FairWarining Investigates

Booming Sales of Novelty Helmets Boost Toll of Motorcycle Deaths

A fatal motorcycle accident in San Diego County on Jan. 30, 2011. (CAL FIRE San Diego)

A fatal motorcycle accident in San Diego County on Jan. 30, 2011. (CAL FIRE San Diego)

The results were tragic but not surprising last May when Suzanne Randa and her fiance, Thomas Donohoe, crashed while riding Donohoe’s Harley Davidson on Highway 79 near the Southern California city of Loma Linda.

Donohoe, who was wearing a helmet meeting federal safety standards, escaped injury and walked away from the accident. Randa, 49, who wore a so-called novelty helmet that was cheap and stylish but offered no real protection, died at the scene after the  strap broke and her head slammed onto the pavement.

“I just don’t think these helmets should be permitted,” said Randa’s 23-year-old daughter, Kelli Meador, who still has her mother’s scarred turtle-shell headgear.

Even as more than 800,000 novelty helmets are sold in the U.S. every year, and as motorcycle crash deaths mount, federal regulators have never acted with urgency to crack down on the popular but flawed headgear. Proposals to limit sales of the novelty helmets have been delayed over and over again.

It’s not because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets safety standards for helmets, is ignorant of the problem. Six years ago NHTSA hired an independent lab to study seven novelty models, and found they all shared a distinguishing characteristic: they were worthless in a crash.

“All analyses gave a 100-percent probability of brain injuries and skull fracture, indicating that the person wearing the helmet will sustain fatal head injuries,” the evaluation found. It added: “Motorcycle riders who wear novelty helmets and believe that ‘something is better than nothing’ have a false sense of security regarding the protection afforded.”

It remains legal to make and sell novelty helmets as long as they aren’t falsely represented as meeting federal standards. Wearing them is clearly against the law only in a dozen or so states that require motorcyclists to wear helmets meeting the federal standard.

NHTSA says it is studying ways to limit sales and will have a proposal within a few weeks. That, however, would be only one step in an approval process that, even if successful, could take many months or years.

Suzanne Randa, who was killed last May in Southern California in a motorcycle crash while wearing a novelty helmet, with a grandson. (Courtesy of Kelli Meador)

Suzanne Randa, who was killed last May in Southern California in a motorcycle crash while wearing a novelty helmet, with a grandson. (Courtesy of Kelli Meador)

So far the agency has gone no farther than to adopt a rule taking effect next month that it hopes will make it easier for police to spot helmets with fake safety labels. Meanwhile, sales of novelty helmets keep growing — as do the numbers of deaths among riders wearing them.

NHTSA officials declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesman said the agency does not comment on issues that are the subject of a pending rulemaking.

The lack of resolve by NHTSA to tackle the threat troubles doctors, safety experts and families of crash victims. “It is a huge loophole,” said David Thom, an El Segundo, Calif., engineering consultant and helmet expert.

Numerous tests have shown that certified helmets – those meeting federal standards — save hundreds of lives every year, and cut the risk of a deadly accident by more than a third. They are widely considered the best tool available to prevent fatalities. Novelty helmets, by contrast, account for hundreds of deaths. That is contributing to a troubling trend, as FairWarning has reported, of rising motorcycle fatalities in recent years while traffic deaths generally have declined. The latest federal figures, for 2011, show motorcycle crashes taking 4,612 lives, more than doubling since the mid-1990s and now accounting for one in seven U.S. traffic deaths.

The inaction also spotlights how politics may trump public health considerations in the debate over motorcycle safety. Arguably the most effective strategy in combating substandard helmets has been limited by legislation promoted by rider groups. States including California and Virginia have prohibited state and local police from using motorcycle checkpoints to ticket violators of helmet laws and other rules of the road.

What’s more, even in some states where helmets are required, enforcement is often lax or inconsistent. It typically is left to the discretion of individual officers, many of whom don’t see it as a priority or who have trouble distinguishing the novelty helmets from the certified ones.

Consumer advocates say the situation cries out for changes. “There needs to be more done in eliminating the supply but also in making sure that states with helmet laws are going to crack down,” said Henry Jasny, general counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington-based watchdog group. “People just don’t want to touch it. It is hard to get leadership. It is too political.”

Novelty helmets first became popular as a symbol of resistance in states that required bikers to wear certified helmets. A fight to have California’s helmet law struck down in court was for years led by a man who was repeatedly arrested for violating the helmet law by wearing a baseball cap with a bogus “DOT,” or U.S. Department of Transportation, safety label on the back.

One group, BOLT of California, still takes the position that a state law requiring head protection can be met “so long as you have an object on your head that you claim is a helmet, and it has the letters ‘DOT’ on it.”

Jeff Miller, who suffered multiple skull fractures in a Vermont motorcycle crash last September, with his wife, Dawn.(Courtesy of Dawn Miller)

Jeff Miller, who suffered multiple skull fractures in a Vermont motorcycle crash last September, with his wife, Dawn.(Courtesy of Dawn Miller)

But other people also buy the helmets, drawn by the low cost and the misconception that they provide a measure of safety. “I am sure there are lots of people out there who do not appreciate the fact it does not provide any protection,” said Thom, the engineering consultant.

