DOT Helmet Failure Rate Is Now 43 Percent


Missouri motorcycle helmet law

In the Government’s Own Sanctioned Testing

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) employed Act Labs—an independent lab in California—to test DOT helmets for labeling and performance from 2014 to 2019. During that time, the lab tested 167 helmets. 62.8 percent of the helmets failed the labeling portion and a whopping 43.1 percent of the helmets failed the performance tests. This is an increase over last year’s numbers.

This is especially concerning because DOT approval is a self-certification process, meaning the company itself is responsible for ensuring that its helmets mee the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (DOT FMVSS 218). 

Helmets that fail the testing will be forced to issue a recall and potentially be fined. This is good, but those helmets never should have been sold in the first place. There’s a lot of argument out there about what is the best helmet safety standard. ECE is what’s used in Europe. Then there’s SHARP, Snell, and FIM standards. They all claim to be the best.

I’m not here to argue which standard is best. What I am here to do is showcase that many of the DOT-only helmets for sale out there fail to meet the standard, which is a standard many in the industry agree is already outdated and doesn’t provide the level of protection needed for riders. However, around 43 percent of the helmets tested couldn’t even meet these inadequate standards.

Act Labs tested Bell, Scorpion, Shoei, and HJC helmets as well as many other helmets. You can see which ones failed the tests by checking out the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance website.

So what should you do? At the very least, I’d check at the website above to see if a helmet you’re considering was tested and passed the testing. You could also consider buying a helmet that has been approved by one of the other helmet safety standards out there. Snell and FIM standards seem to be the best and Snell tests every helmet it approves. The bottom line? A DOT sticker on a helmet means pretty much nothing unless the helmet has been tested. Don’t trust it unless that specific helmet has been tested.

26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Jeff
    February 7, 2020
    Reply

    Wow .. Thanks for the link. Owning a couple HJC/Scorpion/AFX helmets, I had to check. Fortunately, my models passed. Very interesting..

    • Avatar
      Willy
      February 8, 2020
      Reply

      Link goes nowhere.

      • Wade Thiel
        February 8, 2020
        Reply

        Hi Willy. It works for me. Goes to the correct site. It’s less than advanced. You have to select equipment and click through the options. Not easy to navigate, but it does work.

      • Avatar
        Bob
        February 9, 2020
        Reply

        Good info.

        But “not here to argue which standard is best” — just drop a gratuitous unsupported opinion bomb at the end? C’mon, man, you or your editor need to tighten that weak stuff up.

        BTW, I agree with you that DOT isn’t worth the FMVSS 218 sticker it’s written on. ECE is a real cert and meaningful. So is Snell but racing specific and they won’t do modulars, so Snell is good but the lack of Snell is not necessarily bad.

        • Wade Thiel
          February 9, 2020
          Reply

          Hi Bob, my comment at the end should have been “a DOT sticker means nothing” because if 43 percent of the helmets tested fail, then I really hesitate to trust any helmet with a DOT sticker that has not been tested. With thousands of helmets out there that have not been tested to see if they pass the test, I wouldn’t trust them. My issue isn’t with the standard itself it’s with the fact that many helmets claiming to be DOT don’t pass testing. I have updated the article to be more accurate.

        • Wade Thiel
          February 9, 2020
          Reply

          Also, Snell will “do modulars” but Snell wants a modular to test like a full-face. Lack of Snell is not bad, agree with you there, but a DOT sticker alone is not something I’d trust. A DOT approved helmet that passes the testing will definitely help you in a crash and could certainly save your life. The real issue here is the self-certification, though I’d say the DOT standard is also out of date and should be updated. Update DOT and get rid of self-certification and riders would be a lot safer.

          • Jim Pruner
            February 9, 2020

            Snell has certified two modulars in the past (many years ago now) at older standards, but since those two approvals the Snell standard has been tightened up and no other modular has passed their tests. It seems to me manufacturers have just given up on the idea.
            Even the two models that were Snell certified before are no longer in production.

