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Does motorcycle helmet safety match cost?

Helmet safety motorcycle crash accident ratings
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Does helmet safety match how much money you spend on the helmet? It’s an often-asked question that we try to verify with statistics.

The Bell helmets ad campaign of 50 years ago “If you’ve got a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet!” may have been true then, but is it now?

We could not find any empirical evidence of the correlation between cost and safety, only anecdotal.

In my own example, my expensive Shoei Hornet DS saved my head after I was run over by another bike.

And since you often pay more for special graphics for the same helmet in a solid single colour, cost isn’t always related to safety.

But rather than anecdotes, we have gone to statistics to see if they reveal any safety/cost correlation.


It’s very difficult to assess all the helmets on the market, so we have used data from two websites: the NSW Transport Accident Commission “Crash” ratings and the British SHARP helmet safety scheme ratings.

Both have comprehensive testing systems that provide overall helmet safety ratings out of five for each model.

The Crash site doesn’t give prices and only lists 157 helmets, but it shows that full-face helmets are safer, and they are usually more expensive.

Nineteen full-face helmets scored four stars, 56 scored three and 16 two stars, while only 12 open faces scored three stars, 16 scored two and seven scored just one star.

Crash also rates helmet safety on “dual-purpose” models with nine scoring four stars, 13 scored three and one rated two stars.

Shark Helmets Heritage model
Shark Heritage top scores in open-face with three stars on Crash

The more comprehensive SHARP helmet safety scheme is now relevant to our market as these helmets are European UNECE22.05 approved which are allowable across Australia.

So it should cover a range of helmets available here, as well as some that aren’t. However, you can still legally buy them over the internet.

Not every helmet is tested and rated, but it gives a good cross-section of open, full-face and modular helmets.

An initial impression of the market is that most are reasonably safe, with 57% scoring four stars or more and 15% scoring one or two stars.


We then divided the helmets into three price categories up to £150 (about $A240), £150-£450 (about $A720) and £450 and above. The most expensive was the five-star AGV Pista GP at £799 ($A1300).

Most helmets were in the cheap category with 209, followed by 150 in the midrange and just 15 in the top sector.

And, as expected, the old Bell advertising slogan is true: The more money you spend, the safer the helmet, at least according to the SHARP ratings.

Schuberth S1 Pro rates one star
Schuberth S1 Pro rates two stars

There were no one-star helmets in the top price category, while 46% top-scored, 20% rated four stars, 26% three stars and just one helmet, the £450 Schuberth S1 Pro, rated two stars.

Find out more Schuberth motorcycle helmets and the Schuberth C4 Pro.

So you can still pay a lot of money and not get great safety.

But while the statistics show the more you spend the more safety you get, there are some anomalies.

Thankfully, there are 17 helmets under £150 that top score (seven of which are Caberg), plus a whopping 42% with four stars and 29% with three stars.

In the midrange, there are 32% that top-scored, 46% with four stars, 26.5% with three stars and 7.2% with two or one star.


It is more difficult to assess which are the best and worst brands, as it depends on how many models they have.

For example, BMW helmets are not necessarily bad because they only have one helmet with five stars. There are only three helmets featured.

The most prolific helmet brand in the survey is Shark with 24 helmets and all but one scored four or more stars, making it the safest, statistically.

It marginally pips AGV with 20 out of 21 helmets rating four and above, then Caberg with nine out of 10, Bell with nine out of 12 and Shoei with eight out of 11.

Shark Race-R Pro
Shark Race-R Pro rates five stars


However, you can’t use statistics to buy your helmet.

Every helmet needs to be evaluated by the rider for a solid mix of price, purpose and safety.

So we encourage riders to check the above websites to check for safety star ratings.

Then it’s a matter of getting an affordable helmet that fits your head. Remember, every rider’s head is a different shape and helmets also have different shapes that present varied pressure points.

  1. As always price does not always indicate quality and even with the UK Sharp ratings there are some glaring problems such as low percentages of chin bar lock retention on some high rated flip up helmets

    The NSW Govt CRASH rating system should be discontinued now we have moved to UNECE 22.05, the money could be better spent on other things and the NSW Govt collaborate with the UK developing further a single worldwide rating system

    1. Yes, the UK SHARP tests do not appear to mark down modular helmets that unlock, either partially or fully, in a test. There does not appear to be any distinction (that I can find) between partial or full unlock events.
      If we knew for sure that our helmets would only hit an object or the ground once, the above might not be important. However, chances are our helmets will take a few hits if worse comes to worst.

