How To Spot An Unsafe Motorcycle Helmet

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novelty-helmet

There’s some great looking helmets out there but how do you know which is safer than another and actually meets the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard?

Some people buy a helmet just because it looks good, without thinking of the consequences of getting something that perhaps might not save your life in the event of an accident. Just because a helmet looks cool doesn’t necessarily mean it’s up to scratch.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all motorcycle helmets sold in the U.S. meet a minimum performance standard and will properly protect the wearer’s head and brain in the event of a crash.

Every year the DOT does a series of compliance testing on all new helmets to determine whether they meet the basic standards required under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No: 218 (FMVSS 218).

For a helmet to pass it has to go through a series of extremely complicated and intensive durability tests, including high attenuation tests to ensure that it can actually withstand different degrees of impact.

A DOT-approved, legal motorcycle helmet will have a “DOT” sticker or painted symbol on the rear of the helmet. This AGV AX-8 Dual also meets the superior ECE 22.05 safety standard.

If the helmet passes it gets to carry a DOT sticker, normally found on the outside back of a helmet, which certifies that it meets, or in some cases, exceeds FMVSS 218.But some novelty helmet sellers will also put a fake DOT sticker on a helmet.

So here’s what you also need to look out for before making your purchase:

Thick Inner Liner – Any helmet that meets the DOT standard has to have an inner liner that should be at least one inch thick and made from firm polystyrene foam. Sometimes that liner may not be visible but you should be able to check its thickness by taking a closer look inside and feeling it with your fingers. An unsafe helmet sometimes only contains soft foam padding at best, or in extreme cases just a bare plastic shell with no padding at all.

Weight of the helmet – Depending on its design, an unsafe helmet can weigh less than a pound. Helmets that actually meet the DOT requirement generally weigh at least three pounds or more. There should always be a robust, substantial feel to a DOT-approved helmet.

Chinstrap and rivets – Take time to look at the helmet’s construction. Check to see there is a sturdy, substantial chinstrap held in place by solid rivets.

Design/style of helmet – Aside from the absence of a DOT sticker on the back, a helmet’s style can also be the give away if it’s not officially approved.

Under the FMVSS 218 standard there should be nothing anywhere on a helmet’s surface above two-tenths of an inch. For example, visor fastenings are permissible, but a spike or anything else sticking out would indicate it could be an unsafe helmet.

Whilst the DOT has never come across a full-face helmet on sale that does not meet its minimum requirements, there are a lot of open and skullcap helmets that definitely do not. In particular, German army style helmets often have no official approval or any certification. That being said there are examples of these types of helmets that do meet the DOT requirements. Just be careful and check carefully.

Stickers and labels – A helmet that meets the standards should have a DOT outside, on the back. But some less scrupulous vendors will supply these to you for an unsafe helmet.

In addition to the DOT sticker look for labels inside a helmet that shows that it meets the standard of non-profit safety organizations such as Snell or the American National Standards Institute. These are good indicators that the helmet you’re considering also meets DOT’s standard. You are very unlikely to find a novelty helmet that has a fake DOT sticker as well SNELL, ECE or ANSI tags.

Manufacturers are also required under the FMVSS 218 regulation to place a label inside a helmet stating the company’s name, model, size and month of year of manufacture, construction materials and owner information. A non-DOT approved helmet usually does not have this type of labeling.

In summary, it’s best to remember that a DOT sticker on the back of a helmet and labeling inside does not necessarily indicate that it’s safe. A lot of helmets have counterfeit DOT stickers and a few have been found to even have fake manufacturer labeling.

But a couple of good checkpoints are the design and weight of a helmet. Look and feel the thickness of the inner liner and the quality of the chin straps and rivets. These are good clues that should help you distinguish between a properly approved DOT helmet that could save your life or a cheap imitation that potentially won’t.

  • alex

    anything that doesn’t offer full face protection falls into the realm of unsafe – spaceballs helmets might be legal but having no eyes, nose or lips after a crash is a bummer

    • JR

      I choose full face and always have but the reality is, a 3/4 helmet in full compliance with DOT, Snell, or ECE guidelines is so much better than nothing at all as to be akin to flying from New York to London versus swimming. So, less safe, maybe, but not “unsafe.” Also, don’t forget the recommended lifespan of a helmet. Consider replacement after five years. Certainly after seven.

