Choosing and Using a Motorcycle Helmet

Not only is wearing a helmet simply a smart thing to do, in many states it’s the law.

It’s the Law

In some states, you may be required by law to wear a helmet. Twenty states (AL, CA, GA, LA, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NJ, NY, NC, OR, TN, VT, VA, WA, WV) and the D.C. require helmet use by all motorcycle drivers and their passengers. Twenty-six states have laws only covering some riders, especially those younger than 18. Four states (CO, IL, IA, NH) have no helmet requirements at all, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (PDF).

To see the complete list of helmet laws for your state, go here.

What to Look For

Protect your melon! Print out these quick helmet safety tips and bring them with you as you shop.

  1. Certification.
    “Make sure your helmet is DOT (Department of Transportation) or Snell [a private, non-profit organization] certified,” says Denise Maple of VaVaVroom, a company designs motorcycle wear for women riders. “These helmets have been through extensive testing and meet minimum safety guidelines. Unless you are just trying to get around helmet laws, do not buy novelty helmets that are not Snell or DOT approved.”
  2. Thick Inner Liner.
    Helmets meeting the minimum Federal safety standard have an inner liner usually about one-inch thick of firm polystyrene foam, according to NHTSA. Sometimes the inner liner will not be visible, but you should still be able to feel its thickness.
  3. Weight of Helmet.
    Depending on design, unsafe helmets weigh only one pound or less while helmets that comply with federal safety standards generally weigh about three pounds, according to NHTSA.
  4. Go for full-face.
    “Full-face helmets provide the best protection,” says Maple. “Helmets should be as snug as possible without being uncomfortable. Shake your head up and down, side to side. The helmet should not easily move around.”

    WHN TIP: Unsafe Helmets

    A design such as the German Army style or skullcap style may be a clue to an unsafe helmet. Unsafe helmets are noticeably smaller in diameter and thinner than ones meeting the DOT standard. However, some German Army style helmet may meet Federal requirements.

  5. Cost.
    “Most helmets purchased range from $200-$400,” says Maple. “This will differ based on brand and features such as venting, anti-scratch, anti-fog face shields, full face vs. open face vs. flip-up, Snell and Dot certification, shell graphics, ability to wash the interior, and comfort level/padding. Some helmets are wired for communication devices like CBs.”
  6. Found one you like?
    Try it on. “Walk around with it on your head for at least 10 minutes to make sure they are comfortable,” says Maple. “If you develop ‘hot spots’ or any discomfort while wearing one, try another one.”
  7. Don’t forget eye protection.
    While you’re shopping look at visors for your helmet or choose good quality goggles or sunglasses.
  8. Plan your next helmet purchase.
    If it’s been over five years or if you’ve been in a crash (even if you weren’t hurt), replace your helmet. Helmets are designed to withstand one crash only!

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional advice. These tips are from experts and people who have shared their real life advice; always check with appropriate professionals you trust in making your purchasing or life-related decisions.

Last Updated: 5/2009