Federal Helmet Testing – Pass/Fail Rates

The Truth About Motorcycle Helmets

By Kim McCallister

The National Highway Traffic, Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted a number of compliance tests of motorcycle helmets over the years to determine if the helmets were in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218 (FVMSS218). In the last 15 years, there have only been 2 years that more helmets have passed than failed.

In trying to help Teri gather information to give to our legislators, we came across a fact sheet from CMT/ABATE of Tennessee that had test report figures on how many helmets had passed and failed from 1980 to 1986. Teri asked me to get the current figures, So that we could put them all together. So I called NHTSA, and requested a list of how many helmets were tested, how many passed and how many failed for the years 1985 to present. What I received from them astounded me.

First of all, they couldn’t print a report with only the information I requested. So they sent me a complete report for each year, listing all information for each helmet tested, including failure codes and the Non-Compliance Investigation number, if any. Now all this was about a 6 to 8 inch stack of paper, for which they charged us around $54, copying charge. The information I wanted, a list of how many helmets were tested, how many passed, and how many failed, is listed below (1980-1993).

               YEAR           TESTED     PASSED       FAILED
               1980            162         99           63
               1981            103         50           53
               1982 Test results were not submitted
               1983 Test results were not submitted
               1984             32         11           21
               1985             32         32            0
               1986             30         30            0
               1987 No Helmets were tested
               1988 No Helmets were tested
               1989             30         24            6
               1990             30         26            4
               1991             47         31           16
               1992             30         23            7
               1993             31         20           11
               1994            167         See following paragraph
               1995     No testing conducted so far this year

1994 was an interesting year. There were a total of 167 helmets tested, From the information I have, 128 failed, and 39 passed. What is so interesting about this year is that in FMVSS218, it calls for helmets to be conditioned In 4 different ways, These are,

(a) Ambient conditions – Expose to a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and a relative humidity of 50 percent for 12 hours

(b) Low temperature – Expose to a temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) for 12 hours

(c) High temperature – Expose to a temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) for 12 hours

(d) Water Immersion – Immerse in water at a temperature of 71 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) for 12 hours

Each model helmet must pass the tests under all 4 conditions, So the testing facility obtains 4 helmets of each model to be tested. and conditions one of each model in each of the 4 ways listed, (The description of the conditioning was taken directly from FVMSS218). In the years from 1985-1993, each model did indeed have 4 helmets of each model tested, But in 1994, only 18 helmets had 4 of each model tested; of those 18 only 4 passed. There were 2 helmets that had 2 of each model tested; neither of those 2 Passed. Of the remaining 128, only 1 helmet of each model was tested; only 35 of those 128 passed.

What bothers me about those 128 helmets that only had one of each model tested is that there is no indication of which conditions they were tested under. Or did they ‘ just take one helmet, test I under the first conditions, then submit it to the next set of conditions, and so on? There is no way to tell from what they sent to me. And why did they deviate from FVMSS218, that says they have to pass under all 4 conditions?

It doesn’t make much sense to me that we have a federal government that makes these standards; tells all states that they have to have a helmet law or have highway construction funds redirected to safety programs; then can’t even seem to follow their own standards. It doesn’t make me feel safer with a helmet on my head that may or may not pass the standard, yet has a DOT sticker saying that the manufacturer certifies that it posses FVMSS218. It is obvious to me from their own data on helmet testing that just because it has a DOT sticker, doesn’t mean a hill of beans, And this information that I got Is not readily obtainable to the consumer. I had to make several long distance calls, get sent to different divisions, get put on hold several times, and pay $54 for the copies. It is not an ordeal that I would want to go through every time I wanted to purchase a helmet. The problem is that NHTSA or the DOT do not certify helmets. Helmet manufacturers self certify their own helmets, and then NHTSA does the testing randomly. If the helmet does not pass the tests, they open a non-compliance investigation. That might be fine, except that if you notice the table to the left, from 1982 through 1993, the most helmets tested in one year was 47, I am quite positive that in those 11 years, they did not test each model helmet available in this country that carries the DOT sticker. So how am I, as a consumer, to know if the helmet I purchased is actually going to protect me in an accident? If the government can’t prove to me, absolutely and positively, that the helmet I am wearing is going to save my life, why should they tell me that I have to wear a helmet. Let that be my choice. If we are going to go that far, let’s outlaw fast food. Studies have proved that a reduced fat intake will prevent heart disease, so let’s outlaw fat and all food that has fat in it. Oat bran has been proven to help reduce fatty deposits already in the blood, and also prevents heart disease. So let’s make it a law that everyone has to have a daily ration of oat bran, even if we have to mandate that all foods contain a certain amount of oat bran. Does that make sense? Makes perfect sense to me.

We need to remind our lawmakers that when they take office, they swear to uphold time Constitution of the United States, not try to find ways around it. Mandating that states Pass Certain laws and suffer penalties if they don’t, is a violation of the 10th Amendment, The federal governments rote is very clearly defined in the Constitution, and we would be much better off if they would stick to what they are supposed to do. What if one session of Congress was solely devoted to repealing stupid, outdated laws? What a concept, get rid of what we don’t need, and enforce what is already there, instead of passing a new law to deal with every little problem that comes along.

ABATE of Georgia has a motto – Education. Not Legislation. We firmly believe that rider education is the answer, not helmet laws. We have recently demonstrated that with our legislation to modify out Georgia helmet law. In HB227, it states that to have freedom of choice on helmet use. you must be over 21, and have passed a state approved Rider Safety Course. So the education comes first, then the adult would have the freedom to make his or her own choice. Makes sense to me.

Thomas Jefferson said on September 28, 1820 – “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”

Think About It!