Required or not, motorcycle helmets are the most important piece of safety gear a rider can have.

Motorcycle helmets are approximately 37 percent successful in preventing fatalities for motorcycle riders and 41 percent for passengers, according to motorcycle safety data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Despite statistics that overwhelmingly support helmet use, motorcycle drivers or passengers in Colorado who are 18 years old or older do not have to wear helmets; those under age 18 must have helmets that meet or exceed United States Department of Transportation standards. Some form of eye protection made from safety glass or plastic is required in Colorado.

DOT-Certified Helmets

DOT-certified helmets are designed to meet certain minimum safety standards and feature the DOT and/or a Snell sticker on either the inside or outside. They are designed to lessen injury from head impact through the use of a tough outer shell, an impact-absorbing lining, comfort padding, and a chin strap retention system. According to DOT requirements, the chin strap must be worn any time the motorcycle is in motion.

Choosing a Helmet

While price, color, and design likely will factor in when choosing a motorcycle helmet, the most important considerations should be protection and comfort. Four common types of motorcycle helmets are:

  • Full-face, which offers the most complete security. This type of helmet typically features a flexible face shield for eye protection.
  • Three-quarter, also known as “open face,” made with the same basic components as a full-face helmet, but without the same degree of protection. A snap-on face shield or goggles that can withstand the impact of debris, such as a stone, can increase the protection offered by a three-quarter helmet.
  • Half-helmet, also known as a “shorty,” offers the least amount of protection to the rider or passenger, and is also more likely to come off the head in an impact. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation does not recommend the use of half-helmets.
  • Modular, or flip-up, helmets are a cross between a full-face helmet and an open-face one. They feature a front portion that flips up to create an open-face helmet.

All new adult-sized helmets for highway use must meet DOT standards.

How Helmets Protect Riders and Passengers

According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), a helmet is the most important piece of apparel for motorcycle riders. When combined with other protective gear and the proper safety training, a helmet can be a very effective way to reduce injury in the event of a motorcycle accident.

In the event of a collision, both the outer shell and lining are designed to compress upon impact, spreading the force of the crash throughout the helmet material. The science behind motorcycle helmets is simple: The more the impact is deflected or absorbed, the less chance that the rider will sustain a head or brain injury.

Studies have consistently confirmed the effectiveness of motorcycle helmet use, and safety-conscious motorcyclists know that helmets are a reasonable and responsible choice for operators and passengers alike.

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