Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New helmet rule proposed.

In an attempt to share new developments in the world of motorcycle safety, here's a recent release from Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

NHTSA 07-08
Monday, Sept. 29, 2008
Contact: Eric Bolton
Tel.: (202) 366-9550 U.S.


WASHINGTON – New rules proposed today will improve motorcycle safety by making it easier for riders to identify and use effective helmets, instead of unsafe “novelty helmets, announced U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters. The proposal will also make it harder for riders to use novelty helmets in states that require DOT-certified helmets, she said.

“Novelty helmets do little to protect riders during an accident,” Secretary Peters said. “This proposal will make it easier for riders to know in advance whether the helmet they buy will keep them safe.”

The proposal would amend the agency’s current motorcycle helmet safety rules to require manufacturers to place a larger, tamper-proof DOT label on the back of certified helmets. The new labels will make it harder for vendors to remove the labels on safe helmets and affix them to the unsafe novelty helmets.

The proposed rule would also strengthen the tests helmets must go through to receive DOT certification, including updated tests on how the helmets hold up during impact, whether objects can penetrate the helmet and how well the helmet stays in place during a crash. Recent tests of novelty helmets which are not DOT certified showed they fail to meet current DOT performance tests.

“As our testing has shown, these ‘novelty’ helmets do not have the energy absorbing capacity to protect a rider in a highway crash,” said David Kelly, Acting NHTSA Administrator. “A DOT-certified and labeled helmet, as proposed today, will help consumers make more knowledgeable decisions when purchasing a helmet.”

The proposed rule announced today will help mitigate the yearly increases in motorcycle fatalities and injuries that have plagued the nation for nearly a decade, Secretary Peters said. Fatalities have more than doubled since 1997--increasing by 144 percent. Yet new data indicate that nearly one in five motorcycle riders in states with helmet laws wear a non-compliant helmet.

In 2006, helmets saved an estimated 1,658 lives. If everyone worn (sic) a helmet, an additional 752 lives would have been saved, the Secretary said. During the same year, 4,837 motorcyclists were killed; of those, more than 40 percent weren’t wearing helmets, she said.

Once published in the Federal Register, the agency will seek public comment for 60 days. To view the proposed rule, go to www.nhtsa.gov

Click here to view the new rule.

End of press release.

You all know my stance on helmets. As a motorcycle safety professional and lifetime rider, I urge everyone to always wear a full face helmet. I know, however, that my opinion is not the only one out there. For the most part then, I'm offering it without comment. There are a few questions that beg consideration and does this new rule really address the true issues?

Are riders wearing novelty helmets with transferred stickers because they think the helmets are really DOT approved?

Are riders purposely wearing novelty helmets with transferred stickers in an attempt to avoid tickets in helmet law states?

Feel free to offer your own comments here!

Miles and smiles,



Doug C said...

Earlier this year, the Mrs. and I rode to Pigeon Forge for a vacation. While at a leather shop there, we were cautioned about the helmet restrictions in North Carolina. Teresa's helmet, while DOT approved, had no sticker on it, so we opted not to ride to Deals Gap.

I told this to a friend when we returned and they suggested I go to a bike rally and by a DOT sticker.

As a first year rider, I had no idea this was possible and the questions you raised as well as the problems noted in the press release suggest to me where her DOT sticker went.


Anonymous said...

Most of the riders who buy the skid lid type helmet don't really care about the safety aspect - they're the ones who will knowingly buy a non-DOT helmet and get a DOT sticker for it, just so they have it if stopped by law enforcement.

The new law isn't going to change the attitudes of that kind of rider - they're not looking for a DOT approved helmet in the first place.

Personally I don't think the new helmet rules will make a difference. It may mean the people selling novelty helmet stickers or the new DOT stickers (which will eventually be made) can chage more for them.

Anonymous said...

Its not just all about novelty helmets. It does no good to force people to wear "approved" helmets, if the wearer does not bother to keep the helmet in good condition. If it is banged around or dropped, the helmet will not be able to protect you in an accident because the helmet material will be internally cracked. The damage may not be visible, but it will be there.

Stacy said...

I can't add much more than what's already been said/commented upon. Seems like they should be going after the "counterfeit" DOT stickers if they're really worried about that.

I'm ambivalent toward the proposal to increase the rigor of the DOT standard. My opinion may change, however, if they raise the DOT to SNELL standards at the expense of my preferred ECE 22.05.

Conchscooter said...

