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DOT Motorcycle Helmet Label Requirements Change

U.S. DOT Proposes Changes to Motorcycle Helmet Labeling Requirements

October 2008 – The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a change in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, which addresses motorcycle helmet safety standards in the U.S.A.

According to NHTSA, “The purpose of FMVSS No. 218 is to reduce deaths and injuries to motorcyclists and other motor vehicle users resulting from head impacts.

To do so, the standard establishes minimum performance requirements for helmets.

These requirements include three performance tests: (1) an impact attenuation test; (2) a penetration test; and (3) a retention system test; as well as various labeling requirements.”

One of the proposed changes addresses the methods used to add the familiar “DOT” label on motorcycle helmets sold in the U.S.

Currently, just about anyone can place a label marked “DOT” on the back of a helmet, but this has caused confusion in the marketplace and for local law enforcement because there is no standard DOT label requirement.

The current requirements are very limited.  “Aside from the size, location, and contrasting color, the configuration of the symbol is not specified”, according to NHTSA.

“Motorcycle helmet manufacturers are required to affix the certifying “DOT” symbol to the outer surface of the helmet.  The color of the symbol’s lettering must contrast with the background.

The “DOT” letters must be 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.”

The Department of Transportation says that the proposed amendment “would help realize the full potential of compliant helmets by aiding state and local law enforcement officials in enforcing state helmet use laws, thereby increasing the percentage of motorcycle riders wearing helmets compliant with FMVSS No. 218.”

How a standardized DOT helmet label might increase helmet usage is unclear, since many states have eliminated their mandatory helmet use laws.

It is also proposed that FMVSS 218 be amended to “aid NHTSA in enforcing the standard by specifying a quasi-static load application rate for the helmet retention system”.

Other amendments include revising the impact attenuation test by “specifying test velocity and tolerance limits and removing the drop height requirement; providing tolerances for the helmet conditioning specifications” and “revising requirements related to size labeling and location of the DOT symbol; correcting figures 7 and 8 in the Standard; and updating the reference in S7.1.9 to SAE recommended practice J211.”

For reference, the following information is from various NHTSA/DOT public regulations and documents:

NHTSA DOT Motorcycle Helmet Impact Attenuation Test

The impact attenuation test is “designed to ensure that helmets retain structural integrity and attenuate impact energy during a variety of crash scenarios.

The test measures acceleration imparted to an instrumented test headform on which a complete helmet is mounted.  The helmet/headform combination is dropped in a guided free fall upon either a fixed hemispherical anvil or a fixed flat anvil.

DOT Motorcycle Helmet Penetration Test

The penetration test simulates a head impact with a piercing object.  This test is conducted by dropping a penetration test striker in guided free fall, with its axis aligned vertically, onto the outer surface of the complete helmet when mounted on a headform.

DOT Motorcycle Helmet Retention Test

The retention system test is a test designed to help ensure the helmet remains securely fastened to the rider’s head.  It is conducted by applying a tensile load to the retention assembly.

Helmet Conditioning

For each test, the helmet is conditioned in one of four different ways prior to testing.

These include:

  1. An ambient condition;

  2. A low temperature condition;

  3. A high temperature condition; and

  4. A water immersion condition.

DOT Motorcycle Helmet Labeling Requirements

Labeling requirements are also set forth in Standard No. 218.  These require that the manufacturer label each helmet permanently and legibly with the manufacturer’s name or identification, precise model designation, size, month and year of manufacture, and instructions to the purchaser.

The manufacturer must permanently label each helmet with the “DOT” symbol, which constitutes the manufacturer’s certification that the helmet conforms to the applicable FMVSSs. Standard No. 218 also sets forth the requirements and acceptable locations of these labels.

(The proposed changes address) several issues relating to the enforceability of state mandatory helmet laws and FMVSS No. 218.

The first issue relates to the difficulties that States have had in establishing that some motorcyclists are using helmets that have not been certified to the Federal Standard.

A second issue relates to the inability of some helmet manufacturers to locate the certification label as required by the standard, due to the presence of edge rolls on helmets.

Third, there have been issues relating to determinations of noncompliance in the agency’s own testing of helmets under the guidelines in FMVSS No. 218.

New Proposed DOT Motorcycle Helmet Labeling Requirements

NHTSA is proposing three requirements for helmet certification labeling:

  1. The application of a “DOT” symbol water decal to the helmet beneath clear coating;

  2. Lettering on that decal indicating the manufacturer’s name and/or brand name and the helmet model designation in the space above the “DOT” symbol; and

  3. The word “certified” in a horizontally centered position beneath the “DOT” symbol on that decal.

Size Labeling and Location of the “DOT” Certification Label

The agency is proposing that the required label on helmets be positioned such that the horizontal centerline of the DOT symbol is located between one and three inches (2.5-7.6 cm) from the lower edge of the helmet.

In addition, the agency is proposing that helmets be labeled with a “discrete size,” which will correspond to the appropriate test headform.

Proposals to Aid Enforcement of State Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws

The proposed rule would establish additional requirements for certification labels that would entail processes that are inexpensive for the helmet manufacturer, but would be more difficult and expensive for those who may be producing false “certification” labels.

The new requirements would also help consumers and law enforcement personnel distinguish between certified and uncertified helmets, facilitating the enforcement of state and local helmet laws.

The proposed additional requirements would make it difficult for stores selling misleading “DOT” labels to claim that they did not intend to sell labels indicating certification, but were merely selling “Doing Our Thing” stickers (Some merchants sell “DOT” stickers for novelty motorcycle helmets, claiming that the stickers are not intended to be counterfeit certification labels, and that DOT stands for “Doing Our Thing.”).

It would be difficult to establish a plausible reason if such a sticker would include manufacturing information or the word “certified”.  It would then be clear that any store selling a sticker with the proposed labeling requirements would be selling labels intended to deceive law enforcement officials about whether a helmet is certified.

NHTSA is proposing the use of a water decal for the “DOT” symbol which would be affixed to the motorcycle helmet before the shell’s clear coating is applied.

Additionally, the label would be required to bear lettering indicating the manufacturer’s name or brand name and the helmet model designation in the space above the “DOT” symbol, as well as the word “certified” in a horizontally centered position beneath the “DOT” symbol.

These additional requirements would make production of labels that create the misleading impression that a helmet is properly certified more difficult and expensive, which would both deter the production and sale of such labels and help law enforcement officers enforce state helmet use laws.

For more information and to comment on these proposed amendments, visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

The proposed rules are in the following document, published in the U.S. Federal Register:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
49 CFR Part 571
[Docket No. NHTSA-2008-0157] RIN 2127-AK15
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Motorcycle Helmets
AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation (DOT).
ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

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