Effective biker helmets save lives

A global push to improve biker helmet use in poor and low income countries has prompted us to wonder whether our own biker helmet knowledge is up to date…

The Global Alliance of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) for Road Safety and ride hire giant Uber have joined forces to improve road safety standards for motorbikers around the world by looking to improve access to safe, affordable and effective helmets.

The consortium’s research found that globally, 28 per cent of all road traffic fatalities are bikers, and the new alliance is determined to stop that carnage. Key to this is ensuring helmets are worn by every biker.

Lotte Brondum, executive director of the Alliance, said:

“We know that effective motorcycle helmets save lives.

“Road safety NGOs have an important role in pushing for helmet laws and enforcement, ensuring that helmets are affordable, available, and fit for purpose, and raising community understanding of why these laws are needed.”

Kristin Smith, global head of road safety at Uber, said:

“We are proud to support the Alliance to address the issue of motorbikes’ helmets. We hope to leverage our scale to improve helmet use and motorcycle safety.”

You can see why the group is so concerned. Head injuries are the most common cause of death in motorbike crashes – and that’s why we must wear one every time we hop on our bikes.

Research shows that wearing a helmet that meets British safety standards will reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 69%, and the risk of death by 42%, so it’s pretty obvious why no biker would ever think of riding without one.

The UK Government’s official line leaves us in doubt: You must wear a safety helmet that meets British safety standards when riding a motorcycle or moped on the road.

Motorcyclists who don’t wear a helmet could be handed a hefty fine by police – as much as £500.

But which type of helmet works for you?

Your helmet must abide by at least one of the main criteria listed on the Government’s website.

These are currently:

  • British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI Kitemark
  • UNECE Regulation 22.05
  • Or must conform to the current European safety regulation ECE 22.05.*

If you are in any doubt as to whether the helmet you are looking to buy fits the bill, check out the UK’s Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP). This lists which helmets are approved - and rates them based on the protection on offer. It’s also independent, so you can trust the advice.

Never scrimp on the helmet you choose; remember, a good one will provide vital protection in the event of a crash.

If you are wearing an open face helmet, googles are highly recommended. They are not mandatory, but the Government has another set of standards to check out if you are looking to buy goggles:

A British Standard and displays a BSI Kitemark

A European standard which offers a level of safety and protection at least equivalent to the British Standard and carries a mark equivalent to the BSI Kitemark (ECE 22-05).*

How should a helmet fit?

Let’s face it, no-one knows their hat size any more, so how do you make sure the helmet you buy is the right size?

The thing to remember is that it isn’t a fashion accessory that should be comfy to wear. It’s there to do a job - to protect your head. Therefore, getting the size right is crucial: if it is too tight, it will be uncomfortable to wear and a distraction when you are out on the road. But if it is too loose, it won’t deliver the protection you need.

Your helmet should feel snug against your cheeks and head, but without too much pressure. If it hurts, it’s not the right size!

But it’s a fine line between tight and loose: if it feels like you have a bit of room and can wiggle your head around inside, it’s too big.

The best way to check is with the ‘finger test’. If you can slip a finger in between any part of your head and the helmet, it’s far too loose.

Another good test is to pop the helmet on and secure the chinstrap snugly. If you can now turn your head freely from side to side within the helmet, it’s too big. You should always be able to feel the lining of the helmet and the cheek pads in contact with your skin.

Finally, open the visor and push your head forward in the helmet with one hand while trying to slip your little finger of the other between your forehead and the helmet. If you can get your finger in, that’s too much room and it’s too big. Your forehead should press against the lining

Your helmet should not rise up your head if pushed from below, either; rather, it should stay locked to your jaw.

Any good motorbike garage or accessory store will have a fitting expert who can gauge whether the helmet is right for you. If in doubt, ask.

Oh, and one last thing: always keep the chinstrap fastened. There are just too many crashes where the biker’s helmet flies off because it has been left unfastened. As snug as it fits, your helmet won’t stay on in the event of a crash.

What about my specs?

If you wear glasses or shades while riding, we know they can be a real pain. But if they are prescribed, you must wear them, so how can you get past the problem?.

Most modern helmets have pre-cut grooves in the lining to accommodate the arms of your specs or shades. If they don’t, you will probably find that the shape of your glasses’ arms will wear into the lining of the helmet in time, but there will be a bit of discomfort to begin with. The arms could chafe on the tops of your ears, and the bridge may pinch your nose or ride up your face in a way that’s uncomfortable. The best advice is to wear them while you are buying – even if you are buying in winter, and you want to check whether your summer sunnies fit okay.

How long should a helmet last?

Nothing lasts forever. Helmet experts recommend you should change your helmet every five years, and certainly keep it for no more than seven.

However, you MUST change it immediately if it has an impact of any kind. The way helmets are constructed means they lose their effectiveness if they suffer a blow. Any crash where you bang your head, even slightly, is the end of the road for the helmet. Even dropping it from 3-4 feet means it needs replacing.

Finally, it can never be stressed too much that helmets are a legal requirement – and for a good reason. They save lives. Wear one, every time you ride.

  • Remember that while protective clothing, such as trousers and jackets, are not compulsory, they are highly recommended to ensure some level of protection if you take a tumble. Never ride wearing your street clothes. Good quality biker trousers and jackets are a must, as is sturdy footwear – preferably boots that support your ankle and have thicker souls to protect the soles of your feet if you have to drop them down quickly.

In this weather, thick riding gloves are a must too: frozen fingers cannot control a motorbike so don’t ride wearing thin gloves. See more.

* All things move on: In January, this safety standard is being upgraded to a brand new European helmet standard, ECE 22.06. These helmets have been subjected to more stringent and vigorous testing, and should provide even more protection. Let’s hope so.

The new standard applies to any helmets produced after January 2024, so there will be a period when both standards co-exist.



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