      • Will Mederski

        “Three years or three drops” is the rule of thumb i’ve always followed.
        Folks don’t realize it, but just a drop to the concrete from your bike’s seat can be enough to compromise a helmet’s safety. Helmets are built to break, so your head doesn’t.

        • Chris McAlevy

          Three drops from a height like that is dubiously ok. But one serious drop (or any drop when it has your head inside it) and that helmet needs replacing.

        • augustdaysong

          One of Arai’s reps in an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage said that their helmets are designed to only be compromised when a head is present inside during an impact, so drops may scuff the exterior but will not cause integral damage.

          • Will Mederski

            All good things to hear!

            • alex

              There is no single answer for what could compromise a helmet, it’s better to inspect and be safe than sorry.

              Unfortunately with fiberglass the damage you can see is often outweighed by what you can’t

              And I would never ever use a helmet older than 5 years.

          • Davidabl2

            Maybe THAT is a good example of getting what you pay for.

          • Lourens Smak

            The styrofoam-like interior is what absorbs some impact energy (by deforming), and without a head in the helmet that will not happen. The shell should be extremely strong and channel the remaining impact energy to the strongest part of the skull (the forehead). The shell is not “built to break”, in fact it is built to not-break.

            It seems the styrofoam-like stuff ages, and slowly becomes a bit more brittle over time, my dealer says 5 years of use is the maximum if you want to be safe.

        • el_jefe

          Helmet liners are painted black on the inside. To inspect a helmet you suspect to be compromised, pull back the comfort liner and inspect the black Styrofoam. if you see white areas, the foam may have been compressed and or cracked.

      • appliance5000

        I’m almost sure that no non full faced helmet would get snell certification. The easier way to say this is: only full faced helmets get snell and only one modular.

        • JR

          Here’s a list of open face helmets that are Snell approved:

          Search results

          Criteria: standard LIKE ‘M%’ AND faceconfig LIKE ‘Open Face’Exact match foundStandardManufacturerModelConfigurationCertified size(s)M2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. Classic-LE2 Open Face S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. Classic/c Open Face M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. Classic/m Open Face S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. CT-R Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. CT-Z Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. MZ Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. MZ-F Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. MZ-RC Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-CT Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-Ram 3 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-Ram 4 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ/c Open Face S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ/m Open Face S, M, L, XLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. XC Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2010 Arai Helmet, Ltd. XC-Ram Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2010 Beijing Rodia Sports Manufacture Co., Ltd. OF-S1 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Beijing Rodia Sports Manufacture Co., Ltd. OF-S6 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Beijing Shenzhou Rodia Industry & Trade Co., Ltd. BF1-R6 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Beijing Shenzhou Rodia Industry & Trade Co., Ltd. BF1-R7 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2010 Beijing Shenzhou Rodia Industry & Trade Co., Ltd. BF1-R8 Open Face S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 HJC Corporation FS-3 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Joe Rocket Carbon Pro Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Pyrotect Sportsman OF Open Face S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Shoei Co., Ltd. RJ Platinum-LE Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Shoei Co., Ltd. RJ Platinum-R Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXXLM2010 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-510 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2010 Xpeed XF-307 CARBON Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Allpro N-315 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Allpro N-318 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Alltop N-315 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Alltop N-318 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. Classic-LE2 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. Classic/c Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-Alpha III Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-F Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-Ram 3 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ/c Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2005 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ/m Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2005 Cyber US-72 Open Face L, XL, XXLM2005 Fulmer Helmets AFS75 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Fulmer Helmets AFS77 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 G-Force Racing Gear GF 650 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 G-Force Racing Gear Phenom Open Face XS, S, L, XL, XXLM2005 Harley Davidson AC-3 CARBON Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Harley Davidson Road Classic Open Face L, XL, XXLM2005 Harley Davidson Ultra Jet Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Harley Davidson ULTRA JET CARBON Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 HJC Corporation AC-3 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 HJC Corporation CL-31 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 HJC Corporation CS-5 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 HJC Corporation FS-3 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Jiangmen Pengcheng Helmets Ltd. OF506-1 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 KBC Corp. TK-102S Open Face L, XL, XXLM2005 KBC Corp. Tour Com Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Nikko N-315 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Nikko N-318 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Pyrotect Sportsman OF Open Face XS, S, MM2005 Scorpion EXO EXO-200 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Shanghai Tung Kuang I Light Ind. Co., Ltd. AP-76 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Shanghai Tung Kuang I Light Ind. Co., Ltd. AP-79 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Shoei Co., Ltd. J-Wing Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Shoei Co., Ltd. RJ Platinum-LE Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Shoei Co., Ltd. RJ Platinum-R Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2005 Simpson Helmets Cruiser Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-501 Open Face S, M, XLM2005 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-510 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-544 Open Face XLM2005 Super Seer Corporation S1607 Open Face XS, S, MM2005 THH TS-302 Open Face L, XL, XXLM2005 Zamp J-1 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Zamp JS-1 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2005 Zeus 3000 Jet Open Face XS, S, MM2000 AGV SpA 00F8 Open Face ML, L, XL, XXLM2000 AGV SpA 0T18 Open Face XXS, XS, SM2000 AGV SpA GP-1 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 AGV SpA Independence Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 AGV SpA OT18 Open Face XXLM2000 AGV SpA Storm Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 AGV SpA VHS Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 AGV SpA XR-2 Open Face ML, L, XL, XXLM2000 Arai Helmet, Ltd. Classic/m Open Face XL, XXL, XXXLM2000 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-Alpha III Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-F Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ-Ram 3 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLM2000 Arai Helmet, Ltd. SZ/m Open Face XL, XXL, XXXLM2000 Bell Powersports Tourlite Open Face S, 54cm, 56cmM2000 Cyber US-72 Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 Fimez S.p.A. F 101 Open Face 56/S, 58/M, 60/L, 62/XL, 64/XXLM2000 G-Force GF650 Open Face S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 GMax GM22X Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 GMax GM24X Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 GMax GM28X Open Face XXS, XS, S, MM2000 GMax VGS Open Face XXS, XS, S, MM2000 Harley Davidson Ultra Jet Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 Harley Davison Road Classic Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 HJC Corporation AC-3 Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 HJC Corporation CL-31 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 HJC Corporation CS-5 Open Face XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Jiangmen Pengcheng Helmets Ltd. OF519 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 KBC Corp. TK-102S Open Face L, XL, XXLM2000 KBC Corp. TK-110S Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Premier Helmets CRX Open Face 58cm/MM2000 Shanghai Tung Kuang I Light Ind. Co., Ltd. AP-76 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Shanghai Tung Kuang I Light Ind. Co., Ltd. AP-79 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Shark S.A. MXR Open Face XS, S, M, L, XLM2000 Shark S.A. MXR Expert Open Face S, XL, 56 cm, 61 cmM2000 Shark S.A. RSF Open Face S, L, 54cm/XS, 58cm/M, 61cm/XLM2000 Shark S.A. RSR Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Shark S.A. RSV Open Face S, M, L, XLM2000 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-501 Open Face XS, M, XL, 60-62M2000 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-506 Open Face S, XXL, 54cm, 56cmM2000 Strategic Sports Ltd. ST-515 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Super Seer Corporation S1607 Open Face XS, S, M, L, L/XL, XL, XXL, 6 3/4, 7 1/4, 7 3/4, 7 3/8M2000 Tong Ho Hsing Industrial Co., Ltd. TS-302 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLM2000 Tong Ho Hsing Industrial Co., Ltd. US-72 Open Face XS, S, MM2000 Zamp JS-1 Open Face XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL

          • appliance5000

            I stand corrected – surprised and corrected.

            I still value my pretty face so it’s full face for me but if someone was to get an open face I’d check this list or:

            http://www.smf.org/certlist/std_M2010

            • JR

              It does appear that 3/4 helmets are as far as it goes for Snell. No half-helmets.

      • Grant Merritt

        Wise advice.
        I agree with everything you wrote.
        I’ve been riding almost daily for 53 years.
        Helmets have saved my life 7 times, so far.
        I wear open face helmets whenever the weather allows.
        I wouldn’t consider anything that wasn’t D.O.T.

        Novelty helmets are garbage.

    • sdyank

      I, too, am firmly in the full face helmet camp. As a new rider, I just recently replaced my modular with a non modular because:

      A. I realized it was way to big for my head. I could “almost” twist the helmet of f my head with the chin strap fully fastened and…

      B. I had a tendency to open the face off the helmet up when at stop lights or while riding in slow traffic to cool off and when I got up to speed again I would close it up again. When I would go to open the face up again I noticed that, about half of the time, only one side of the locking pins would be engaged.

