Baltimore Motorcycle Safety Update: Improper Helmet Choices have Deadly Consequences during Bike Accidents

Don’t sell your safety or health short by choosing sub-standard protective gear for riding your bike. This is the message that many safety experts have tried to pass on to motorcyclists and bicycle riders over the years. Most importantly, both of these groups should pay particular attention in their choice of helmet for riding. It is true, not all brain buckets are created equal.

As Baltimore injury attorneys, we have represented Maryland motorcyclists who have become involved in car crashes and we also know the post-crash effect of riding with no or poorly designed safety equipment. As supposedly uncomfortable and isolating that motorcycle helmets are, the alternative can be many times more uncomfortable and potentially life-altering. Although many states have no mandatory helmet law, Maryland is not one of them.

Whether you ride on the state’s rural roads or ply the densely trafficked city streets of Annapolis, Washington, D.C., or Rockville, the country roads, one thing is certain: no biker cannot go back in time, prior to a serious traffic accident, and don a helmet to protect himself. When it comes to the future, the proactive approach is usually the most prudent course of action.

As every good rider knows, the key element of a motorcyclist’s protective wardrobe is his or her helmet. Of course, gloves, boots, a decent pair of chaps or overalls, and a good leather jacket are all recommended for the best possible protection, but an industry- and government-approved helmet is paramount. Going without this important item is just inviting disaster.

Yet, many bikers apparently don’t believe in the safety benefits of high-quality headgear, and as such many decide to buy and wear an illegal helmet. The reason why is up for debate; however, cost could be one or fashion another. What the experts seem to agree on, however, is that relying on a novelty helmet or a cheap knock-off to protect you in the event of a motorcycle wreck is a false economy that one could live to regret. And if not the rider, then his or her family if the crash is fatal.

According to news reports, many bikers who wear sub-standard novelty or beanie-type helmets don’t realize that they are violating the Department of Transportation law — namely the one that requires a helmet to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.

Every motorcycle helmet manufacturer is individually responsible for certifying that their products comply with FMVSS and DOT requirements, this according to Maryland’s State Highway Administration motorcycle safety fact sheet. While a store or website can sell whatever it wants to the public, it is the motorist’s responsibility to comply with the law and choose a properly made helmet that follows the law.

Helmets that meet these standards display a “DOT” sticker on the backside of the helmet’s outer shell. It’s important to note, that some retailers who sell novelty helmets also provide separate DOT stickers which riders can then affix to their non-compliant helmets. You should know that this act in no way certifies compliance.

Although places like Cumberland, MD, have not yet seen an accident where a motorcyclist was wearing non-compliant helmet, the novelty helmet fad is new and bound to make an impact at some point. Police can issue a citation (currently a $110 fine) to a biker who is found not to be wearing approved head protection, according to reports.

A properly made and DOT-certified helmet can help to minimize head injuries, hopefully to preventing death due to head trauma in the event of a bad collision with a car, commercial vehicle or other motor vehicle. According to news reports, compared to certified motorcycle helmets, those novelty helmets perform significantly worse in the area of energy absorption in the case of a motorcycle crash.

DOT-certified helmets are typically heavier than novelty ones (about three pounds), have a thicker inner liner (approximately one inch), and have a higher-quality chin strap and rivets. A Snell or American National Standards Institute (ANSI) label is also a good indicator of a helmet’s quality over knock-off and novelty brain buckets, but experts warn that counterfeit labels for these organizations are also available from less-than-scrupulous retailers.

Wearing illegal headgear may come at price for motorcycle riders,, March 26, 2011

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