I have never had any law enforcement look for a DOT sticker on any helmet I have ever worn anywhere, but I don't wear novelty helmets.And if it didn't have a sticker, what would they do? Give you a ticket for faulty equipment? On social issues in a country like ours where everyone has an opinon based usually on faulty information I am in favor of education over legislation. If Washington can come up with a standard that we the buyers can use effectively to decide which helmet to buy, so much the better. If you buy a fake sticker to stick it to the Man you're just putting your noggin at risk. There are less stressful ways to save less than a thousand lives.

Allen Madding said...

Doesn't it seem backwards? Why not require helmets that don't meet testing standards to have a 6 inch by 6 inch bright safety orange sticker that says "TOY HELMET"? Kinda like the bright stuff they put on kids cap guns...


Charlie6 said...


I wear a KBC modular vice a fullface...tried both the Shoei and Nolan fullface helmets after my accident and found that my chin had full contact with both helmet's chinbars...not good.

I've a KBC head I guess. Modulars do tend to make it easier for those of us who have to wear glasses, just wish there was one as fully safety certified as a fullface helmet! At least, its DOT certified.

mrs rc said...

Helmet debate aside...I am a math teacher, and I just can't get past the statement that fatalities "almost doubled" when they increased by a stated 144%

Um, helloooooo.... 144% is not even 1 1/2 times as many, let alone anywhere close to twice as many!!!! Ugh, if you are going to spout statistics, at least learn how to count!!!! (this statement is directed at the quotee, not the quoter -- love ya Dan!)

Bryce said...

Certain states in the United States allow motorcycle operators and riders to be on such machines without protective headgear.
It is all about personal freedom ie I do for me what I want and laws of any sort be dammed. So the pudding basin will continue to get an illegal sticker from where ever they are available and the government will continue to make things difficult for those who wish to be honest.

Here in Canada, a motorcycle helmet in all provinces and territories in mandatory. However as stateside any helmet will do. And helmets appear on retail shelves here in Canada with that DOT sticker. Most law enforcement people are too stupid to realize DOT is US talk, here it is the Ministry of Transport. Still
the helmets available here carry the DOT sticker right or wrong.

When I first read the note thought of the past people who've occupied the post including the infamous Joan Claybrook. Mind she may well
have been before the time of most of the readers of this blog.

As to full-face versus open face helmets. At one time there simply weren't any full-face helmets of a large size here in Canada. My hat size is 8.25 in circumference, and I wear a very short haircut.

All I could purchase was an open face, and a Bell at that. This was years ago and very few if any foreign helmets were available here. I finally picked up a Bell full-face from a company that sells them to the race car industry, and it wasn't cheap, either. Think in 1978 it was about $650.00, about a month's salary then.

These days I still have difficulty finding good fitting giant size helmets.

Darren said...

I'm ambivalent towards mandatory helmet laws - my personal opinion is that one is ridiculously selfish to *not* wear a helmet, but I'm not sure it should be legally mandated.

That said, I am in favor of safety standards. My helmet is ECE 22.05 and I had to import it from the UK, so despite it being safer (in my opinion) than many DOT-approved helmets, it's still technically illegal for me to wear in mandatory helmet states - not that any cops are likely to pull me over for it or know the difference.

Arizona Harley Dude said...

In the heat of Arizona I wear a Seer Police style half helmet with a DOT sticker. I didn't remove them because it would be too much trouble on these helmets. My highway helmets are HJC full coverage and I removed all stickers from them because I wanted the all black look. They are DOT approved, but if push came to shove I would have to buy new helmets with stickers because I can't see the value in just buying a phoney sticker. Personally I think having the right to choose to wear a helmet should be left up to the rider. I don't want to be judged because I choose to wear a helmet, and I don't judge those who choose not to. Freedom of choice should be the law of the land.

Conchscooter said...

The subtle difference between Canada and the US (aside from imploding everything down here and a stable financial market up there) is that Canada has universal health coverage which gives the state greater levwerage in my opinion to require certain safety standards that in the US may not be compulsory.
On another note this month's Rider Magazine has a fawning review of the deadly black Yamaha FJR. Must be readers of this blog.

David said...

