Does Your Helmet Pass the Test? A Safety Guide

Department of Transportation

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s NHTSA’s helmet brochure which is supposed to clarify what a “safety” helmet is but fails the test. As you read their carefully crafted non-conclusive language, I guarantee you will have no more clue as to what a helmet is or how to comply with your state law than if you flipped a coin. Be on guard for logic-free agruments, conflicting statements, double speak and vague description.


Head injury is a leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. A rider without a helmet is 40 percent more likely to incur a fatal injury in a crash than a helmeted rider. Those are very poor odds. Wearing a helmet should be an automatic decision for every motorcycle ride.

Selecting a helmet can be confusing. [but not as confusing as this brochure!] There are many models on the market, and some are better than others. How do you know if the helmet you want to buy is sturdy enough to protect you in a crash? How do you know if the helmet you already own was tested to meet minimum performance standards?

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not approve helmets or any other motor vehicle equipment. But it does test helmets to determine whether they comply with the safety standard covering motorcycle helmets. By law, manufacturers must certify that their helmets meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218 by placing the symbol “DOT” on the back of each helmet. However, some helmets carry the DOT label even though they do not meet those requirements.

Since 1974 NHTSA has been conducting tests on a random selection of helmets available on the market to determine if they meet all requirements of the federal safety standard. In 1994, for the first time, NHTSA tested all known [all “known” by whom?] helmets available in the marketplace.

Some helmets were tested at all four temperature conditions specified in the standard (hot, cold, ambient temperatures and submerged in water) and others were tested at one or two conditions. Tests will also be conducted in 1995 on all known helmets available on the market.

This brochure lists motorcycle helmets tested in 1994 by NHTSA. Each helmet listed was tested to verify that it meets the minimum performance levels specified in the standard. These performance requirements ensure that the helmet will provide a minimum level of head impact protection and chin strap retention capability. Helmets are listed by brand and model name, and whether the helmet satisfied impact, penetration, and retention performance requirements. In cases of apparent performance failures, investigations will be conducted to determine if corrective action such as a recall is necessary. Manufacturers of helmets not meeting the labeling requirements of FMVSS 218 are also notified and instructed to correct the problem on helmets produced in the future.[The Future? How is the consumer to know about the present? Good question.]

Complete test reports of any helmet listed are available by calling NHTSA’s Technical Reference Division at the: following number 800-445-0197. [What happens if your helmet is not list? Good question.]



FMVSS 218 stipulates minimum performance requirements for helmets that are designed to be used by motorcyclists. All helmets sold in the United States are required to meet or exceed the standard’s requirements. These requirements include:

Impact Attenuation – The helmet’s ability to protect the motorcyclist’s head in the event of a crash by absorbing the impact with the inner liner.

Penetration – The helmet’s ability to protect the motorcyclist’s head from the intrusion of sharp objects which might be encountered in a crash.

Retention – The chin strap system’s ability to keep the helmet on the wearer’s head in a crash.

Peripheral Vision – The minimum field of view provided by the helmet.

Rigid Projections – The height of projections both inside and outside of the helmet.

Labeling – Labels with the following information must be permanently affixed to each helmet:

  • manufacturer’s name or identification
  • model designation
  • size
  • month and year of manufacture
  • DOT symbol – compliance certification
  • shell and liner composition
  • cleaning instructions
  • warning against any modifications



In a crash, a helmet absorbs the impact before it reaches the head. It absorbs and spreads some of the impact energy through its outer shell, which is usually made of fiberglass or plastic. Most of the impact however, is absorbed by the liner that reduces the force of the impact from being transmitted directly to the head. This liner, usually made of polystyrene foam, lies between the outer shell of the helmet and the comfort linerÑthe foam layer that actually touches the head.



Consider these factors when purchasing a motorcycle helmet, or examining the helmet you already own:

Always try on a helmet before you buy it. Be cautious when buying helmets at swap meets, garage sales, non-reputable shops, etc. […as in look over your shoulder?] A helmet should feel snug and you should not be able to move it around or back and forth on your head. A helmet should not prevent you from turning your head to observe traffic. All helmets are required to provide the wearer with a 210 degree field of vision. [so if your helmet is snug and has 210 degrees of vision is it legal? Good question.]
Replace a helmet that has been damaged, and 
avoid buying a used one. A used helmet may have been involved in a crash and could be damaged in ways that are not obvious. Even drops from a motorcycle seat or the end of a handlebar can shorten a helmet’s life span. Any damage to a helmet reduces its effectiveness. Follow the helmet care instructions as indicated in the owner’s manual.

A full-face helmet offers the most protection in a crash. [Do all full face helmets pass 218? Nope.] These helmets completely cover the head and have a bar that extends over the chin. Most full-face helmets are equipped with plastic face shields to protect against wind, dust, rain, insects and road debris. If you buy a helmet without a face shield, be sure to wear goggles to protect your eyes.

Always fasten the helmet when wearing it. An unfastened helmet will fly off in a crash. [Did you know that fastened helmets fly off in crashes too…] Check the chin strap regularly to make sure it is still secure.



PAST SIX YEARS (1989-1994)
ManufacturerModelModel Year
Florida’s Choice
Lite Lids, Inc.
LBL Winner1993
Chico of Fort
Lauderdale, Inc.
E & R FiberglassBaby Beanie1991-1992



Frenchy’s Worldwide



These manufacturers sell novelty or costume helmets
which are not certified as conforming to FMVSS 218
and thus, do not provide the minimum performance
required by the standard:

Badlands Bonnet Co.
Novelty Helmets, Inc.
The Helmet Shop/Loophole Headgear