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DOT Helmets vs Novelty Helmets: Which One Should You Choose?

DOT Helmets vs Novelty Helmets: Which One Should You Choose?

Feb 12th 2020

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that for every 100,000 registered motorcycles, there were 2,194 motorcycle-related injuries per year. You may not be able to completely prevent injuries, but you can reduce the danger by using the right equipment.

Of course, having your motorcycle license and practicing safe driving will help you avoid accidents. But sometimes it's not your fault -- it's the other drivers on the road that cause the problem. In those cases, will your helmet protect you?

Riders who use DOT helmets get the full spectrum of protection in a crash. But those who wear novelty helmets put themselves in needless danger for the sake of appearance. Not sure why DOT helmets are better? Let's take a deep dive into what sort of motorcycle helmet you should choose.

What are DOT Helmets?

A DOT helmet meets the Department of Transportation's legal guidelines for motorcycle helmet safety. These federal safety standards make helmets that will prevent traumatic brain injuries, skull fractures, and other serious damage in an accident.

What are Novelty Helmets?

A novelty helmet is any helmet made that doesn't follow the DOT regulations. They're often thinner and lighter, and might be designed with appearance in mind. For example, you can find novelty helmets with a retro look, or ones designed to look like the helmet worn by someone in a television show.

Requirements for DOT Approved Helmets

What makes a helmet DOY approved? Here are a few of the requirements, which will help you tell the difference between DOT and novelty helmet styles.

1. Weight

Most lightweight helmets aren't sturdy enough to protect you from a crash. Novelty helmets may weigh only a pound, or even less. Although this may make them feel more comfortable, the risks aren't worth it.

DOT helmets generally weigh around three pounds. They feel bulkier and heavier because they have enough weight to offer protection.

2. Liner

Some of this weight comes from the thicker inner lining of DOT helmets. Typically, the liner includes about an inch of sturdy polystyrene foam. Even if you can't actually reach in and touch the liner, you'll be able to tell that it's there because of the thickness and weight of the helmet.

Novelty helmets, on the other hand, might have a much thinner liner. In fact, some don't have any foam lining at all, and will just be made of a shell of plastic.

3. Decorations

According to DOT standards, decorations taller than one-fifth of an inch aren't allowed on helmets.

This means that flat fasteners pass the text, but larger decorations, like big studs and spikes, aren't allowed. If you see loud decorations that protrude out of the helmet, you're probably looking at a novelty helmet, not a DOT one.

4. Chinstraps

DOT helmets also have thick, strong chinstraps with sturdy rivets, to keep them on in the case of a crash.

A novelty helmet might not have a chinstrap at all, or it might have a thin one that's only loosely attached.

5. Face Protection

Not all DOT helmets will have face protection, such as a face shield or chin protector. But they're more likely to be found on DOT helmets than on novelty styles.

Motorcycle Helmet Standard Labeling

DOT helmets have a certain labeling system. However, you might also run into the labels from other safety certification organizations. Let's take a look at what you should look for.

DOT Labels

DOT-approved helmets must meet FMVSS 218 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards). If they meet those standards, you'll find a sticker on the back of the helmet that says DOT.

However, be careful, because counterfeit DOT stickers are commonly placed on novelty helmets. It's important to also memorize the other signs of a DOT helmet, and not just look for the sticker alone.

ECE Labels

ECE, or Economic Commission of Europe, 22.05 regulates motorcycle helmet standards in Europe.

This standard is also accepted in many countries around the world and carries lots of similarities to DOT standards. If you find an ECE 22.05-approved helmet, it may very well also meet DOT requirements.

Both the ECE and the DOT require testing to make sure their helmets meet certain standards. If you find an ECE sticker on a helmet, and it doesn't seem like a fake (it meets the requirements listed above), it will also be a safe choice.

Private Labels

You might also see safety labels added by private nonprofit organizations. The most common ones are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Snell.

Unlike the DOT sticker, these labels tend to appear on the inside of the helmet. The presence of more than one label is a good sign that the helmet isn't fake. Most novelty helmets trying to pass for DOT helmets will only add a fake DOT sticker, but not a fake sticker from a second organization.

The standards for these organizations often go above and beyond DOT standards. For example, Snell actually helps manufacturers develop helmet design by assisting with prototype testing to get the best safety features.

These private certifications aren't federally required. However, it's still a good idea to look for them, as they can add an extra layer of safety beyond the DOT or ECE.

Other Labels

You might also see labels from the manufacturer inside the helmet. FMVSS 218 requires manufacturer's labels that include details about when and where the helmet was made.

If the helmet isn't really DOT-approved, it probably won't have the manufacturer's label, either.

How to Choose the Best Motorcycle Helmets

Which is the right choice -- novelty helmets or DOT helmets?

The purpose of wearing a helmet is for protection. Novelty helmets are a waste of money: they might look good, but that's it. Don't waste your cash on helmets that don't work. Instead, look for DOT helmets that will protect you and keep you riding for many more years to come.

Of course, a safe helmet also needs to fit well. Not sure how to choose a properly fitted helmet? Check out this guide!