Novelty Motorcycle Helmets
Taken from the US Department of Transportation.
The number of people killed in motorcycle crashes in the United States increased
dramatically in the decades prior to 1980, reaching a peak of 5,097 fatalities in that year. In
the last two decades of the century, the nationwide incidence of motorcycle fatalities has
declined, dropping to 2,106 fatalities per year in 1997 (1), 62 percent below the 1980 peak.
Some, but not all, of the drop can be attributed to a decline in riding. Between 1980
and 1997, the number of motorcycles registered in the United States fell by 35 percent,
from a high of 5.7 million to 3.7 million. The fact that the decline in fatalities has far
outstripped the decline in registrations, however, suggests that the widespread introduction
of helmet laws, training programs, and public education campaigns during the last two
decades has had a measurable impact on the number and severity of crashes. Even so, the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that at the turn of
the century, the mileage-based death rate for motorcycle riders will be roughly 16 times
greater than the overall motor-vehicle death rate. The more than 2,000 deaths per year
represented by this rate provide a significant impetus for motorcycle safety research and
the introduction of ongoing countermeasures at the federal, state, and local levels.
The legislatures of 46 states have established motorcycle rider education programs. These
programs are typically funded through motorcycle license or registration fees and are
generally based on the curriculum of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s (MSF) beginning
rider education program—the Motorcycle Rider Course: Riding and Street Skills
(MRC:RSS). This curriculum covers roughly 16 hours of training, 8 of which are spent on
motorcycles on a controlled range. Eighteen states have made successful completion of the
MRC:RSS course mandatory for young riders (under the age of 16, 18, or 21) seeking a
motorcycle license, and Rhode Island requires training for all license applicants, regardless
of age. MSF has also developed an 8-hour Experienced Rider Course for nonbeginners. In
1997 approximately 140,000 novice and experienced riders were formally trained in state
and military programs.
The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of any motorcycle training program is its impact
on crash rates. During the 1980s several states and Canadian provinces attempted to assess.Transportation in the New Millennium 2
the impact of motorcycle training on crashes, only to obtain decidedly mixed results. In the
1990s an extensive evaluation of the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (2) used trend
analysis and matched-pair comparisons to isolate the impacts of a statewide training
program initiated in 1987. During the first 10 years of the program, motorcycle crashes in
California dropped 72 percent, a decline far greater than that in the rest of the United States
(55 percent) during the same period. A matched-pair analysis showed that the crash rates
among untrained novice riders were more than double those among their trained
counterparts for at least 6 months after the training, when riding experience begins to have
a leveling effect on the differences between the two groups. In addition to lowering the
crash rates among novice riders, research shows that formal training classes advance the
use of protective equipment and discourage unpromising riders from becoming
Look to the Future
Motorcycle rider education and training are the centerpieces of a comprehensive
motorcycle safety program. There is a nationwide need to keep quality rider education and
training programs available and accessible to all novices applying for first license and
current motorcyclists seeking to improve their knowledge and skills. Meeting this need
implies a requirement for the associated curriculum standards, sites, instructors, training
motorcycles, protective gear, educational material, funding, and administrative support.
Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes have higher intoxication rates than
operators of all other motor vehicles. In 1997 almost 30 percent of all fatally injured
motorcycle operators were intoxicated, with a blood alcohol concentration of > .10. An
additional 11 percent had lower alcohol levels. Almost half of the motorcycle operators
who died in single-vehicle crashes were intoxicated (1). These data have changed very
little during the past 10 years.
In focus groups, motorcyclists who have admitted to riding after drinking have
expressed greater concern about preventing damage to their motorcycles than about
harming themselves or others in a crash. Traffic safety research shows that the most
effective traffic safety programs are implemented at the local level. These programs
usually include a media component, dedicated law enforcement, active local prosecution
and judicial participation, and partnerships with a variety of community organizations.
Intervention must focus on the unique characteristics of motorcyclists and motorcycling.