      All this SHARP and CRASH testing would not be necessary if the governing bodies of the UNECE or AS1698 standards would publish the test results of the helmets that are passed and are available for sale.
      Knowing that a helmet passed a minimum standard is one thing, I would want to know how much a helmet has exceeded the minimum standard, if at all.

  2. With the minimum standards all helmets must meet the only places price makes a difference is in fitment quality noise and weight.
    The better fitting helmet is the safer helmet
    The quietest helmet is the safer helmet
    The lighter helmet is the safer helmet
    To get all three usually means more money as the more expensive helmet should be using lighter more exotic materials and spend more on research and development and have more size and shape options.
    But this is often not the case as you can have two helmets one from an elcheapo supplier and one from a name brand being identical in every way that counts the only difference being the name and often it’s because they are made in the same factory.

    The trouble with buying off the Internet.
    I bought an L2 brand helmet even with shipping it was half the price of the same helmet here. It’s a good helmet but it was a bit tight so I took the removable liner out to see if there was any adjustment and what did I find?
    The helmet was supposed to be a xxxl it’s labeled as such every where except on the internals there I found xxl embossed on the parts no wonder it was a bit tight!

    1. Your assertion that price only makes a difference in fit, noise and weight is not quite correct. Yes, all helmets are required to meet a certain minimum standard, but are you happy with a helmet that only meets that standard and no more?. Many of the cheaper helmets only just meet that minimum standard, whereas the better known and more expensive helmets often offer protection well above the minimum standard. I value my head, along with the rest of my body. Given that more injuries occur to the feet and legs than anywhere else, I find it bizarre to see people riding with a good quality helmet along with bare legs or ankles and inappropriate footwear.

  3. The last helmet I purchased was evaluated by price, fit and lastly safety. I actually wanted to buy the cheapest helmet I could find but as it turned out (after trying on heaps of helmets) I found that fit became the most important factor, so that I ended up buying a Shoei NRX and it is only coincidence that it has a fairly high safety factor and it happened to be a mid range price, somewhere in the $700 region.

  4. I think all the comments so far highlight the fact that primary safety is not the only concern. If your not comfortable in your ‘safe’ helmet, then your going to be fatigued during the ride.

  5. Hi, as usual you have provide a informative article in an endeavor to improve the safety of motorcyclists. But do we really need the negative stereotypical lead picture. You are not writing for a certain Queensland newspaper anymore. Keep up the good work, but please keep the photos positive (Shock horror pictures have proved to be ineffective in modifying behaviour anyway)

  6. I posted this on your Facebook page, but thought worth putting here as well:

    This is interesting, a factor that now coming into the cheap/expensive argument are brands like Touratech and Klim, who use an OEM to manufacture their helmets.

    The branded helmets are quite pricey $700-$800, where as you can buy Nexx (Touratech) and Nishua (Klim) helmets for for about $200-$300.

    The suggestions by the people who have seen both side by side is they are very similar maybe with slightly different peaks and the branded helmet has a space for intercoms, where as the OEM one doesn’t. If the price premium worth it in these instances? Is the OEM as good as branded one?

  7. That guy getting his head ran over died. His brain swelled with in ten minutes of the truck driving over his head.
    You should fact check instead of believing the internet.

  8. I live in NY, US. When I started road riding was about the same time helmet where put place in NY(some states still don’t require helmets). At that time I was a serious rider, riding 20,000 miles in the 8 month season.

    I was opposed to the hemet laws for two reasons helmets only effect the rider, unlike the headlight on law which effects others on the road, the same as eye protection (if you get something in your eye you could crash into others) The second was the weight of early helmets. I and people I rode with noticed that most rider we knew who died with supposed head injuries had died from broken necks. It was our belief that the weight of the helmet.

    Although I was opposed to the helmet law, I wore one, but usually a half helmet to reduce its weight.
    Fast forward 20-30 years helmets became lighter and the broken necks injuries appeared to be greatly reduced. It is now over 50 years since I first had a license to ride a bike on the road. I now wear a helmet by choice, I do have 2nd full helmet with chin guard and face shield, I don’t like and feel it poses a danger l for these reasons, the faceshield fogs fogs and refers, the helmet creates blind spots and last there is a definite lack of outside sound again a danger.

    I am still opposed to the hemet law, however I think you are stupid if you don’t wear a helmet. It might as well be a good one.

    A quick story where a helmet almost cause an accident. I was riding on a highway and yellow jacket ( yellow jackets don’t have barbs on their stinger allowing them to sting multiple times) flew into my helmet and stung me multiple times, if I had not been experienced, I would have lost control.

    I believe that the requirements of training prior to being issued a license. I firmly believe learning to ride in the dirt and learning to fall either separating from the bike and or learning to ride the bike a sled would save many lives, after all that is the point, so I believe..

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