NHTSA’s helmet standard for manufacturers, known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, has been in place since 1974. As with other motor vehicle equipment regulations, it’s enforced through a kind of honor system. Manufacturers determine whether their helmets meet the standard, and attach a “DOT” sticker certifying compliance. The agency conducts spot checks only after the helmets are on the market, with help from independent labs. The numbers of those inspections were halved by NHTSA recently due to budget cuts.

The many helmets that, because of poor performance or false labeling, have gotten failing grades – as many as 30 percent to 40 percent every year – do little to inspire confidence that bad products are kept off the market. (Officials say the percentage is high because they focus testing on suspect helmets.) Critics also say the agency is slow to respond when problems are detected; it issued a consumer alert last year about a helmet made by a California manufacturer that was deemed defective more than three years earlier. (The agency has said that a bankruptcy filing by the helmet firm delayed the notice.)

Sales of novelty helmets have climbed even as the number of states requiring riders to wear helmets has declined. That’s partly because more and more riders are hitting the road. Also, the novelty helmets usually are about one-third the cost of a certified helmet. Some riders find comfort in their lighter weight, even though that is also what makes them dangerous.

It has also been relatively easy to pass them off as legal. The simple stickers NHTSA has required on certified helmets are easy to reproduce for anyone with a computer and printer, while other counterfeit versions are widely available over the Internet. For example, riders can buy two for a dollar at www.chopperstickers.com. The website says customers are responsible for how they use the stickers. The site’s operator anonymously goes on to tout the product, saying: “I have had one on my helmet for about a year now and it has held up fine in [sic] through all kinds of weather and abuse.”

Flawed helmets and motorcycle deaths

A rule that NHTSA hopes will make the stickers harder to copy by requiring that they be more detailed — first proposed during the Bush Administration — goes into effect in May. Yet people debate the difference the rule will make, and even NHTSA acknowledges it is unlikely to significantly reduce the annual death toll from motorcycle accidents.

NHTSA has estimated that as many as 754 people die each year in states with mandatory helmet laws because they wore novelty helmets instead of safe headgear, which amounts to nearly one in six rider fatalities nationwide. Yet in the 19 states that require riders of all ages to wear some form of protection, the novelty versions account for about one of every five helmets sold.

Cheap imports from Asia have dominated the novelty market in the U.S., even as some Asian governments have started cracking down on the headgear in their own countries. Another big distributor of novelty helmets, Voss Extreme Sports, is based in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Concerned about rising deaths, provincial officials last year banned motorcyclists from wearing novelty helmets.

Jeff Miller, who faces more surgery and therapy to recover from his head injury suffered in a motorcycle crash. (Courtesy of Dawn Miller)

Jeff Miller, who faces more surgery and therapy to recover from his head injury suffered in a motorcycle crash. (Courtesy of Dawn Miller)

Novelty Helmets are sold over the Internet by companies with names such as “Helmets Gone Wild” and “Iron Horse Helmets.” Iron Horse sells German World War II-styled novelty helmets, available in camouflage, gun metal, leather and chrome finishes; a “Bone Yard” model with skull-and-crossbones design, available in pink, blue and red; and a “Gladiator” helmet with spikes. Prices start at around $30, and top out with a glittery three-quarter shell model for $305.99 that resembles a ’70s disco ball.

Marketers of novelty helmets are unapologetic, dismissing safety concerns and saying they simply are accommodating consumer demand.

Todd Sobel, the founder and president of Birmingham, Ala.,-based Iron Horse, says that people who buy his helmets know what they are getting into. Most of his helmets, he says, are sold to people in states that do not require headgear, and who just want to look good. “They are not bought for safety. They are bought for style,” he said. He also makes the much-disputed assertion that the headgear provides at least some protection for people who otherwise would not wear anything on their head.

Novelty helmets are usually sold with disclaimers that they are not intended for highway use. But NHTSA is skeptical. The agency said in a notice two years ago that novelty helmets are “minimally used” by groups other than motorcycle riders, and are often sold online on the same websites as motorcycle gear. Its authority to regulate novelty helmets appeared bolstered last year by a change in federal law that puts motor vehicle equipment sold “with the apparent purpose” of safeguarding users within its jurisdiction.

The agency seemed to be getting serious about novelty helmets in 2007 when it subjected seven popular brands to testing by an independent lab. Six of the seven models, distributed by such firms as “Helmets R Us” and “Helmets, Etc.,” failed every phase of the three-part evaluation. In some cases the products allowed more than twice the legally permissible energy impact to the head from a hard fall.

Much of the problem was due to the flawed design of the outer shell and flimsy liners inside. But the straps didn’t work, either, separating on impact — meaning that even if the helmets were more substantial, they were unlikely to stay on a rider’s head and provide critical protection during a crash.

A novelty helmet for sale on the Internet.

A novelty helmet for sale on the Internet.