  2. Avatar
    Alan Hassall
    February 7, 2020
    Reply

    This is a bit scary. I prefer the convenience of modular helmets as I am a sport touring rider and I wear glasses. I am not certain that any of them carry anything more than a DOT rating. I currently own a Shoei Neotec and a Klim modular. The Neotec was not tested and Klim was not even listed to search. As I was looking through the website, I saw a very well thought of helmet from a top-line manufacturer fail so it appears that it can happen. The manufacturer was praised by web bike world not too long ago. I am going to assume that it was a fluke or, that in trying to comply with all of the standards, it just missed this test while complying with the others. I guess that I am going to hope that the person who made my helmet was having a very good day when they made mine so that I survive a very bad day in the future.

  3. Avatar
    Christopher Johnson
    February 7, 2020
    Reply

    So if I’m reading FMVSS 218 correctly, the ‘Labeling standard’ that saw 62.8% failure rate consists of the following: S5.6 Labeling.

    S5.6.1 Each helmet shall be labeled permanently and legibly, in a manner such that the label(s) can be read easily without removing padding or any other permanent part, with the following:
    (a) Manufacturer’s name or identification.
    (b) Precise model designation.
    (c) Size.
    (d) Month and year of manufacture. This may be spelled out (for example, June 1988), or expressed in numerals (for example, 6/88).
    (e) The symbol DOT, constituting the manufacturer’s certification that the helmet conforms to the applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. This symbol shall appear on the outer surface, in a color that contrasts with the background, in letters at least \3/8\ inch (1 cm) high, centered laterally with the horizontal centerline of the
    symbol located a minimum of 1\1/8\ inches (2.9 cm) and a maximum of 1\3/8\ inches (3.5 cm) from the bottom edge of the posterior portion of the helmet.
    (f) Instructions to the purchaser as follows:
    (1) “Shell and liner constructed of (identify type(s) of
    materials).
    (2) “Helmet can be seriously damaged by some common substances without damage being visible to the user. Apply only the following: (Recommended cleaning agents, paints, adhesives, etc., as appropriate).
    (3) “Make no modifications. Fasten helmet securely. If helmet experiences a severe blow, return it to the manufacturer for inspection, or destory [sic] it and replace it.”
    (4) Any additional relevant safety information should be applied at the time of purchase by means of an attached tag, brochure, or other suitable means.

    There’s enough gray area there that much more info is needed about the exact nature of non-compliance failures. For instance, was it a failure because the helmet didn’t come with additional information, that might actually have been lost or overlooked in the unpacking process?
    The 43.1% failure rate of performance tests is very concerning, and indicative that a self-regulation regime is not sufficient to ensure that quality safety gear is reaching the end-user.

  4. Jim Pruner
    February 7, 2020
    Reply

    This is exactly what I’m talking about in my recent Arai article when it comes to safety standards concerning me. But what does this actually mean? It’s a catchy headline “43% failure!” rate! Oh no quick honey throw out all the DOT only helmets?!!

    No. Hold on everyone, before you panic let’s look at some of this data and inject some critical thinking.

    There are no details on the lists other than if it was a performance or labeling failure during testing and if any action was taken by the NHTSA. A labeling failure I would guess is an error on the DOT sticker or tags that could range from a spelling mistake to missing information and is likely minor, but a performance failure can only mean the helmet didn’t pass the physical testing and perhaps warrants more investigation.

    Let’s look at some of the top brands that we know are safe helmets and see.

    So how did Arai do I wonder?
    Very well over several helmets being tested, but not perfect is the answer, although I see no action taken by the NHTSA in either 2006 when an Arai Profile failed or 2009 when a Corsair V failed. I’m taking that to mean the issues were rectified (or explained away somehow) by Arai right away or the NHTSA looked at the failure and chose to issue a pass afterwards for unstated reasons. It failed, but then was given a pass after because we know millions of these helmets were (still are) sold in the US today.

    How about Shoei? Only two labeling failures 2014 and 2009 with no action taken.

    Schuberth? Only three helmet tests are on record but no failures reported. Really? Only 3 Schuberth helmets have been tested for DOT by the NHTSA??? That blows my mind! Is this neglect or the NHTSA just saying Schuberth helmets are passing ECE so well we aren’t worried about it even though the two standards are very different?