Interventions designed for automobile drivers (e.g., the designated driver program) do not
necessarily apply to motorcyclists. Impaired motorcyclists are much less likely than car
drivers to accept a ride home, especially if it means leaving their motorcycle unsecured for
Several interventions are currently in place. A required module in the MRC:RSS
course focuses on impairment. Other examples include peer-to-peer programs promoting
awareness and responsible use of alcohol, and “dial-a-ride” programs for motorcyclists,
designed to get the impaired rider and motorcycle home safely. However, few data are
available on the effectiveness of these programs or the degree to which they are being used
by the target population. Specialized training that will enable law enforcement.Motorcycles and Mopeds 3
representatives to detect impaired motorcyclists has been implemented nationwide through
the Standard Field Sobriety Testing Curriculum.
Look to the Future
Greater effort is needed to address impaired motorcyclists. Specific components targeting
impaired motorcycle riding should be incorporated into existing and new national-level
impaired-driving campaigns and programs.
Most states require riders to obtain a special operator’s license before driving a motorcycle
on public streets and highways. There is, however, ample evidence that many
motorcyclists ignore these requirements. NHTSA statistics show that, during a 10-year
period ending in the mid-1990s, 42 percent of the motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents
in the United States were either unlicensed or improperly licensed.
Unlicensed riders circumvent the skill and knowledge tests that are a major part of
most licensing programs. Not surprisingly, they are overrepresented in fatality statistics,
since their ranks include such crash-prone, high-risk riding groups as the underaged, the
underexperienced, and the under suspension. As a group, unlicensed riders are 2 to 3 times
more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than the typical licensed rider, and this figure
rises to at least 20 times more likely among those whose licenses have been suspended.
Research is needed to document the size of the population of unlicensed riders. In addition,
research is needed to relate testing, restrictive licensing practices, proof-of-insurance
requirements, mandatory training programs, and sanctions to the size of that population.
Motorcycle crash studies provide ample evidence that motorcyclists are not easily seen by
drivers of other vehicles, particularly when traffic is heavy and the visual field is complex.
A common claim of motor-vehicle drivers involved in crashes is that they did not see the
motorcycles and their riders at all, or did not see them in time to avoid the crash. In
roughly half of the cases in which motor-vehicle drivers failed to detect a motorcycle in
time to avoid a crash, other obstacles were present, either within the vehicle, as part of the
landscape, or in passing traffic, that interfered with the driver’s line of sight.
Extensive experimental work involving both drivers and pedestrians suggests that the
following measures, singly or in combination, can increase the daytime detectability of a
motorcyclist by 10 to 20 percent:
· A large dipped headlamp of at least 40-watt power;
· A pair of daytime running lamps; and
· A fluorescent jacket or waistcoat..Transportation in the New
Future research should address the dynamics of the automobile driver’s visual display.
Such research should focus on the enhancement of drivers’ awareness of motorcycles, and
include comparison of conspicuity influences in car–car and car–motorcycle crashes.
VEHICLE AND ROADWAY
Significant numbers of motorcycles were first produced in America in the post-World War
II years. The situation changed significantly in the mid-1960s when Japanese imports
brought smaller, lighter, and more nimble motorcycles to the marketplace. The past 10 to
15 years has seen major innovations in aerodynamic design, liquid cooling, engine
counterbalances, antilock and “linked” braking, fully adjustable suspension systems, and
advanced disc braking systems. Both handling characteristics and tire technology, so
crucial to the safe and efficient use of the motorcycle, have improved greatly.
Recently, manufacturers have been conducting research on new concepts, including
automatic transmissions, fully enclosed rider capsules, and radical chassis designs. The
latter involve such ideas as new swing-arm technologies and nontraditional front ends that
use flexing technologies to overcome torsion problems. Continued experimentation with
improved shaft designs and aerodynamic forms can be expected to increase rider comfort
and stability. In addition, improvements of the last decade in such features as fuel
injection, braking systems, and engine load mapping will continue to be introduced to a
wider selection of motorcycles.
The roadway environment significantly affects motorcycle safety. Often the roadway is
designed, constructed, and maintained with only automobiles and trucks in mind, and
hazardous conditions for motorcyclists result. Additional attention paid to the special needs
of motorcycles could greatly improve safety, especially on roadways with high motorcycle
usage (e.g., scenic byways). Roadway environment issues affecting motorcycle safety that
need to be considered in the next millennium include the following:
· Placing rumble strips as far onto the shoulder as practical;
· Aligning grade crossings, gratings, and grooves perpendicular to the roadway;
· Avoiding protrusions on barriers and walls; and
· Avoiding wide-gap longitudinal bridge joints or marking them with warning signs.