Since April 2011, NHTSA says, it has considered developing a rule to crack down on the importation and distribution of novelty helmets. The agency has gone so far as to set an internal timetable for issuing a proposed rule and obtaining public comment. But it has twice postponed plans, most recently citing a need for “additional coordination.” The agency now says it intends to submit a proposal for review to the Office of Management and Budget by late this month.

Meanwhile, around the country, people continue to die and suffer grievous injuries. In Vermont, Jeff Miller, a truck driver who taught helmet safety for a local Harley dealer, crashed his bike into the back of an SUV last September, suffering multiple skull fractures; he was wearing a novelty helmet. “It is not like he didn’t know that the helmet he was wearing was not safe,” said his wife, Dawn. “He thought it was cool.” His medical bills already total more than $500,000 with more surgery and therapy to come. The family is looking to Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor, to help cover some of the costs.

California has also seen a rise in accidents involving novelty helmets. “It’s a trend we see quite often up here,” Ariel Gruenthal, deputy coroner in Northern California’s Humboldt County, said of a surge in novelty helmet- related deaths last summer. “We have had straps rip, helmets pop right off.”

“I realize it is a very personal decision, and a lot of people who ride motorcycles don’t want to be wearing a helmet at all, so they wear the bare minimum,” Gruenthal said. “I really encourage people to think about their safety and think about their family and everybody who will be left behind if something happens.”

Randa was a free spirit, who got married as a teenager, divorced, and then lived for a time raising her family on a chicken ranch. She told friends the best job she ever had was working the graveyard shift as a waitress at Denny’s. In a tragic irony, the father of two of her children was killed years ago in a head-on collision on the same road where she perished, just a few miles away.

According to her children, she struggled with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions, but lately seemed to have found happiness with Donohoe, 69, a retired electrician.

Motorcycles were a new adventure, and the experience both exhilarated and terrified her. “My mom was not what you call bike literate,” said Meador, her daughter. “She said it was fun. But then there were a couple of times when she said it was scary because [Donohoe] drove like an idiot. … She loved being on the back of the bike.”

Donohoe was headed to a doctor’s appointment at the VA hospital in Loma Linda when the crash occurred. “He was basically cutting through traffic, misjudged a car … and went down,” said Darren Meyer, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. “As she tumbled down the road she took more impacts. … He did not even go to the hospital.”

Meyer said the choice of helmets “absolutely” made a difference in their fates.

Randa’s son, Tyler Meador, built a seven-foot cross, which he erected as a memorial near the crash site, with handprints of three of her children, in turquoise, her favorite color. Her children, to cover the cost of her funeral, raised money through an appeal on the Internet.

Donohoe was charged with vehicular manslaughter and with having a provisional motorcycle permit that did not allow him to carry passengers. He said he had purchased the novelty helmet from a roommate. “I tried to get her to get a helmet like mine,” he said, but Randa did not like how she looked in the DOT-certified helmet.

“Of course I feel a sense of responsibility,” he said, adding that he has a new point of view about novelty helmets following the tragedy. “I think they should be regulated. I don’t think they should ever be sold, period.”

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39 comments to “Booming Sales of Novelty Helmets Boost Toll of Motorcycle Deaths”

  1. David Aguilar

    Most dumbasses that wear useless helmets also ride Harleys… Dumb choices by dumb people…

  2. Malcolm Dee

    Regardless of any type that you’re wearing , just make sure it is Dot Certified. Remember of your love ones :)

  3. Chris

    I know you are better off with a helmet than without. Of course there will be exceptions, but you have to go with the percentages. Its the same for seatbelts in cars. If your car suddenly goes into a lake, its probably better if you are not wearing a seatbelt, but you still have to go with the percentages.
    As for those who think they should be free to injure themselves- this can affect everyone when your insurance only covers the first $10k in lifesaving efforts at the hospital, then taxpayers cover the rest.

  4. Mark

    I laid a bike down (operator error) for the first time after riding 18 years and I was damn happy to have a DOT full face helmet. My head hit very hard and I had zero issues with my head… My dislocated shoulder was a gun time though.

    DOT Helmets are the result of science and anyone denying their efficacy is wrong. That’s not an opinion.

  5. tsc

    Helmet laws are nonaense. I have been riding since i was 15 tears old. 41 years now (yea i an old now). I have been in numerious accidents and I am still here. I have several scars, yes sime even in my head and wouldnt trade even one for a helmet. I however do know several individuals that are no longer here dispite wearing helmets. Study numbers can be skewed anyway the group doing the study wants. I can say for a fact helmets inhibit your vision, through off your balance and more. Intresting how no one has ever done a study on just how many more individual’s wearing helmets get into accidents than those who don’t, simply due to the impairments caused due the helments. I have a friend who is crippled that was right next to me because his helment prevented him from seeing what was comming when i did simply becauae my vision was not impaired. Bottom line his helmet screwed his life, my lack of helmet left me without a scratch. Helmet laws fall under George Carlton,s “it all bs and its bad for you.”

  6. David Slepkow

    This post underscores the importance of using proper safe helmets approved by the authorities.