    Bell? 2009 Bell Mag 8 performance and labeling fail with no action taken by NHTSA. 2012 Bell Shorty performance fail, no action taken.

    Here’s an interesting one though: Bell Rogue 2013 failed performance but there’s no mention of the case being closed or no action taken… what does this mean????
    Same thing in 2014 with the Pit Boss.

    Nolan? Two labeling fails, no action taken.

    Shark has gotten tested quite often and they’ve done very well. Only one labeling fail in 2017 on a Skwal and one performance failure in 2014 on a Raw. This one doesn’t have any information on action taken by NHTSA either.

    I couldn’t find any Nenki helmets on the list to my dismay as I have doubts they would pass DOT (though I have no proof other than my opinion behind this criticism I admit). That’s a brand I would like to see tested and hasn’t been. Unless it’s under some other name that I can’t find.

    So Wade says in the piece that DOT is useless and outdated. I would agree it’s outdated and needs to be revised by the NHTSA right away. They should also follow ECE and test every model of helmet that bears their sticker.

    Ed Becker from Snell told me if a helmet actually passes DOT it’s decent and will likely save your friends and family grief if you crash while wearing it so I would say the standard isn’t useless. What is useless is failing to ensure all DOT stamped helmets don’t actually meet the guidelines.

    43% fails? I’m sorry I don’t have all the answers but I’m going to look for a number to call and find out.

    Food for thought my friends.

    • Avatar
      Alan Hassall
      February 7, 2020
      Reply

      The Arai Corsair “failure” was the one that caught my eye. I know that they are considered to be one of the best and that they take helmet making very seriously. I owned one a long time ago and felt that it was very well made. I never had the misfortune to test it. If I raced or rode a lot harder, I would probably have one again. I have since moved to modular helmets for the convenience of being able to move the chin bar out of the way. The Shoei face shields are easier to replace too. I looked at the report, but I don’t understand the failure.

      • Avatar
        Rony
        February 8, 2020
        Reply

        Waw! This remarkable remind me Boeing 737 Max certification disaster. It shows how u. s. controlling system is all broken
        Self-certification, ok. But hey do your job and check those manufacturers who of course will cut corners if they see there is noone checking them our.
        And if they fail, huge penalty so they Lear its not worth it.
        But of course this is united States. It’s all about money nobody cares about people.

        • Avatar
          Alan Hassall
          February 8, 2020
          Reply

          I don’t believe that Arai cuts corners. My original post left the name out of it because I don’t know how bad this was or if it was rectified. Having some experience with governmental regulatory bodies, I can understand the difficulties with the government actually having regulators everywhere.
          In the event of a failure, don’t kid yourself, fines and other actions are taken. Even so, they can’t test every unit because the test destroys the helmet. That would be like crash testing every car. Nobody would want to buy a car that had hit a barrier. Since helmets are hand made, there will be variation from unit to unit and we have to hope that they all meet standards. Since helmet manufacturers face huge lawsuits if their products fail, I don’t believe that they would purposely make a faulty product to save money. The defect was that it didn’t take long enough to disipate the G load to the side of the head in the test. It was a medium, so it wouldn’t affect my XL head. By the way…ever hear the phrase, “good enough for government work”?

  5. Avatar
    Dan A Hammack
    February 7, 2020
    Reply

    I didn’t see one result more recent than 2007. Even many high end modular helmets are only DOT approved, I know of none that are Snell approved. Snell pretty much locks you into a full face or 3/4 helmet. You might find ECE ratings on modular helmets, but only European brands.

    • Avatar
      Dan A Hammack
      February 8, 2020
      Reply

      Now, I’m seeing more recent tests that I didn’t see the first time I went to that link. Don’t know why as I searched several of the same brands the second time.

  6. Avatar
    Alan Hassall
    February 8, 2020
    Reply

    The Neotec 2 was up there and it only came out a year or so ago.

