What you must know when choosing a helmet is that it meets minimum safety standards. The way to find a well-made, reliable helmet is to look for the DOT and/or Snell sticker on the inside or outside of the helmet. The sticker means the helmet meets the safety test standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation and/or the Snell Memorial Foundation.
Each organization has rigid procedures for testing:
- Impact – the shock-absorbing capacity of the helmet.
- Penetration – the helmet's ability to withstand a blow from a sharp object.
- Retention – the chin strap's ability to stay fastened without stretching or breaking.
- Peripheral vision – the helmet must provide a minimum side vision of 105 degrees to each side. (Most people's usable peripheral vision is only about 90 degrees to each side.)
Since 1974, all motorcycle helmets sold in the U.S. must meet DOT safety standards. Helmet dealers and distributors must ensure that all the helmets they sell bear the DOT sticker. Whatever your helmet choice, be sure it has this certification. You don't want an inferior helmet or one designed for another purpose. If someone tries to sell you one without it, don't buy it. If your helmet has no DOT sticker, do not wear it, regardless of its age.
Snell has been testing helmets since the 1950s. The use of Snell standards by helmet manufacturers is voluntary. Snell testing is revised (most recently in 2000) as helmet design and technology improve.
Both entities attempt to reproduce, under test conditions, the situations that are hazardous to motorcyclists. Their testing methods differ, but the intent is the same: to make certain any helmet that meets their standards has life-saving, shock-absorbing minimums.