Motorcycle Helmet Types and Features

motorcycle helment types and safety featuresThe most important piece of safety equipment a motorcyclist can wear is a good quality light or brightly-colored helmet that bears U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) approval. Head injuries account for the majority of motorcycle fatalities.

The DOT does not make helmets but sets standards with which manufacturers must comply. Other signs of a well-made helmet are a Snell Memorial Foundation sticker (Standard M2010) or an Economic Community for Europe (ECE) Standard No. 22-05 approval. These indicate the helmet has passed other safety tests in addition to being compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Standard (DOT) No. 218. Labeling may be found on the inside or the outside of the helmet.

Each organization has rigid procedures to evaluate a helmet’s impact capacity; penetration ability; retention ability and scope of peripheral vision. Fit, visibility, ventilation, style and price are all important considerations when choosing a helmet, but protection in the case of a collision or fall should be the first consideration.

The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts 2012 states helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders. In other words NHTSA projects that for every 100 riders killed in crashes not wearing helmets, 37 of them could have been saved by wearing helmets. In Ohio, 140 motorcyclists were killed in 2014 – 91 of them were not wearing a helmet.

In Ohio, a motorcyclist is not required by law to wear a helmet unless he or she is under 18 or has an endorsement or license that bears a “novice” designation. A motorcycle rider must also wear a helmet if he or she is riding with a valid temporary instruction permit.

Many myths about helmets persist—including that they impair hearing, block vision or cause neck and head injuries—but, in actuality, studies have shown, as just mentioned, helmets protect against head and brain injuries.

If a rider is using a face shield, it should be designed specifically for the helmet they are using, be fastened securely to the helmet and be impact-resistant. The shield should accommodate eye glasses or sunglasses and should be kept free of any scratches that might impair vision. A clear shield should be used at night or in low light conditions.

Types of Motorcycle Helmets

There are four main types of helmets for motorcyclists:

Full-Face Helmet

These helmets provide the most protection by covering the head, face, chin and jaw. According to Motorcycle Ohio, research indicates a large percentage of impacts to the head occur in the face and jaw area. These helmets also provide the best protection from the elements. A full-face helmet with a movable face shield that can be raised for convenience is recommended. This will also provide excellent face and eye protection.

Modular or “Flip-Up” Helmet

Also called “flip-face” helmets, these helmets are designed to allow the rider to flip the chin bar up when the rider is stopped. This type of helmet is designed with the chin bar to be in the down and in the latched position when the motorcycle is moving.

Three-Quarter or Open-Face Helmet

This helmet is for the rider who prefers that “wind in your face” feeling. However, no protection is offered from rain, sun, bugs, sand and road debris. These helmets offer head protection but little or no face protection. A snap-on face shield can be attached to some models of this helmet.


These provide the least protection of the standard helmets but can be found with DOT labeling and impact-absorbing liners. The lower jaw and the sides and back of the head are exposed. The rider should be aware that NHTSA research has shown half-helmets are more likely to come off more often than full-face helmets.

Novelty Helmet

These look like half-helmets but are very small and tight-fitting and are not designed for motorcycle use. They do not have impact-absorbing liners. Never wear one for head protection in an accident or collision because it will not provide any.

Other Important Motorcycle Helmet Features

The Outer Shell

Helmet manufacturers are constantly working to develop less expensive, stronger and lighter materials for helmet shell construction. Shells are typically made from fiberglass, polycarbonate or other composite materials and protect wearers by dispersing energy away from the head when they absorb impact. They also resist penetration by objects that come into contact with the shell. Any helmet that has taken an impact should be replaced as not all damage to a helmet shell is visible to the naked eye.

Impact-Absorbing Liner

This liner is usually made of a dense layer of polystyrene (soft foam and fiber) that cushions the head and absorbs shock. Both the shell and the liner of the helmet slowly collapse or self-destruct on impact spreading the forces of impact throughout the helmet material.

Comfort Padding

This soft foam and cloth layer helps increase comfort and maintain fit and sits next to the rider’s head. Some types of padding are removable for cleaning.

Retention System

A chinstrap, usually one with D-rings, is used to keep the helmet on the head during a collision or fall. The chinstrap should be tightened until it fits snugly.

Fit of the Helmet

A helmet should fit snugly, but not too tight or too loose. There should be no irritating pressure points that would distract the rider. You should not be able to rotate the helmet around or roll it off your head with the chinstrap securely fastened or move it side-to-side or forward and back. When choosing a helmet, try several brands, models and sizes to find the best combination of fit and comfort.

To find your size, your hat size is a good starting point. Measure your head at its largest circumference, usually just above your eyebrows. Try it several times so you know you have found the largest number. Most helmets are marked and sold as S, M, L, XL or XXL. You may need to contact the helmet manufacturer for size equivalencies or more specific sizes.

Helmet Care

Treat your helmet with care. Motorcycle Ohio advises the rider not to jam it on a bike mirror or carry a spare on a backrest. That compresses the liner and reduces the helmet’s protective ability. Also, don’t rest the helmet on your motorcycle seat. A slight wind could knock it to the ground and damage it. Treat it as a fragile item and when cleaning it, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Exposure to strong cleaning agents may make the helmet decompose and lose protective value.

Most helmet manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every two to four years, or sooner, if you notice any signs of damage. Even if the helmet doesn’t appear damaged, the protective qualities of the helmet deteriorate with time. You should periodically inspect your helmet for cracks or dings in the outer shell, loose or worn out comfort padding and fraying of the chin strap.

And, of course, if you are involved in a crash, replace your helmet immediately even if you don’t notice any damage. Some abnormalities cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Remember to keep your helmet face shield clean and to replace it if it gets scratched or cracked. It will be difficult to see through, especially at night, and could dangerously distort your vision.

Don’t apply paint, pinstriping, or decals to your helmet without checking the manufacturer’s recommendations.

“Saved By The Helmet” Club

To raise public awareness about the saving value of motorcycle helmets, Motorcycle Ohio and The Ohio State Patrol (OSP) have established a program – “Saved by the Helmet” – which publicly recognizes individuals whose use of a helmet prevented serious head injury when they were involved in a motorcycle crash. (There is also a similar program for bicycle riders.)

Those eligible for the program must have been involved in recent crashes which have been verified through state records. Candidates for membership in the club can be nominated either by the investigating officer or someone with knowledge of the crash. Nomination of persons cited for serious offenses, such as Operating While under the Influence (OWI), or those involved in a crash with fatalities, is discouraged.

The agency investigating the crash or nominating the candidate will present a “Saved by the Helmet” certificate, license plate badge and lapel pin to the new club member. Local law enforcement agencies and others are invited to join the OSP in this program. To nominate a motorcyclist to receive the designation, contact

Motorcycle Accidents

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, it’s important to understand and protect your legal rights. Please contact us for a free and private consultation with one of our experienced Ohio motorcycle accident attorneys. We can be reached at all times by calling 1-888-534-4850, chatting with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or sending us a website message.

Motorcycle Helmet Types and Features
Article Name
Motorcycle Helmet Types and Features
Review of different types of motorcycle helmets for Ohio motorcyclists and the important safety features that are a part of motorcycle helmets.
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Slater & Zurz
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