  7. Avatar
    matthew heald
    February 9, 2020
    Reply

    Sharp (https://sharp.dft.gov.uk) is NOT a standard, it’s an independent test house, funded by the UK government transport agency. Sounds similiar to what the US DOT is doing with this Californian organisation is doing. Although SHARP will only test ECE helmets they have so d very interesting info on what actually matters, ie protection as opposed to labelling 😉
    Yes there are flaws in the SHARP methodology but it’s a good baseline. Wearing a modular / flip helmet I find the failure rate of most flip lids lock mechanism scary.
    But if there are more organisations giving quantifiable information on helmets then it must be a step forward

  8. Avatar
    Angel
    February 9, 2020
    Reply

    Thanks for the info. It was helpful.

  9. Avatar
    Jeff
    February 10, 2020
    Reply

    Wear it or don’t wear it, either way, wearing it is more protective than not wearing it. That said, maybe their’s some recourse? Helmets are generally warranted for (5) years. Might be worth a shot to contact your helmet MFR if you have the receipt of purchase? Just a thought …

  10. Avatar
    Brian Cordell
    February 10, 2020
    Reply

    I ran the query on Arai, none of the current models appear. I’m not sure what to make of that.

  11. Avatar
    Tony Culpepper
    February 11, 2020
    Reply

    Been racing and riding 53 years. A helmet hit hard enough to save your head is going to break your neck. Riding is dangerous and a risk everyone takes. There is no absoult proof a helmet will save your life or increase your odds of living. Only thing it might do will let you have an open casket. Remember 53 years. Dont argue with experience.

    • Wade Thiel
      February 12, 2020
      Reply

      Tony, so, you’d wear no helmet? I’m going to have argue with your ”experience.” There is plenty of scientific proof that helmets save lives.

      If your whole neck breaking premise was true, I think we’d be seeing a lot more broken necks.

      Also, helmets protect bicycle riders heads all the time even at very low speeds would you have them not wear helmets either?

      I don’t get how someone who has ridden and raced for as long as you say you have could be against helmets. Did you hit your head? lol jk.

      But really. Show me scientific proof that helmets don’t work.

    • Avatar
      Alan Hassall
      February 12, 2020
      Reply

      Tony, I have been riding for about 32 years. In 2000, I went down at around 35-40mph while wearing a helmet (Shoei RF700 or 800) and slid down the road on my face. Much of the shell on the forehead was eroded away and the mounting plate for the face shield came loose. There weren’t holes in the shell, but my face would have been gone had I not been wearing the helmet. The helmet could have given more had the speeds been higher. I don’t know if the hit was hard enough to compromise the EPS liner, but I do know that if I hadn’t been wearing that helmet, there would be gasps of horror every time I entered a room. I’m not handsome, but I am not hideous either. I keep it as a reminder that people do have accidents from time to time. Several years ago, my father spent a week in the hospital ICU, with holes drilled in his head, having pressure relieved for a subdural hematoma from a fall in a bathroom. His head didn’t hit the floor or whatever very hard. He was the lucky one in the unit. You may believe that your head is hard enough to take any hit that doesn’t result in a broken neck, but your face, scalp and brain floating around in your skull are not. Ride safe and be careful.

  12. Avatar
    Dan A Hammack
    February 11, 2020
    Reply

    If helmets frequently broke necks, why is it we don’t see this on the racing circuits where crashes are generally quite high speed. I for one couldn’t relax enough to even enjoy riding without a helmet. I would feel far too vulnerable.

  13. Avatar
    John S.
    February 12, 2020
    Reply

    Don’t let the percentages fool you. 167 helmets tested over 6 years??? A very small sample size.

    I looked at the 2019 numbers 25 helmets tested, 9 failed performance, 11 failed labeling, and 6 passed. (One failed both performance and labeling).

    Of the 9 performance fails, 5 were from the same brand, and 2 were the another brand but same model for that brand of helmet.

    A small sample size and it looks like a non-random selection. Maybe they check more models when they found a failure in a particular brand.

    Also according to the “Body Style” all of the performance failures were half-shell helmets.

    The percentage of failures in this sample set should not be as much of a concern as the low numbers of helmets tested. There needs to be much more compliance testing if the manufacturers self certify.

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