Considering how important our brain is for the functionality of our entire body, it makes sense that motorcycle helmets are one of the necessary pieces of gear for a motorcycle ride. Some countries and US-states have made wearing them mandatory by law. Others still refuse to implement the universal laws concerning protective gear for motorcycle riders.
Can we notice a difference in the accident numbers in states where wearing a helmet is mandatory vs. those where it isn’t? If so, what does it say about a motorcycle helmet’s effectiveness?
Mandatory Motorcycle Gear
If you wonder about which pieces of motorcycle gear are mandatory, you already have the answer. The motorcycle helmet is the only wearable that is universally required in those countries and states that chose to create laws concerning protective motorcycle gear.
The reason is quite simple:
In comparison to many other organs, the brain is an especially vulnerable spot. It is less about its location and more about the extent of areas it influences. The brain is easily our most complex organ. It:
- controls every function of our body
- interprets information from the outside world
- is the center of our thoughts, emotions, and memories
Damage to the brain can impede our movement, memory, speech, senses, and the functions of our organs and can ultimately lead to paralysis, brain death or death.
A motorcycle jacket is helpful in protecting us from road rash, cuts and penetrations, but an injury to our arm or even another organ is less likely to cause the same amount of damage as a brain injury. Hence, the governments of the world have decided to protect the most vulnerable body part first.
The Anatomy of Motorcycle Helmets
Full-face motorcycle helmets are made of:
- a hard shell – made from Kevlar, carbon fiber or plastic, it protects from abrasions and penetrations
- padding – two padded linings made of foam make the helmet more comfortable and absorb and lessen the force of impacts
- a visor – the visor shields the eyes from flying particles and rain, it can be tinted to protect the eyes from the sun, it is made from break-proof plastic
- a chin bar – the chin bar is the part of the helmet that covers your face underneath the visor in full-face and modular helmets
- a retention system – the retention system is made of a padded strap and a secure closing mechanism that hold the helmet in place
Wearing open-face helmets without a chin bar is not advised, since they offer no protection to your chin and nose.
The Safety Standards of Motorcycle Helmets
Organizations like the U.S. Department of Transportation or the Snell Memorial Foundation have developed tests to determine if a helmet has a good quality and safety standard. In these tests they expose the helmets to high-force impacts, various weather conditions and potential influences that would occur in a motorcycle accident.
The safety standard tests include:
- Testing how much force an impact can have on the helmet before it is fatal.
- Testing how much force must be used to penetrate the helmet.
- Testing how much force must pull on the retention strap to break it.
- Testing if rotation can pull the helmet off.
- And much more.
When they reach the necessary criteria, the organization awards the helmet with its safety standard certificate.
How Effective Are Motorcycle Helmets?
There are countless studies observing the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets. Estimations that combine the results of ten high quality studies overall suggest that motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of:
- death caused by head injury by 42 %.
- injuries by 69 %.
The comparison between the number of head, facial, and brain injuries caused in motorcycle accidents in US-states with and without mandatory motorcycle helmet laws supports this evidence:
A study compared how many motorcyclists were reported wearing motorcycle helmets in mandatory helmet states vs. the others and respectively where more injured riders were admitted to hospitals. Their result: The amount of head injuries was higher in the no mandatory helmet states with 42 % of reported helmet use vs 88 % in the mandatory helmet states.
The same study also found no proof of the popular belief that motorcycle helmets can cause additional damage to the chin and neck in motorcycle accidents.
Many studies show the effectiveness of wearing a motorcycle helmet in an accident. It absorbs the impact force and protects from abrasions and penetrations. Certified helmets were extensively tested to guarantee their durability and their ability to reduce fatal injuries. Comparisons between the US-states where motorcycle helmets were mandatory vs. the ones where it was voluntary have shown higher rates of head and brain injuries in the states where fewer residents wore protective motorcycle helmets.