I wear a full face helmet, I make my poor claustrophobic wife wear one too. Both are Snell rated. Why? Because one day, a long time ago, I high-sided and went over a guard rail wearing a Simpson Mod 30 knockoff helmet. It was DOT approved and did its job. I left skid marks on the helmet from the chin bar to the point on the back of my head. (I suspect I landed on my head, that could explain a lot but I was this way before the wreck. ;). I stood up and walked away from that crash, sore, road rashed, and with some broken bits on the bike. BUT I WALKED AWAY! I'll never wear an open face helmet again. If I'd had an open faced on I would have lost my face that day. It ain't pretty, but it's the only face I've got. I think I'll keep it.

After reading the Motorcyclist test on helmets, reproducing the famous Hurt Report tests, I'll probably stick with DOT rather than Snell ratings, at least until the new, softer Snell helmets come out. Until then, I keep wearing my old lid. It's getting beat up, and I'll replace it next year (3 years old) but it makes me feel secure wearing it.

Dave T.

irondad said...

It's interesting how much debate surrounds helmet laws. There's some deep issues under the surface, aren't there?

Doug C,
The purchase of stickers is pretty common around here. They're all passed over the counter with a "wink".

Steve L,
I agree with the fact that most riders using novelty helmets knowingly wear as little helmet as possible to get around enforcement efforts. The one thing of value I see with the new rule is that if someone new to riding were to buy a helmet, there would be some assurance it would actually protect them.

I'm ok with comments such as yours with no name attached. You made a positive contribution. We'd like to meet you, though!

You are exactly correct in that helmet care is an important factor.

Wouldn't it be great if the various agencies got together and just decided to do what's best for the average motorcyclist?

I totally agree that alignment is much better than compliance. Education is a big part of that. If people make what might be considered less than optimal choices, then so be it.

What bothers me, though, is that some of the arguments made against helmet laws and full face helmets are so ridiculously stupid. They should just stand by their choice and not make themselves look foolish in the process.

As to Rider Magazine, I threatened to cancel my subscription if they said anything negative about the FJR!

Great idea! I'm sure there are those who would proudly wear them, too!

It's interesting how much difference in fit there is in full face helmets, isn't it? I have a modular HJC that I use when I'm teaching. Otherwise I wear a full face Arai.

What Charlie's referring to, by the way, is that most modular helmets are certified as 3/4 face helmets due to the hinge.

Mrs. rc,
Thanks for keeping me out of that statement! I just reported it exactly as written. You make an excellent, and accurate, point.

You're not the only one with a large head. We recently had a student come to class. His helmet was a pudding bowl that only covered the very top of his head. We could not let him wear it due to policy. The largest loaner helmet we have is an XXL. This guy really needed a 3X. He suffered through. Fortunately, it was only half a day with breaks thrown in!

I agree with you on safety standards. There should be some way for the consumer to know the product will do what it's supposed to.

Arizona Harley Dude,
Paul, I agree with freedom of choice. I also feel nobody should ever ride without a full face helmet. That's my own personal opinion, of course. Yours is different and I can respect that.

Interestingly, most motor officers I know would prefer to wear full face helmets. The reason for open face helmets is exactly that. To get the officer's face exposed to the "public". It's felt there's a certain intimidation and alienation factor involved in having motor officers look like Star Wars storm troopers. Many departments are going to modulars to kind of get the best of both worlds.

The little nagging voice in my head, as regards to choice, tells me that it's not only the rider involved.

If people want to take the risks, I can see that. I guess what bothers me deep down inside is that motorcycle fatalities and severe injuries prompt "government" to adopt stricter and stricter rules in the name of "safety". That affects me personally.

It's one of those weird situations where individuals exercising their freedom of choice help instigate more restrictions. That's not the way it should be, of course, but that's the reality. What's the answer? There isn't any easy one, for sure.

Dave T,
Your comment brings up an interesting question. Is there anyone who had a really face-damaging crash in a half shell helmet that returned to riding wearing another half shell?

I don't think anyone actually wants to suffer severe head and face damage. So it must be the old "it will never happen to me" denial. Then again, maybe just thinking about the possibility doesn't hold the same onus as actually experiencing it.

As I said in the top of this comment, there's some deep things connected to the use of helmets and helmet laws, aren't there?

Take care,

David said...

Funny you should mention that accident with an open face. There was a motor officer in Spokane who went down about a year ago, wearing an open face helmet. I understand he is back on a bike now, but wears a modular helmet. It took a lot of surgery to reconstruct his face. The newspaper said officers in this area have the choice of helmet style and most choose the classic open face. I'm seeing more modular helmets on the officers on the roads. Now if we could just get them out of shirt sleeves and into those Aerostitch police suits Andy Goldfine makes...

Dave T.