how safe is a DOT helmet? - Star Motorcycle Forums: Star Raider, V-Max, V-Star, Road-Star Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-07-2018, 02:46 PM Thread Starter
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how safe is a DOT helmet?

i've been looking into the DOT safety regulations recently that has me questioning if a DOT helmet really is that much safer than literally anything else you can put on your head. since there is enough analysis and research available on this to write a book on, i'm just going to start a discussion on this and invite everyone to post their findings or opinions on the subject as a collaborative effort.

first, some background. a DOT compliant helmet means it has met the U.S. federal standard FMVSS 218 regulations found here: https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/...e/fmvss218.htm
the 2 other major safety standards for motorcycle helmets are Snell M2015 and ECE 22.05 which can be found here: Snell Foundation - M2015 helmet standard
and here: http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/t...gs/r022r4e.pdf
these links show the testing and conditions that must be performed and passed in order to achieve their respective safety rating. the DOT is the U.S. federal standard while Snell is a private organization that sets voluntary standards that are typically more stringent than DOT. and the ECE rating is used mostly by Europe and allows helmets to meet a uniform rating across several countries on the other side of the planet.

these links show a brief breakdown of the differences in testing between these 3: https://ultimatemotorcycling.com/201...e-22-05-snell/
and here: https://www.revzilla.com/common-trea...ty-ratings-101

trying to keep this post from being too long, the first thing that i question about DOT's safety is that it is only really enforced voluntarily by helmet manufacturers. it is up to the manufacturer to test their own helmet by DOT's regulations and they certify it themselves. the NHTSA enforces this by acquiring helmets from companies and sending them to an independent lab. if a helmet fails, the fine is up to $5,000 per helmet. just doing a quick search, the NHTSA tested a total of 42 helmet models in 2004 and 40 in 2005. 8 of those 42 DOT marked helmets failed and 7 of those 40 DOT 'certified' helmets failed testing. and that's all the testing they did in those years. any individual company has several different models of helmets and the NHTSA just picks random samples from random companies. not every company even gets a single helmet tested. and as for the penalty of failing, i currently haven't found anything beyond the fine which would mean that a company can keep putting DOT stickers on helmets that don't meet the DOT testing regulations.

each subsequent post i make on this topic will dive further into things, but this 'honor system' and failed testing alone is enough to give me serious doubts about what that DOT sticker means on a helmet.


https://www.motorcyclistonline.com/e...04-dot-testing
https://www.motorcyclecruiser.com/se...two-recalled-0

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Last edited by bevo1981; 07-07-2018 at 02:49 PM.
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-07-2018, 04:24 PM
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Very true.

Also from what I understand Snell ratings are only given to full faced helmets that qualify. Meaning open, Half, and or 3/4 are not Snell rating eligible.
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-07-2018, 07:12 PM
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That's very concerning about the DOT helmets. I buy my helmets based on ratings and fit. I prefer Snell but not all brands of helmets fit my head shape. It was in one of the articles that Bevo posted taking about the cheapest good fitting helmet is better than the highest rated helmet that's too big. HJC and Speed and Strength fit me the best. I have 4 helmets I currently rotate. Remember in Houston it gets hot and humid. I've always have the lining out of one to wash. I do not have any helmets over 5 years old as they recommend. I normally buy a helmet a year and throw the oldest one away. I dropped my oldest helmet this year and scratched it all up, so it was retired early. One helmet is Snell rated, one ECE and and two are DOT. The DOTs are a modular and 3/4 helmets. Oh yeah, they have to match my bike. 😀 Yes I know bike is dirty, got rained on 4 times this week.


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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-07-2018, 07:44 PM
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testing is a very complex engineering function

Things like cell phones and LCD TVs are tested after they are assembled for functionality. In a product with that many parts and assembly sequences, if 99 out of 100 TVs tested work correctly, you have a very good design and production line. The 1% that fails the functional test would be sent back, the defect identified and repaired, and the unit would be tested again. About 90% of those reworked failed units pass on the 2nd test. At some point they stop trying to debug a failed unit, and it gets scrapped - because after a certain point of debugging and rework, you spend more time trying to fix them then it cost to make another one.

