The Washington State Patrol produced a brochure on motorcycle helmets that they entitled "Bogus Helmets". While I applaud their basic desire to enforce the law of the state, there are several glaring problems with the WSP's brochure. Partly, it seems to stem from their fixation, if not obsession with what they call "novelty helmets". Their use of the term doesn't quite fit wiht the helmet industry's usage of the term. Whether intentional or not, it is their continued focus on this one type of "novelty helmet" that gives the impression they are unable to tell the difference between a FMVSS-218 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218) compliant helmet and a non-compliant one unless it is this obvious type of 'skull cap' helmet.
Another problem with this brochure is the WSP's repeated use of the term "approved" in regards to FMVSS-218 compliant helmets. There is no such thing as a "DOT approved" helmet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not "approve" helmets. Here is a quote from a NHTSA executive regarding this subject; "NHTSA does not provide approvals of motor vehicles, or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable safety standards that are in effect on the date of manufacture."
What that means is; that the manufacturer, by putting the DOT mark or sticker on the helmet, that they believe the helmet is compliant with all standards currently in effect. They don't have to test the helmet to ensure that it does. Their self-certification is effective until such time as that model of helmet is actually tested. If the helmet fails the test, from that point on it is no longer compliant with FMVSS-218, and cannot be sold as such.
Many of the companies that sell helmets simply continue to manufacture and sell the helmets as "novelty helmets". Without the laboratory testing facilities, there isn't any way of determining if a helmet is compliant or not. Except of course for the labeling. Which is a part of FMVSS-218 (a helmet can actually fail if the labeling is faulty. Even though structurally it is completely compliant with the standard.)
So, basically, when the WSP refers to a "novelty helmet", they mean something like this.
Basically hard shell with a starp, and maybe a thin foam or styrofoam padding inside. They sell for $20-30 new. Everyone who has half a brain can tell this helmet wouldn't pass a compliancy test in the lab. But what about THIS "novelty helmet"?
This helmet is sold by Biltwell as a "novelty helmet" for just under $100. Take a look at the picture, and see if it fits the description of the WSP brochure as to what is an "approved" helmet (remember that is a non-existent thing anyway, but let's just see if this non-compliant helmet fits the WSP definition.)
"A legitimate helmet meeting the federal safety standards has a inner lining of firm energy-absorbing material, usually one inch thick. It's this energy-absorbing material that makes the biggest life-saving difference."
"A legitimate helmet will have a chinstrap that is thick and well riveted."
Okay, with those descriptions in mind, does this helmet meet that standard?
Let's see if this is a "bogus" helmet or not:
1. A "inner lining of firm energy-absorbing material, usually one inch thick". Yep, it sure seems to have that.
2. A "chinstrap that is thick and well riveted". Yep, that looks right.
But this is sold by Biltwell as a "novelty helmet". It isn't a DOT compliant helmet. So the WSP in it's obsessive focus on the 'skull cap' style of "novelty helmet" has completely missed the boat on a much broader range of helmets that meet their description.
However these helmets are still not DOT compliant.
Another quote from the WSP's brochure is one that I have a hard time believing. Especially when I look at the various "novelty helmets" on the market today. That quote is, again, obviously focussed on the 'skull cap' type of helmet that doesn't even really hide its non-compliancy by simply looking at it. Here's the quote, see what you think; "You are more likely to die in a motorcycle collision if you are wearing a bogus helmet than if you don't wear a helmet at all." (Quote ascribed to Peek-Asa et al, 1999, Accident Analysis & Prevention)
According to the brochure, there is suppose to be a label on the inside of a DOT compliant helmet that states; the name of the manufacturer, the helmet model, the size, the date of manufacture, and the construction materials. I just looked inside my own personal helmet. There is a label inside, but it is no longer readable. But then, I don't plan on taking my helmet off and letting a cop "inspect" it without a warrant anyway, so I am not going to worry.
What this all boils down to, is the WSPs seeming obsession with 'skull caps' as the only form of "novelty" or "bogus" helmets is ridiculous. It actually shows that they don't really know what is a helmet and what isn't. Here's an example, a few years ago, during a committee hearing, a witness brought several helmets into the hearing as part of his testimony, and challenged the WSP witness to identify which helmet was DOT compliant, and which wasn't. The witness from WSP couldn't tell which was which.
Catch you on the road sometime...