  7. john garzaniti

    I love the look of novelty helmets but any helmet that is not DOT approved is not to be used by me while riding. I honestly didn’t know that there were higher standards that some helmets DOT helmets don’t meet and this information I was grateful to learn from other readers comments

  8. Old Poor Richard

    The disco ball helmet is a DOT certified novelty helmet. So it’s not fair to attack “novelty” helmets by name when the real issue is “non-certified” helmets.

    I support regulation of sale of non-DOT helmets as a consumer protection issue, but it’s not so much a motorcycling problem, and the overall impact is low. Individual riders should not be subject to law enforcement regarding the wearing of sub-standard helmets. More than half of all motorcycle fatalities are suffered by certified helmet wearing riders. The majority of deaths are caused either by injury to other than the head or else by trauma to the head which no helmet would be able to protect against.

  9. Steven

    I went to one of the websites that sells novelty helmets. They offer both DOT and novelty helmets. The novelty helmets explicitly state they are not DOT approved. I wear a DOT approved helmet when I ride (except in Sturgis where I wore a protective bandana or baseball hat. Yes, I know. I wanted to fit in.).

  10. Chris

    “Novelty helmets, by contrast, account for hundreds of deaths.” No, accidents account for deaths. Unless we breed a superior human being, it is not the government’s job to tell anybody what to do with their own lives. No government was ever started with the intention of having some stranger meddle in personal affairs.

  11. bill merck

    To the person above, I’ve been on a motorcycle for almost 40 years and had many accidents. I diddnt use a helmet and my head was fine my but my legs wernt! So how did a helmet help that.. You all talk about helmets I’ve had a friend die wearing a DOT app helmet when it got crushed. Any helmet worn gives a rider false sence of security, ANY HELMET!! You all need to fight your own war like stupid drivers. Because out of 100 crashes on motorcycles 80% were caused by idiot drivers..

  12. Trent B

    I generally prefer not to engage in arguments online such as this one, but this is a subject that i’m really quite passionate about. I do and always will wear a DOT (regulation) helmet when i ride. i have for years. It’s obviously safer. But that’s MY decision to make. I ride for freedom. ANY biker would back me up on that. I realize that someone who doesn’t ride probably looks at us hooligans on our two wheeled death traps and thinks “what in the hell is wrong with these people”, because it’s dangerous. There aren’t many people that will seriously argue that life on two wheels is safe. What me, and countless bikers are arguing is that despite it being dangerous, it’s OUR choice. Each and every one of us is gifted with a life of our own. It should be no one’s decision but our own what risks we are able to take with it. If we keep everyone alive by restricting our ability to chose how we go about our own lives, than what will we really accomplish? Is this truly a world that we want to live in? I cringe every time i hear about someone dying on two wheels but I also know that they’ve died knowing the risks and doing something that they loved. When I see someone cruising down the road in a t-shirt with no helmet, I don’t think that the person is stupid, i think that he’s living on the edge, and there’s truly NOTHING wrong with that. If you’ve read this far, than i’ll just ask one thing, and that’s that you think RATIONALLY about this topic. You don’t want to have your daily activities monitored and regulated to make sure that you aren’t doing anything that could be a risk, so PLEASE do not regulate ours. -Sincerely, every biker out there.

  13. Woody

    Have any of you been in a motorcycle accident ? I have and had I not been wearing a helmet I would have died ! My head hit the curb so hard it put a dent about thre inches into the shell. Unfortunately the safety of the helmet is not the issue at all, it is the way it looks period, nobody wants to look like dipshit while they are riding they’re bad ass motorcycle just like you never wanted to be the retard whos mother made them wear a bicycle helmet that was twice the size of they’re head! For fucksake some helmet maker out there make a fuckin helmet that looks like the novelty helmets since those are the ones everyone wears. Ther has got to be something out there that works better is lighter stronger and easily cooler than a dot helmet. I wear a helmet every time I’m on my bike , I like what little brain I have.

  14. Ed

    People who argue for the government to protect us from ourselves are always the same types. You can cite all the statistics and studies you want. None of them addresses the argument. Freedom is the argument. You like to smoke? Go ahead. You can’t do it anywhere except outside far enough away so no bureaucrat can smell it, but go ahead. Your health coverage, now mandated and soon to be part of the public interest, will be the argument against anything you do that involves the slightest risk. What? You want to go mountain climbing? Didn’t you see what happened on Everest? Are you insane? You want to drink? Do have any idea what that does to your liver?? You like guns? Holy crap, those things kill people!! Whatthefuckever. Freedom is exhilarating. You want to live to a hundred, go ahead. Wrap yourself in bubble wrap, and avoid everything with risk. Just don’t crash my party you boring fuck. If you enjoy risk, you are probably a vibrant being. This pisses off all the little bureaucratic micro-managing types who hate you for being the life of the party. Hey, if it kicks us out of the gene pool earlier, so much the better for you little piss ants, so leave us alone to squander our lives as we see fit.