A production line with a 1% failure rate would be happy as can be. For complex products its normally between 90 and 95%.

To have a production line in which 100% of all units pass the functional test, they would have to use very expensive components, and the assembly process would have to be very precise and meticulous. That would drive the cost of the cell phone or TV thru the roof.

That is all non-destructive testing. If you understand that, now jump to the DOT and SNELL testing.

They are destructive tests. If they tested every helmet at the factory, then every helmet would be destroyed by the test, and there would be nothing to sell. In production they call that "testing bullets". You have to shoot them all to test them all.

Just like the functional tests on the TVs, it would be extremely expensive to make helmets in such a way that every single one was perfect. The test is a very high threshold for quality - its not like the ones that fail the test are falling apart like they are made of paper and paste.

I dont think its as bad as the report makes it sound. What actually happens to your head in an accident is different for every accident - there is no ideal pass/fail test that will emulate the worse case accident that you are expecting to survive.

In the end it all comes down to bell curves and statistics. Imagine you are dopping hard boiled eggs on the floor - each one will break and crush a bit, and each one will break a little different. If you started dropping raw eggs, they would just splat splat splat...

Its kinda like that. None of these helmets that fail the random sample test are exploding on impact like you dropped a crystal punch bowl. If they were I would hope that DOT or SNELL would have some other level of failure - for example, if someone was selling counterfeit Arai helmets from china that are actually made of painted sugar.
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Last edited by KCW; 07-08-2018 at 07:07 AM.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-28-2018, 04:48 PM Thread Starter
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PART 2:

it can be argued that the DOT testing standards are grossly in need of an update. apparently, the original testing was based on crash tests with automobiles from over half a century ago. and few changes have been made since. the DOT standard only tests a very small part of the helmet in order to pass. for full or modular helmets, it does not test the face shield or chin bar. this guy elaborates on these issues here:





p.s. i'm doing this on a sunny weekend afternoon instead of riding thanks to my surgically repaired Achilles which will need several weeks to heal
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-28-2018, 04:52 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KCW View Post
What actually happens to your head in an accident is different for every accident - there is no ideal pass/fail test that will emulate the worse case accident that you are expecting to survive.

In the end it all comes down to bell curves and statistics. Imagine you are dopping hard boiled eggs on the floor - each one will break and crush a bit, and each one will break a little different. If you started dropping raw eggs, they would just splat splat splat...
true, but if you were testing the ability of those eggshells to withstand an impact and a lot of them were failing in that capacity, wouldn't you conclude that all the other eggs you have in your possession were also not very sufficient to withstand impacts? would you still be able to tell the public that those eggshells will keep the eggs inside relatively safe from impacts?
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-28-2018, 06:44 PM
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As stated, every accident is different. Will any helmet protect the rider 100% everytime, I doubt it. Are some a lot better than others, yes. Does the ratings need to be updated using current data, yes. I will continue to wear a name brand helmet with some kind of minimum testing and hopefully never need it. There are many photos of helmets after a wreck where the rider survived without head injury. It's interesting to see the different damage and impact areas.

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-28-2018, 08:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bevo1981 View Post
p.s. i'm doing this on a sunny weekend afternoon instead of riding thanks to my surgically repaired Achilles which will need several weeks to heal
Hoping for a fast recovery. If your weather in Austin is anything like in Houston, chilling in the AC might be a very good idea rather that melting like I did riding home today.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-29-2018, 05:27 PM
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Link is to Cost 327 report. This is a report on Europe motorcycle accidents as it relates to helmets. Breaks down angle of impacts, speed, object hit, ageand just about everything you ever thought of. It's a long, technical read but interesting.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&sour...d6ofTS3O8Uhleb

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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-29-2018, 09:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baron58 View Post
Very true.

Also from what I understand Snell ratings are only given to full faced helmets that qualify. Meaning open, Half, and or 3/4 are not Snell rating eligible.

I have a 3/4 that is both DOT and Snell rated so I would say that's incorrect.
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