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Stay Safe and Legal with the Right Helmet

Like every good thing in life, riding is filled with rewards and risks. At Steelhorse Law, we want you to stay safe and legal. The good news is that you can do both at the same time by making a smart decision about your motorcycle helmet.

One of the most common legal questions we are asked centers around what constitutes a legal helmet. Now, every state has different laws, but to make sure you are safe, complying can actually be very simple. You must have a DOT approved motorcycle helmet. The confusion happens because most laws are written in a complicated way. For example in Georgia, Georgia Code Section 40-6-315 says that your helmet must comply with the standards issued by the Georgia Commissioner of Public Safety. The Georgia Department of Public Safety does not have a list of approved motorcycle helmets. Instead, Georgia Department of Public Safety Rule 570-13 says that Georgia motorcycle helmets must comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. FMVSS 218 is the DOT standard. As a result, you must have a DOT approved motorcycle helmet to ride in Georgia.

We all know somebody who put a DOT sticker on the back of their plastic novelty helmet. Do them a favor and show them this article, because their DOT sticker doesn’t make their helmet legal, or for that matter safe. The helmet itself must be DOT approved. Riding without a DOT approved helmet can earn you a fine of several hundred dollars, points on your license, and insurance surcharges, among other things. An experienced police officer can tell whether your helmet is DOT approved or not because a DOT helmet has dense foam padding as well as a manufacturer’s label that most novelty helmets don’t have. In a crash, the foam absorbs the force of impact so our brains don’t have to.

The most common reason why riders avoid DOT approved motorcycle helmets is because they don’t like the thick helmet look. In the past, DOT approved helmets were very thick because of the type of foam needed to absorb impact forces. But modern advances in manufacturing materials and methods now allow helmet makers to make DOT approved helmets thinner and sleeker than ever. If a low-profile helmet is important to you, there is a safe helmet out there you can find. Recent offerings from Harley-Davidson and Daytona Helmets are a good place to start looking.

Don’t trust the government? There is a private motorcycle helmet testing facility called the Snell Memorial Foundation that sets its own standards for safe motorcycle helmets. Snell’s testing is more rigorous than DOT testing and includes impact absorption, stability during a collision so the helmet doesn’t roll off, and foreign object penetration. All Snell approved helmets are also DOT approved. You can search for Snell approved motorcycle helmets on Snell’s website, www.smf.org.

Make sure you are making an informed decision when choosing between half-helmet, ¾ helmet, or full-face helmet styles. Some riders feel safer wearing a half-helmet rather than a full-face helmet because they think that they have a wider field of vision, which will help them avoid getting into a crash in the first place. This is not true. According to the Hurt Report, which is the most thorough study of motorcycle safety ever performed and involved the analysis of thousands of motorcycle crashes, there are no documented cases where the style of helmet contributed in any way to a crash. Out of the thousands of accidents they studied, helmet style was not a factor in hearing traffic, field of view, or accident avoidance generally, but they did find that there is an additional safety benefit from wearing a helmet style that covers more of your head, so keep this in mind when you are making your helmet choice.

Now that we’ve dispelled some helmet myths, you should have a better idea of what kind of helmet you should have to stay safe and legal. Remember, none of the folks we work with ever think that they will be involved in a crash. An experienced attorney can help after the crash happens, but the first line of defense is you! Ride safe, and come say hello the next time you see us at an event.

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