  15. Bundaschlagen

    You ALL Go To HELL & You Die!!!! America was SUPPOSED to be a FREE Country!!! It’s NOT the Government’s JOB to Protect Me from Myself!!! Remember the Motto “Live Free or Die”??? IF I Can’t Hurt ANYONE but Myself, I should be FREE to Live my Life in FREEDOM!!! Freedom from Oppression & Freedom from being FORCED to Wear a STUPID ASS HELMET, in order to Ride my Motorcycles!!! In Closing I’d like to leave you w/ these Words. * I’m NOT Wearing this Helmet by Choice!!! Let Those Who Ride Decide!!! ABOLISH the Mandatory Helmet Laws!!! HELMET LAWS SUCK!!!

  16. Bob

    @ Red Barron:
    So you can do math. Nice. The rest is flawed. The heaviest motorcycle helmets are just over 3 pounds. Still plenty of force, should the rider’s body stop but not his head. But motorcycle riders are not strapped to their bikes like car drivers in their seats, so in most motorcycle crashes, the weight of the helmet does not play a significant role and does not produce neck injuries. Most of the time. But only a fool would deny the fact that the benefits of wearing a helmet by far outweigh the risks.
    Look up COST 327.

  17. Bob

    @ McBolt (December 19, 2013 at 6:12 pm):
    First of all, there is more than one way to spell “due”, LOL.
    Next, if you are going to write a comment, please do the research and stop writing fairy tales you heard from someone who heard it from someone who heard it from someone.
    Your reckoning is dead wrong: head trauma deaths account for 34% of motorcyclist deaths, not 4% as you falsely claim (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2446440/). This study is based on head trauma vs. non-head trauma deaths, just as you wished.
    NHTSA does not test helmets, as you again misrepresent in your unqualified comments. DOT contracts independent testing labs across the country to test for them. You can look up and download (in PDF format) the complete test results (Name of equipment used, temperature, graphs etc.) on the DOT website. In recent years, the fail rate IN THE TEST RESULTS (not representative for all helmet manufacturers) has risen because DOT now concentrates more on known violators due to budget restrictions. Again, do your homework. Your comments are utterly unqualified.
    DOT is actually one of the best standards in the world, being only slightly inferior to the European ECE 22.05 standard. SNELL is one of the worst standards because the expanded polystyrene liner is usually harder and less able to absorb impact energy than a good DOT-only helmet. (see “Blowing the Lid Off”, Motorcyclist Magazine, May 2005). Also, look up the motorcycle helmet crash test results published by NHTSA every year: often, the expensive, name-brand (and SNELL-approved) helmets fail the FMVSS 218 test and must be recalled. SNELL = hard = bad for the brain. Often, the cheaper, non-SNELL-approved helmets provide better protection. Example from the MOTORCYCLIST test: 160g’s for the best DOT-only helmet, 230g’s for a SNELL-approved helmet.
    That’s a 30-percent difference, which could mean the difference between life and death. I, personally, will not wear a SNELL-approved helmet unless I can find test results proving the helmet provides good impact-absorbing qualities.
    Next, you cannot compare race car crashes to motorcycle crashes. Dale Earnhardt’s body stopped suddenly during impact because he was securely belted into his seat. His head, however, was NOT secured and kept moving forward after his body stopped, causing his skull to detach from his spine (ironically, Earnhardt was opposed to wearing a HANS device and would have had a much better chance of survival had he been wearing one).
    Motorcycle riders are not strapped to their motorcycles and suffer very different forces than car crash victims. The first study I referred to above actually states that, contrary to popular belief, the added weight of a motorcycle helmet does NOT increase the chance of neck injuries.
    For more information on motorcycle crashes and related head injuries, please refer to the European COST 327 study, the most comprehensive motorcycle helmet protection study worldwide to date.
    As I mentioned in a previous comment: Many people making statements here are either not informed enough or not smart enough to make qualified judgments. Don’t be one of them. Do your homework.
    “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” ― Mark Twain

  18. McBolt

    Only 4% of all motorcycle deaths are due to head trauma. Something the “death” figures never quite show. Also, unless comparing the increasing number of accidents with registered motorcycles or licensed drivers, the figure means nothing. Motorcycle helmets due not cause accidents nor due they prevent them. So if you are going to talk about how many lives would saved it would need to be broken down to head trauma accidents/deaths. And yes that little law of physics when an added weight travels at a given speed…the real weight increases…you know the thing that killed Dale Earnhardt. FMVSS218 certified? NHTSA only tests approx 30 helmets per year, out of which 30% fail. All DOT helmets are “self certified” that is why they are not legal in Europe and most pro am motorcycle race courses will not accept a DOT unless it has another certification. Oh…and if the DOT joke actually passes FMVSS218…the impact test is for 13.2 MPH. Helmet laws have never been about safety

  19. YJMC Spock

    I love seeing people riding down the road in shorts and t-shirt, but they’ve got their full helmet on!

    C’mon people, use common sense; motorcycles are dangerous, but stupidity is a killer! At 44, I have have been on motorcycles for 40 years and haven’t worn a helmet in 26 years (except in states that require them) and I am still ridin’ and walkin’.

    I know dozens of bikers who have died with a helmet on and off. If you want to wear one, so be it, but it is not the gov’mint’s job to regulate how I ride.

    Life is dangerous, look twice and fuck helmets.


