway use, yet the NHTSA reveals they are frequently sold to motorcycle riders and used in great numbers by motorcyclists.

The proposed rules add a definition of what consists of a proper motorcycle helmet and criteria to identify helmets which do not comply with the regulations. The new regulations would include preliminary screening criteria for law enforcement agencies to identify helmets that are “incapable of meeting the minimum performance requirements.”

The screening focuses on the thickness of the inner lining of the helmet and the outer shell. It also highlights the need to determine the liner’s ability to resist impact, its compression ability and the ability for the helmet to absorb crash energy.

Proper motorcycle helmets that meet DOT safety standards help save more than 1,000 lives every year, according to NHTSA estimates. Many novelty helmets do not meet these standards and can allow a person to be harmed during a motorcycle crash, NHTSA officials claim.

A study of injuries sustained in motorcycle crashes of patients transported to shock trauma centers revealed that 56% of riders wearing novelty helmets suffered serious head injuries. This compares to 19% of riders who were wearing DOT-certified helmets.

It is still unclear why so many riders take the risk and use unsafe motorcycle helmets. Officials speculate riders may not clearly understand the risk they face when using the helmets, they may simply be cheaper than other DOT-approved helmets, or they may be more stylish.

“Wearing a helmet that meets DOT standards can literally mean the difference between life and death,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “Our proposal ensures that when motorcyclists put on a helmet it offers that lifesaving protection.”

The NHTSA says tougher standards will help authorities prosecute sellers of unapproved helmets in states that have motorcycle helmet laws. Currently only three states out of 50 do not require motorcycle riders to wear helmets, those states include, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire.

The new ruling concerning novelty helmet regulations will be open for public comment for 60 days.


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