Do I really need to use a motorcycle helmet?

Do I really need to use a motorcycle helmet?

I have to start this weeks article with an apology.

An apology to all to whom this topic seems ludicrous, as to all that may feel that this article may sound somewhat ranty. I apologize because you will be right as far as I can see it.

Being someone that is in contact with riders from all over the world, I cannot wrap my head around how many people still ask questions like:

"Should I really wear a motorcycle helmet?" 
"Do they really protect motorcycle riders?"

I consider myself an informed rider that loves to share information with others, but that does not make me the lord of reason on any subject, as I'm learning new things every day.

I am also a massive advocate for ATGATT, but that does not make me flawless, as I do slack on riding pants and boots from time to time, and I have even on occasion left the helmet behind when moving the bike for a couple of feet.

So if I am not the owner of reason, nor a clear example to be followed, why should you pay attention to my spiel?

In principle you shouldn't, not any more than you should anyone else's, information should come from many different sources, that is why more than sharing my opinion I'll be sharing facts, hard data, and studies from respect sources.

Plus, I'm not selling you anything, I'm giving you free information, so don't think of this article as me telling you what to do, but as a few lines of text that can save your life.

I will add links to as many of the reports and studies as I can, in order to facilitate your research. Some are lengthy, but a worthy read.

In the States, you have the Hurt Report from 1981, based on 900 crashes, and baptised by many as the father of motorcycle accident reports.

May seem outdated, but don’t let that fool you, as you will see, his findings are on par with more recent studies.

Let me share a few passes from a Motorcycle Safety Foundation article that amongst others, often quotes the Hurt Report:

“Helmeted riders show significantly lower injury frequency in all types of lesions” (Hurt, 1981). A recent analysis from the Crash Outcomes Data Evaluation Systems (CODES) from six states demonstrated that helmets were 35 percent effective in preventing death and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries (NHTSA, 1996, 1998).

In other words, unhelmeted injured motorcyclists are three times as likely to suffer a brain injury compared to helmeted injured motorcyclists. Motorcyclists who do sustain fatal injuries while wearing FMVSS 218 compliant helmets typically have one or more additional fatal injuries, so that the limit of the helmet to protect them is rarely an issue (Ouellet,1990). 
Head impacts that would otherwise cause death or permanent injury can often be attenuated with little or no injury to a motorcyclist wearing an FMVSS 218 compliant helmet.


For some, this information alone would be enough, but I don't believe in getting my information from one source alone, so lets continue.

The CDCCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, made a report based on data from 2001 to 2008, that included 1,222,000 people, that showed that 22% of the most common motorcycle crash injuries occurred to the head and neck, and if those numbers can be read as pro-helmet, it is important to refer that they don’t specify in the study the severity of those injuries.

It is crucial to note at this point that I have not found any information regarding the actual certification of the helmets referred in those studies, as they only talk about DOT (FMVSS 218) helmets.

Since we know that DOT is an outdated and self-certified standard that allows for non DOT helmets to reach the market, claiming to be DOT approved - since 2014, 41.9 percent of “DOT helmets” tested failed to meet the actual DOT standards - we can assume that some of the helmets referred to in those studies were merely self-certified helmets, which means, little over a plastic bucket, and still they made a difference.

That notion alone should give skeptics something to think about, but lets move along.

According to the MAIDS Study, a 2009 European study involving 921 accidents:


Findings on rider protection: In 69% of cases, helmets were found to be effective at preventing or reducing the severity of head injury.


It is important to keep in mind that the MAIDS study is based on ECE rated helmets, as they are mandatory in all countries in Europe, and that ECE standards are forcibly met before any helmet can be sold.

If you want to read a bit further about certification - Motorcycle Helmet Standards Explained: DOT, ECE 22.05 & Snell


Another important fact that the studies and report mention, such as the Hurt Report, is that the use of helmets does NOT contribute to crashes:


"FMVSS 218 (DOT) compliant helmets do not contribute to crash causation (Hurt, 1981)”.


This fact, derived by hard data, helps to lay to rest another dangerous myth that sadly is still quite common to hear, that you shouldn't wear a helmet because it makes you disconnected with your environment.

Clearly, if wearing a helmet does not contribute to a crash, we can only assume riders are as connected as they need to be, and let me explain why.

ECE, DOT, and SNELL certifications force a minimum of 105° of peripheral vision, being that the average human binocular vision sits at around 114°.

Being that 105° is a minimum requirement, you will find helmets that will get wider fields of vision, with some surpassing the 114° referred before.

This being, if you use a certified helmet, either the loss will be minimal, and able to be compensated by moving your head when looking, or it will be nonexistent with helmets with a wider eye port.

As for the hearing, its important to know that the average noise value inside a motorcycle helmet according to most studies, sits between 85 to 95dB at speeds of around 40mph.

The reason why the numbers change depends on the helmet used, motorcycle used, rider head height in reference to the motorcycle screen, if the values were measured in the real work or wind tunnels, so I will be using an average to illustrate my point.

On the other hand, medical authorities tell us that 15 minutes exposed to continuous sound levels above 95dB can do irreparable damage to your hearing.

This is why in the real world, we see experienced riders using earplugs, instead of removing their helmets to ear better.

With those noise levels:

  1. You will first start losing your hearing, which won't help to keep you safe on the long run

  2. You will get tired faster as noisy environments force you to be which won't help you be safer,

  3. With those noise levels is debatable if you will actually be able to distinguish a normal noise from a dangerous noises.

Personally, I ride with earplugs, my hearing is top notch, and I never felt like I needed to ear better to be safer, neither have I never had anything even close to a scare because I didn’t hear something on the road.


Another lengthly but very interesting read is the COST 327 report from SHARP, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme out of the UK, that amongst other subjects, talks exactly about the noise issue referred above.


All of what I pointed out before are facts and hard data from respected sources that all reach the same findings, helmet save lives and prevent injuries.

Considering that I’m yet to find any facts or hard data from respected sources that shows that wearing helmets is a factor in crashes, or that proves that a rider is better off without a helmet than with one, I’ll personally continue to use my head bucket.

Where do you stand on this subject?

If you are convinced that wearing a helmet is a good think, the next step in your motorcycling life is to choose the right helmet as there is more to helmet choices than just certifications.

We have written a bit on the subject, and you can find those articles here and here.


If you want extra aid in your helmet choice, this study findings show average locations of helmet damage on a crash, which if you are stuck between a three-quarter helmet and a full face, it may help you decide.

If you are still not convinced, no harm done, we are still friends as before, but I will not hide my concern every time I see you drive away, unclear if you will drive back.

Regardless of what anyone says or what the law in your country is, do your own research, inform yourself, and stay safe out there, you only have one life!

Do I really need to use a motorcycle helmet?

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