  20. RobG

    I love how the anti-helmet crowd likes to chime in that helmets cause deaths, yet I find it morbidly amusing that a guy (on a Harley of course) died protesting helmet laws when he had a slow speed crash and his head slammed into the pavement, killing him. A helmet would have saved his life.

    As others have pointed out, proper safety gear combined with better training would be great. And I mean FOR CAR drivers as well as motorcyclists. I grow so tired of seeing people driving stupidly because they don’t pay enough attention.

  21. JohnB

    While I would agree that an approved/certified safety helmet that meets federal standards is by far more protective and would overwhelmingly prevent serious injuries as opposed to a novelty helmet, I would like to see a follow-up on licensing, training and education. Unfortunately, too often the media and public look at safety helmets as a solution to prevent injury and/or death, when in fact preventing a collision or crash from taking place is what can save a motorcyclist and their passengers. Training for new and so-called experienced riders provides them with the tools they need to ride responsibly; Licensing/Endorsements to prove the rider can demonstrate safe riding skills; and Education not just for the riders but for drivers of all vehicles as well to “look twice, save a life®”.
    There are a lot more motorcycles on the road today than there were two, four, or ten years ago. Yes, there are more accidents, injuries, and fatalities. However, if we look at the total number of motorcycle registrations I think we would see these numbers in a different light…possibly even being down as a percentage as opposed to being up. The report statistics completely leave out the facts of whether the collisions were caused by another motorist or if the rider lost control. Wearing a helmet does not prevent a collision from happening, only (possibly) reduces a serious head injury. This report does not state how a rider should dress appropriately with gloves, long-sleeve shirt, pants, and over-the-ankle boots; injuries to other body parts can be just as serious, even deadly, due to improper riding apparel even if the rider or passenger were wearing true safety helmets.
    Novelty helmets definitely do not have a place anywhere but a shelf, but to truly reduce future injuries and fatalities, we need to provide proper education and (continuous) rider safety training of both the motorcyclists and the general driving (vehicle) public. I think it would be more beneficial if we would discuss and promote motorcycle rider education. Investigate why state legislatures ‘raid’ funds that had already been set aside for training or education.
    As the FairWarning report states how Donahoe “…was cutting through traffic, misjudged a car” and “…rode like an idiot”. That in itself should be the subject of the report, not novelty helmets. To provide a report that more or less states that all you need to do is strap on a federally-approved safety helmet to survive a motorcycle collision is the worst piece of advice to give to anyone getting on a motorcycle.

  22. Red Barron

    Those that would give up essential Liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither. Benjamin Franklin

    A 5lb helmet becomes a 300lb object at 60mph. The neck is the weakest link of the body. Helmets can increase injury and cause death.

    Leave me the fuck alone!

  23. Aallynn Pero

    I have owned and operated a Funeral Home for more than 30 years, been riding 45+, my brother, not a rider, has been a Neurosurgeon for 25 years +. What do we have in common? I bury just as many helmet wearing riders as non-helmet wearing riders. The only difference, the time frame. My Brother has many a rider wheeled in after riding two wheels that roll out on four, a wheel chair. I wear a helmet when I ride even though my state does not require it. It is an ultra light weight; no longer DOT approved yet not necessarily considered “Novelty” class. Why, because a childhood friend and I were sitting at a stop light when the car behind us was shoved into us both by the car with the girl on the phone. I was wearing an old Biltwell 3/4 face helmet; Richard was wearing a Shoie full face flip-up. I received a concussion, from which I have fully recovered, when we hit the front bumper of the SAAB 9-5 that was slammed into us. Richard, he is now a Christopher Reeves, his brain stem stretched by the sheer weight of the helmet as his head was snapped rearward then rebounding forward. A total shock weight of 38#’s of force as calculated by a Math Wiz doing a study on whiplash injuries. THE POINT, both of us are listed in the statistics compiled and so widely touted by the NHTSA as “SURVIVORS” saved by the use of a helmet. The ONLY statistic they compile. The truth that you will never hear spoken is that my best friend DIED in that accident, I will just bury him later. My little “Gumball” helmet saved my noggin, no doubt in my mind, Richard was killed by his. Now the DOT and NHTSA want to write even tougher standards for helmets that will only add even more killing weight to them. These people do NOT ride nor do they ever want to mention or have mentioned the fact that since the early ’80’s when helmet laws really started taking off, payments for what the insurance companies call “Payments of Conscious” or chronic / debilitating injury payments have risen over 3000 percent, and rising. My Brother sees so many every year, some get somewhat better, some just die, and some just die very slowly. He cringes at the thought of the increase he will see in crippled for life patients if heavier helmets start emerging. He would give anything to be able to sit down with the NHTSA and engineers and discuss the design of helmets that would keep your “egg” from being cracked as well as leaving your brain stem undamaged. But the Govt. bureaucracy is what we are talking about, so do not hold your breath. And me, I will keep riding now with my Outlaw Ultra Low, a once DOT approved but no longer but tested to 90% of current standards while only weighing 2.6#’s. And I will continue to bury my fellow riders, helmeted or not.

