The majority (85%) of rider casualties in NSW were wearing a helmet when they crashed. Three percent were not wearing a helmet and there is no information about the remaining 11% of casualties. Eight percent of those without helmets died, compared to 3% of those with helmets. This is consistent with other research which reports that unhelmeted riders have 2-3 times the fatality rate of helmeted riders and twice the rate of serious brain injury (Ouellet & Kasantikul, 2006).

In Australia motorcycle helmets must comply with European Regulation ECE 22-05 or the old Australian Standard AS/NZS 1698:2006.

If your helmet complies with either Standard and is in good condition, then it will provide as much protection as you can expect in a crash provided it fits and is fastened correctly.

This means that you don't have to buy the most expensive helmet in the shop. The essential factor is fit. Cost is not an indicator of better crash protection but may relate more to comfort, features, appearance and the quality of the finish.

There is also some evidence that riders wearing light coloured helmets have a lower crash risk in urban areas than riders with dark or black helmets (Wells et al, 2004).

Fit is critical
Choose a helmet that fits well. Many of the good motorcycle shops will have staff who will assist with the correct selection of size.

  • It should not move around on the head, nor place pressure on the forehead. Keep it on for 5 or 10 minutes before you buy, to be sure it is comfortable.

  • When the straps are securely fastened, ask someone to try to pull it off your head by grasping it at the base if your neck and pulling up and forward over your eyes. The nose contact is the limit for most helmets, the less movement the better. If it comes off, it is dangerous - chose another style.

  • Check your peripheral vision to make sure you are happy with the width of the eye-port. If you wear glasses, do they cause pressure points?

  • Pillions are often given poorly fitting helmets. If it moves around on the head, it will not provide adequate impact protection in a crash.

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Full face or open?
The basic decision of a full face versus open face helmet is a matter of personal choice. The debate revolves around the risk of skull base fractures caused by an impact to the chin region of a full face helmet. Reviews of crash risk rates suggest that while the overall risk of facial injury is greatly reduced by a full-faced helmet, the risk of skull base fractures may be increased ([EEVC, 1993] p 49).

ECE 22-05 helmets provide greater skull coverage area that is tested and for full-face helmets, includes a chin-bar test.
"Shorty" style helmets favoured by some cruiser riders demonstrate the minimum coverage for compliance with AS/NZS1698.

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There are a variety of features in the design of helmets that may improve your comfort, convenience and safety. For example:

  • The fit and design of helmets and visors can either reduce or increase the noise produced by airflow around your head. This sort of noise can be distracting and fatiguing.

  • Fog shields and chin vents will help to prevent misting.

  • Consider the benefits of removable comfort padding, which you can wash or replace.

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Injection moulded plastic or composite fibre helmets?
Manufacturers use a variety of materials in helmets and they all provide equal levels of protection in impact testing in accordance with the Standards.

Some people say that injection moulded plastic is more suited to low speed impacts and therefore city riding, whereas composite fibre helmets have different impact absorption properties that make them more suited to high speed crashes. Helmet testing does not bear out this theory

What sort of crash are you planning to have anyway?

The material used in the outer shell has very little bearing on the helmet’s ability to absorb an impact. The impact is absorbed by the polystyrene inner liner, not the outer shell.

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What if you drop your helmet?
There is also a lot of fear mongering about dropped helmets.

This is a problem because no one can ever guarantee that a helmet has not sustained any damage in a drop. How many 'little' drops affect the helmet' s ability to protect the wearer in the event of that one major impact?

Manufacturers and safety authorities are bound to err on the side of caution and to advise that the helmet should be replaced if it has sustained an impact. This is because they cannot take the risk of saying 'that it is alright to re-use it after the drop'.

Use common sense
If you drop your helmet or it fell off your bike (stationary), then there would be little chance of damaging the outer shell or the inner shell which actually absorbs the energy on impact. However, if you throw your helmet against a wall or down the road in a fit of rage, then you could damage the outer shell and affected the helmet’s ability to protect you (Gibson, 2004).

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Take care of your helmet

  • When you put it on the ground, rest it on your gloves,

  • Don’t sit it on the mirror, as this may dent and damage the energy absorbing lining.

  • Don't rest it on the bike seat where it can get blown off by wind or passing cars/trucks.

  • Use the helmet hooks under the seat, these are provided on most bikes. This will secure it from falling as well as from theft.

  • Invest in a helmet bag made of protective material (eg wet suit material.)

  • Keeping your visor clean and scratch free is also essential. Protect it from scratches by keeping it in a soft cloth bag.

  • Clean your helmet and visor with dishwashing liquid and water, rinse well and only use your hands. Even soft brushes can scratch the visor.

  • Painting or adding decoration to your helmet is not a good idea. The strength of the helmet shell can be weakened by the solvents in paints and in some glues (eg stickers).

Look after your helmet, the way you want it to look after you.

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