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Motorcycle Safety Guide: Prevention that Works

What Works?

I was commuting to work on my motorcycle and headed onto the freeway exchange at about 45 miles an hour. I lost control and laid down my bike, really hit my head, and slid my way to a stop. My motorcycle was scratched, my helmet was banged up, and the rest of my gear was pretty shredded. But I walked away.

The thing is, I never used my helmet where I lived before because I wasn’t required to — there was no law. Moving to California meant I had to wear one, and I am so glad that I did. My helmet saved my life.

- Jonathan Hailstone22

What Helmets Do

Wearing helmets that meet the Department of Transportation (DOT) standard is the single most effective means of reducing the number of people who get injured or die from motorcycle crashes.5

Image shows both sides of a motorcycle helmet, and illustrates that a large proportion of impact absorption offered by motorcycle helmets is in the face shield and chin protection areas. On the right side of the helmet, the chin protection offered by a helmet absorbs 19.4% of the impact in a crash, and on the left side of the helmet, the chin protection absorbs 15.2%. The right-side face shield offers 5.5% of the absorption, and the left-side face shield offers 4.4%. The area directly above the face shield also absorbs a total of 18.4% of the impact in a crash.

Distribution of impact locations on motorcycle helmets, all collisions, based on a study by Dietmar Otte.29

Helmets are estimated to reduce the likelihood of death in a motorcycle crash by 37%.23 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,544 motorcycle riders in 2010 alone.24

Traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of motorcycle crash death.25 Even when not fatal, these debilitating head injuries can mean a lifetime of costly rehabilitation and severe emotional trauma for family and friends. In fact, treating severe traumatic brain injuries costs 13 times more than non-brain injuries.17

Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.3,26

There are no negative health effects from helmet use. Helmets do not restrict a rider’s ability to hear important sounds, or to see a vehicle in the next lane.27

When Unhelmeted Riders Crash

Unhelmeted riders are 40% more likely to die from a head injury than someone wearing a helmet.28

"The only proven way to get people to wear helmets is the universal helmet law.5

Anatomy of a Helmet

Since 1974 all motorcycle helmets are required to meet the DOT standard that establishes the minimum level of protection a helmet must afford each helmet user.23 Full-face helmets offer the most protection, protecting the eyes and face with a face shield and providing protection to the chin. To illustrate the importance of full coverage, research from crashes shows the distribution of impact locations absorbed by motorcycle helmets.29


References are located on the Endnotes page.

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