      Now I don’t know if was user error or a design flaw (I’d put good money on user error!) that caused one side to not engage but I figured better safe than sorry and got myself a non-modular helmet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are in the market for a modular make sure it locks easily without too much fussing.

  • Will Mederski

    Helmet related:
    Anyone else out there with a oblong shaped head find that only Arai Profiles fit comfortably?
    I was experiencing pressure on my forehead, giving me headaches on long rides until my dad let me in on this tip. Now he, his brother and myself all only wear Profiles. Anyone know any other models that fit use weirdos?
    Still haven’t found a bicycle helmet that fits right…

    • smokin88lx

      I replaced my Profile with an HJC RPHA 10. Took a few months to find a helmet that fit me as well as the Profile did. I commute every day with it and also rode up and back to Laguna from LA headache free. I would have bought another Arai but I couldn’t stand the face shield design and mine never sealed when it was down. I might have had a defective one but I wasn’t going to chance it.

    • jonoabq

      Now that Profiles are discontinued, the Signet Q (~5mm longer than the Profile) is the Arai long oval helmet. I have both, the interior of the Profile is a little softer, but the Signet Q is a great helmet and comes with the new Pinlock Max visor standard. The Signet Q, vents more air around my head, seals up better around my chin/neck but the Profile still seems a little quieter.

      • Will Mederski

        I haven’t been in the market since i bought my Profile a couple of years ago, so that update is very helpful.
        Half the time I think guys that don’t ride with helmets have just had bad experiences with fit. I know I hated wearing my first helmet.

  • runnermatt

    Shoei will x-ray your helmet to see if there is any damage or if it is okay. I think there is a fee for it, maybe just shipping, but I don’t remember.

    • augustdaysong

      just shipping to them, they even send it back for free

  • el_jefe

    Also, you get what you pay for certainly applies here. Even though a $100 helmet might have a legit DOT sticker, how safe will it be when the crappy liner starts to distract you, or the poorly made visor distorts your vision?

  • Phil Mills

    Let’s talk “used lids” for a minute.

    I see a lot of helmets for sale on Craigslist all the time. Nothing necessarily wrong with buying a used helmet, but…

    1) Age. A 15-year-old AGV or Arai helmet may look cool and Max Max or retro-hipstery, but 15 years is well beyond the lifespan of ANY helmet. 3-5 years old, TOPS.

    2) Condition. How’s it been treated? Scratched? Cracked clearcoat? Lots of stickers? Pass it up – chances are pretty good that it’s seen the ground already. Many stickers & most spray paint are reported to degrade the outer shell – you don’t want that.
    Check the liner – any suspiciously packed-in spots? Has this lid lived its whole life bouncing up and down on some Hog’s sissy bar on the chance the owner passes through a helmet-law state? Skip it – probably compromised foam right there at worst; at best, that’s going to be a seriously uncomfortable spot.

    3) Manufacturer. Never heard of ‘em? Google only finds them sold at one vendor? Only costs $20 new? Listed as “not for highway use”? Run. Just run.

    4) Sanitation. Common sense, here. Your head is going to be inside this thing.

    Finally:
    5) Fit. Tons of bikes are sold on CL with “full set of gear” thrown in for free. Free gear ain’t worth nothin’ if that lid just rattles around on your head or you could fit your winter parka under the jacket. Do not (especially as a first-bike-buyer) have any thoughts that involve riding with gear that’s not going to stay put during an accident just because it was free and you blew all your spending money on the bike itself.

  • Brian D

    What do you all do with your old helmets?

    Is there a recycling program for them? Can you get them “refurbished” to be safe again?

    My first helmet is about four years old and never dropped. I like the graphics and just can’t see myself tossing it. I also don’t want to pass it off to someone of Craigslist knowing that the age makes it unsafe. Any suggestions?

  • Ken

    I wonder about the cheap helmets you can buy at flea markets that are made in China. How do you know they aren’t just printing DOT when in fact they have never been submitted or passed any testing.

  • disqus_Zx1cvmuvjT

    I am opposed to requiring people who don’t want to to wear helmets. I simply want the laws changed so that my tax money is not used to provide them medical treatment if they crash without one or with one that doesn’t meet the safety standards.