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Novelty Motorcycle Helmets Do Not Protect Riders In Motorcycle Accidents

Craig McClellan

Every year, motorcycle riders purchase 800,000 novelty helmets. Novelty helmets are helmets that offer little protection and do not conform to federal motor vehicle safety standards for motorcycle helmets.

In fact, a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that seven novelty models would not protect riders in motorcycle crashes. "All analyses gave a 100-percent probability of brain injuries and skull fracture, indicating the person wearing the helmet will sustain fatal head injuries."

These novelty helmets do not live up to California's helmet law, which requires all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet that complies with the federal motor vehicle safety standards and bears a certification of compliance. Under the federal safety standards, helmets must pass penetration, retention, configuration, projection and labeling tests ( learn more here).

The novelty helmets cannot pass the tests, yet they remain on the market. Why? As long as the companies that manufacture the novelty helmets do not misrepresent the helmets as meeting safety standards, it is up the rider to decide whether to purchase them.

And people continue to buy them. In states with mandatory helmet laws, like California, one in five helmets purchased are novelty helmets. Unfortunately, many riders think the novelty helmets are "better than nothing," when, in fact, they are almost as bad as not wearing a helmet at all. Others purchase helmets with false labels, believing them to be safe and legal. In fact, according to the NHTSA, more than 750 people die in motorcycle accidents involving novelty helmets every year -- and that's just in states with mandatory helmet laws.

One regulation will go into effect in May that could help officials, such as police officers, identify fake safety labels on helmets. Yet, it is difficult to determine how much reach the rule will have. We need more governmental action to protect against these novelty helmets, but also an increase in consumer awareness. We also need to hold manufacturers accountable when their helmets cause deaths in motorcycle accidents.