  24. John

    For you self-riteous fools who think the rider should decide whether or not to wear a helmet: that would be fine if those ignorant riders were fully insured with adequate health insurance to cover the costs of their medical bills. My last wreck involved a distracted driver who turned left in front of me. My bills were $400,000 and his coverage, more than the state minimums, was $50,000. You do the math. I wonder what my bills would have been if I had added brain injuries to the equation. My full-face helmet saved my life and a lot more money in outrageously overpriced medical bills. And, yes, DOT-approved half and 3/4 helmets are useless when you’re sliding, face-first along the pavement.

  25. Kim

    I was in an accident 6 months ago on my way home from work. A lady pulled out in front of me and I hit her then the car behind me was following too close and ran me over. I always wear my full face helmet. I strap mine on and snap the snap. Somehow during this my helmet came off. By some miracle I only had a small gash on my forehead. As for the rest I spent 1 month in the hospital and didn’t walk for 12 weeks. Being a mother of three, not wearing a helmet is just not an acceptable risk, but should not be for anyone. If I would not have had it on and strapped correctly, I would not be here. Since my accident there have been wrecks, mostly fatalities weekly on the news, where no helmet was worn. In my opinion, I believe wearing a half helmet is like taking half a chance, but then again mine came off. I feel it should be a law in every state to have to wear a helmet! People do not watch for us and I am tired of hearing so many times that we can get out of there way faster. I also feel that kids who get there license should have to go through something dealing with motorcycle safety.

  26. brent schlender

    I ride a Vespa around town in the Bay Area. I doubt if I ever get above 45 mph, but speed isn’t what would kill me. It’s the impact from a car or from the pavement hitting my noggin. I hate wearing a helmet sometimes, but wouldn’t think of not doing so.

    I have other friends who ride these little beasts, and as a joke bought one of them stylized “Prussian Officer’s Helmet” with a spike on top. It was for his dog, who loved to ride in the sidecar. I was horrified one Sunday to see one of his daughters tooling around with that silly lid on her head. Inside it was clearly marked “For costume purposes only. Not intended for head protection. Always wear a DOT approved helmet when riding a motorcycle.”

    I told her dad, and he cut the chinstrap off. It sits better on the bookshelf that way. And the dog – a yellow Lab named Trooper, may he rest in peace – hated to wear it anyway. Anybody with a lick of sense would never wear one of those things while riding. Unfortunately, there are a lot of motorheads without a lick of sense. . . . . .

  27. Bob

    @ Reyn:

    I am wondering what your reasoning is for wanting to tell the world that you spent $750 on a helmet? You can get equal – and often even better – protection with a $150 model.
    According to test results published on the DOT website as well as a test performed by Motorcyclist magazine a few years ago, many expensive, name-brand helmets fail the FMVSS 218 standard or allow higher g-forces to reach the head form during testing than some of the cheaper models. More money does not necessarily equate to more protection. Neither does a SNELL sticker (rather the opposite is true according to tests).

    Before I bought my current helmet, I did plenty of research and found dealerships that allowed me to test-ride their helmets. In the end I decided on the lesser-known $800 model, not for bragging rights, but because the helmet did excellent in crash tests, has good ventilation which can be operated with winter gloves, a flip-down sun visor (before it became trendy), removable/washable padding, anti-fogging visor, and it is the quietest helmet on the market. The slightly less expensive, but more popular, so-called “top of the line” models did terrible in impact absorption tests, had tiny slits for ventilation with tiny pins you could not find or operate with summer gloves, and were very loud. Why spend $750 on an inferior helmet? Just because of the name?

    Some people are wary of so-called government control, but easily fall prey to marketing tactics of the consumer industry.

  28. Frostbite

    I totally agree with the non helmet wearing folks. “Let those who ride decide” sounds fine to me, don’t come crawling to assistance programs for medical bills through our tax dollars if you survive though. How many dollars is your brain worth to you? Full face or nothin’.

  29. Bob

    Very true. Riders are 60% likely to sustain an impact in the facial/forehead/chin area, according to COST327, the biggest helmet study ever done worldwide. It’s not chipped teeth or a broken nose, but rather brain damage that riders need to think about. Open-face half- and three-quarter helmets, even if FMVSS 218-compliant, provide zero protection for the most common impact – faceplant into the pavement.

    I have the impression that the article was very factual and not “attacking” in nature at all.

    Along with the “industry that creates jobs” are the jobs of ambulance, fire truck and hearst drivers, MEDEVAC helicopter pilots, police, EMT’s, doctors, nurses, surgeons, funeral home workers, clergy, towing and salvage crews, physical therapists, psychologists, counselors, judges, lawyers, insurance claim adjusters… just to name a few. Many of these jobs are paid for by tax payers. None of them are paid by the purchase of fake helmets. ONE permanently brain-damaged and/or physically disabled crash survivor will cost tax payers over $1 million over his/her remaining lifetime.
    And many of those “brain buckets” are manufactured in Asia, where child labor is common and workers earn pennies a day. So much for “adding revenue into the system”.

    I get the impression that most people screaming about how the government is trying to control our lives are not very educated about the facts.

