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Dot Helmets

Mar 31, 2008
Helmets which meet U.S. Department of Transportation safety guidelines (hereinafter "dot helmets") are an essential part of the equipment of those who wish to ride motorcycles. The buyer of a helmet is confronted with a broad array of products from which to choose. In today's market there is a huge variety of helmet types, colors, styles, etc. available. But the over-riding concern in the selecting of a helmet should always be rider safety and that means that, in the United States, no consumer should ever get on the back of a motorcycle without a dot helmet on his/her head. And it should be kept in mind that dot helmets represent a minimal approach to safety. There is another standard, the Snell standard, that is even more stringent than is the standard for dot helmets and we recommend that, when possible, the consumer should purchase a helmet that meets both the standards for dot helmets and for Snell certification as well.

In legal terms, there are really no such things as "motorcycle helmets" sold in the United States that are not a dot helmets. For Federal law demands that all products calling themselves motorcycle helmets be dot helmets. Makers of helmets which are not dot helmets get around this by calling their products "novelty helmets" (aka "beanies") and this head gear does not meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard requirement for helmets (FMVSS 218) that dot helmets are required to meet.

There are four components to the modern helmet. The first is a rigid outer shell; the second is a liner made out of Styrofoam or a derivative of Styrofoam; the third is a system of soft pads made to ensure correct fit; the fourth is a chin strap. All play a role in protecting the head from injury in the case of an accident, but it is the liner that is most important. The material that it is made of is designed to compress and break under pressure in order to absorb the energy of the helmet's collision with something else, thereby diverting energy which might otherwise cause head trauma. Dot helmets have a liner that is at least an inch thick and this requirement may be regarded as the most important of the safety standards that dot helmets must meet.

But dot helmets must meet other FMVSS 218 safety standards as well. The chin straps of dot helmets must be robust and anchored in the shell with metal rivets. Dot helmets cannot have protrusions exceeding two tenths of an inch extending from the shell. Dot helmets are usually heavier than non-dot helmets--it is hard to meet the safety requirements of a dot helmet without approaching a helmet weight of three pounds. If, say, a helmet weighs around one pound, then this should tell the consumer that it is not a dot helmet.

The shopped can easily determine whether a given helmet is a dot helmet or at least whether the manufacturer is willing to certify that it is a dot helmet. All such helmets carry a sticker on the back of the shell with the word "DOT" on it. It is the case, however, that some unscrupulous helmet sellers are willing to sell a non-dot helmet and a separate, unaffixed dot sticker, leaving it up to the buyer to attach it to the helmet. This practice is a transparent attempt to evade state laws that mandate that riders wear dot helmets and it by no means a trivial evasion. For dot helmets often save lives.
About the Author
John Daniele is an expert on motorcycle helmets. For information or to purchase a handcrafted, light-weight, fiberglass novelty dot helmets see www.helmetsrus.com
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