As the weather warms up, more and more motorcyclists will be donning their helmets and hitting the open road. While comfort and style are high on the list of priorities when it comes to finding the right motorcycle helmet, riders should be focusing on the accompanying safety certifications when choosing the proper headgear.
Certification by the Department of Transportation ("DOT"), while necessary for a helmet to be street-legal, says very little about how safe a helmet actually is. Many riders may be surprised to learn that a DOT rating simply indicates that a manufacturer believes that its helmet meets the basic DOT standards, without any requirement for actual testing of the helmet's effectiveness. In fact, studies by the DOT indicated that more than half of all "DOT certified" helmets actually failed DOT's lab tests (studies available at nhtsa.gov).
Fortunately, there are independent foundations that offer more stringent certifications than DOT, most notably SNELL. Unlike DOT certification, SNELL certification indicates that a helmet has been subjected to rigorous testing and has met stringent safety standards. Although SNELL certification is voluntary, riders who want the most protective headgear should seek out products with this additional safety designation.