  30. Bob

    @ Michael:
    There are many sayings among motorcyclists which can be placed into one of three categories:

    – Lies
    – Myths
    – Fairy Tales

    Here are some of my favorites:
    “I had to lay the bike down” (Just another way of saying, “I don’t know much about motorcycling, so I lost control and crashed my $20,000 bike”. Fact: If a rider had the time and available distance it took to perform the actions necessary to lay the bike down, he/she could just as well have applied the brakes and/or swerved around the obstacle, completely avoiding any kind of collision, and continued on their way).

    “I’ll go over the handlebars if I touch the front brake.” (Fact: The front brake provides 70-100% of the stopping power – depending on the motorcycle – and will stop the motorcycle in less than half the distance of the rear brake if used properly)

    “Motorcycles can stop faster than cars.” (Not true. They are about the same. Read the magazines.)

    “Loud pipes save lives”. (Statistically, motorcycles with aftermarket exhaust systems are more likely to be involved in a crash – see the “Hurt Report”. Instead of anticipating a problem and taking preventative or evasive action, many riders think the car driver will hear the motorcycle and not pull out in front of them. Fatal mistake. We humans rely mostly on our eyes, not our ears).

    “Push down on the handlebar/lean your body to make the motorcycle turn” (At anything over parking lot speeds, the inside handlebar MUST be moved FORWARD [momentarily pointing the front wheel in the opposite direction of the desired change of direction] in order to make the motorcycle lean. It’s called counter steering. Ask the Wright Brothers. Or just look up a credible article on the physics of turning a two-wheeled, single-track vehicle. Pushing down has no effect whatsoever, the bike will continue to go straight).

    “I’ve been riding for 20 years, so I don’t need to take a safety course.” (In my experience as a motorcycle and traffic safety training professional, many self-proclaimed “experienced” riders have the worst habits and don’t realize that they are in desperate need of training).

    “My bike is too big for the DMV circle”. LOL!!!! Complete novices can do that one after only a few hours on a bike. Most motorcycles are capable of performing the DMV test. Many of the owners are not.

    Michael, you need to learn that many people are either not informed enough or not smart enough to make their own decisions. Don’t be one of them.

  31. Tim

    I don’t see why they can’t just mandate that manufacturers have to place a big sticker on the novelty helmets that tell you that it does not provide any safety or protection.

  32. Louis V. Lombardo

    Thanks to FairWarning for another potentially lifesaving article.

    During the recent holy week of Christian religions, people were reminded of the scripture “forgive them for they know not what they do.” That may be true of many who buy or wear novelty helmets. But what about the makers and sellers of novelty helmets? And what about the NHTSA?

  33. Michael

    You people need to learn a big motorcycle saying:
    “Let Those Who Ride Decide”

  34. Bill

    So instead of educating riders and offering better choices we instead attack an industry that creates jobs and adds revenue into the system? Novelty helmets are not the problem. Not understanding the difference between novelty helmets and DOT helmets by consumers is the problem. You can’t regulate and or outlaw behavior. If that was the case there would be no crime. You can educate, knowledge is the most powerful tool ever used. Stop making the article attacking in nature, stop forcing a viewpoint on people and putting them on the defensive. Make the article about information, education, and safety awareness. No one wants to be told what to do, but many people respond when shown how to properly do something.

  35. Jim R

    “Seriously if you resort to cheaping out when protecting your head (or any other part of yourself) while riding that your OWN damn fault, go to a reputable dealer and buy a certified helmet and don’t look the government to hold your damn hand”

    The Government apparently needs to hold hands in this case though, as it’s the Government, and by extension, the tax payer who ended up paying most of Millers 500,000USD medical bills. The Government also spent the time and money prosecuting Donohoe for vehicular manslaughter and paying the fire service and police to deal with the accident scene. Implementing a better DOT sticker, educating riders properly at the MSF stage and enforcing it properly would be a lot cheaper in the long run. With the added benefit of people not losing friends and family.

    Unless you’re some kind of sociopath who just loves paying taxes this would be a win-win solution.

  36. Reyn Mansson

    Second time this organization has posted inflammatory motorcycle related stories. “NHTSA has estimated that as many as 754 people die each year in states with mandatory helmet laws” This is about 750 people that MIGHT be saved by a different helmet. The CDC says 450 people die a year from falling out of bed, should helmets be required there too?

    If motorcycle riders wanted good helmets they would buy them. I ride and I wear $750 top of the line full coverage helmets all the time but that is my choice.

    Motorcyclists don’t want to be saved especially by bureaucrats that don’t even ride.

  37. NatSel

    Natural selection.

  38. Common Sense

    Seriously if you resort to cheaping out when protecting your head (or any other part of yourself) while riding that your OWN damn fault, go to a reputable dealer and buy a certified helmet and don’t look the government to hold your damn hand

  39. Steven Sweat

    Head trauma is the single greatest cause of fatalities in motorcycle accident cases. This story emphasizes the importance of helmets that are approved by the DOT. Even “shorties” and other styles of helmets that are approved by the DOT but, do not provide full head and face protection don’t afford the motorcycle operator or passengers as much protection as possible. Thanks for the information!

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