The purpose of the new regulation is to help reduce the availability of novelty helmets by making it more difficult to sell helmets with “DOT” labels markings that do not meet the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, first published in 1973.
The rule takes effect on May 13, 2013. NHTSA is also releasing FMVSS 218 amendments that will “aid NHTSA in enforcing the standard by setting reasonable tolerances for certain test conditions, devices and procedures”.
From the Federal Register announcement: “Specifically, this final rule sets a quasi-static load application rate for the helmet retention system; revises the impact attenuation test by specifying test velocity and tolerance limits and removing the drop height test specification; provides tolerances for the helmet conditioning specifications and drop assembly weights; and revises requirements related to size labeling and location of the DOT symbol.”
NHTSA says 5.2 million helmets are sold each year in the U.S. and 54% of motorcyclists in 2010 wore a “DOT”, or FMVSS No. 218 compliant helmet.
14% wore novelty helmets, and 32% of riders wore no helmet. “These figures represent a significant reduction in FMVSS No. 218 compliant helmet use compared to 2009, when the comparable figures were 67 percent, 9 percent and 24 percent,” according to the agency (2010 figures from `”Motorcycle Helmet Use in 2010–Overall Results” Traffic Safety Facts Research Note December 2010 DOT HS 811 419 (.pdf).
“This reduction in FMVSS No. 218-compliant helmet use is especially significant in the jurisdictions (20 States and the District of Columbia) with universal helmet use laws where the use of compliant helmets dropped from 86 percent in 2009 to 76 percent in 2010 and the use of novelty helmets increased from 11 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010”, according to the announcement.
“This 11 percentage point increase in novelty helmet use in jurisdictions with universal helmet use laws between 2009 and 2010 is evidence of the difficulty encountered by law enforcement officials in enforcing helmet use laws.”
FMVSS No. 218 includes energy attenuation, penetration resistance, chin strap structural integrity, and labeling requirements for on-road motorcycle helmets. According to NHTSA research published in 2004, wearing a helmet certified as conforming to FMVSS No. 218 reduces the risk of dying in a motorcycle crash by 37 percent.
When NHTSA tested these novelty helmets under FMVSS No. 218, the agency found that they failed all or almost all of the safety performance requirements in the standard. Based on these tests, the agency concluded that novelty helmets will not protect motorcycle riders during a crash from either impact or penetration threats, and will not likely be retained on motorcycle riders’ heads during crashes.
Much more information and interesting background is available in the published rule in the Federal Register.