· Providing sufficient warning of temporary shoulders and lane drop-offs, milled
sections, and other hazardous areas;
· Avoiding steel plates or providing smooth edge transitions with asphalt;
· Minimizing water ponding with work zone drainage; and
· Properly securing barrels and cones to keep them off traveled areas.
· Removing dead animals, shredded tires, and similar obstacles from the roadway in
a timely manner;.Motorcycles and Mopeds 5
· Applying highway joint and crack sealants that do not become slippery in wet
weather, are not tacky in warm weather, and do not overflow cracks;
· Using grit paint instead of smooth paint for markings such as turn arrows in the
travel lane; and
· Cleaning road surfaces at toll booths and other frequent-stopping areas, which tend
to become slick.
There are no contemporary data on recent motorcycle crashes that could be used to validate
existing countermeasures. The only major study of motorcycle crashes in the United States
was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation/NHTSA and completed in Los
Angeles in 1981 (3). Some major findings of this multidisciplinary, on-scene, in-depth
study of 900 crashes were as follows:
· Predominance of automobile-caused crashes;
· Overrepresentation of untrained and unlicensed riders;
· Effectiveness of safety helmets;
· Ineffectiveness of crash bars as leg injury countermeasures;
· High alcohol involvement in fatal crashes; and
· Important role of motorcycle conspicuity.
Since that research was published, motorcycle design has evolved. Motorcycle types—
sport bikes and cruisers—that did not even exist then are now the majority of those found
in traffic. Moreover, the age, gender, training, and licensing characteristics of the
motorcyclists themselves have changed dramatically. Research is needed to determine how
crash-involved motorcycles and riders compare with those not involved in crashes.
The Common International Methodology for In-Depth Motorcycle
Investigations, based on a methodology that originated at the University of Southern
California (3), is currently being developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (4). In the future, multidisciplinary, on-scene, in-depth investigation of
motorcycle crashes utilizing the Common International Methodology should be undertaken
to aid understanding of the reasons for the dramatic decline in motorcyclist fatalities during
the last two decades and the characteristics of the at-risk population.
Motorcycle helmets have improved greatly in comfort and convenience since the first
patent for the modern protective helmet was issued in 1953. Helmet milestones include the
American National Safety Standard for Motorcycle Helmets in 1966, the first full-facial-coverage
helmet in 1967, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218 for
motorcycle helmets in 1974, and increased use of energy-absorbing materials and integral
eye protection beginning in the 1970s.
Motorcycle helmets in the United States are regulated by FMVSS 218, which
standardizes test procedures and equipment. The current version of FMVSS 218 was
issued in 1988, and a major upgrade is currently in progress (5), designed to bring the
regulation closer to the international state of the art. Even with this upgrade, however,
FMVSS 218 will contain no requirements for protection outside a limited zone above the
ears, ignoring the important chin portion of full-facial-coverage helmets..Transportation in the New Millennium 6
As the end of the 20th century approaches, 22 states have universal mandatory helmet-use
laws, 25 have partial helmet-use laws, and 3 have no helmet-use requirement.
Universal mandatory helmet laws result in almost 100 percent helmet use. Laws requiring
helmets for certain age groups only are less effective and more difficult to enforce than
those requiring universal use. In the United States, helmet laws that apply only to younger
riders typically result in overall helmet use of 34 to 54 percent (1).
The effectiveness of helmets in mandatory-use states is well documented; mandatory
use has been associated with at least a 30 percent reduction in fatalities (6). NHTSA
estimates that helmets saved 486 motorcyclists’ lives in 1997, and that 266 more could
have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets (1).
A disturbing trend in states with mandatory helmet-use laws is the use of “helmets”
that do not comply with FMVSS 218. Although these bogus helmets are sold as novelty
items, they find their way into traffic use; in California, a mandatory helmet-use state (7),
they represent 10 percent of all helmets worn. These unqualified helmets do not provide
adequate head protection and undermine the effectiveness of mandatory helmet-use laws.
Novelty Motorcycle Helmets.