Transportation Deployment Casebook/2014/Motorcycle Helmet Usage

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Modern Motorcycle Helmets

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Motorcycle helmets are a safety device motorcyclists put on their heads to protect from concussion and penetration from foreign objects. A visor protects the riders' eyes from debris while also allowing him/her to see and air vents provide cooling in warmer weather. Helmets were introduced during WWII, to lessen fatal motorcycle accidents. Motorcycle helmets have developed over time to better protect riders and their passengers. Helmet use has grown through the years relaying heavily on the law to encourage usage among motorcyclists. The life cycle of motorcycle helmet use has yet to reach full maturity, as there has been lack of Federal will to re-implement a national law prohibiting motorcyclists from riding without a helmet. This is due to the legal and cultural issues surrounding motorcycle helmet usage.

Motocross helmet early 60s

History[edit | edit source]

Motorcycle specific helmets were first formally researched by Sir Hugh W.B. Cairns. Born in Australia but a practicing neurosurgeon in the UK, Cairns was inspired to study the effects of brain trauma when a British hero, T.E. Lawrence, died. T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, became a well-known figure when he was written and lectured about by American journalist Lowell Thomas. Lawrence had worked in the Middle East helping to fight the Turkish Armies in WWI and helped establish the country of Jordan. Once Lawrence returned to the UK he had a brief spell with the Royal Air Force and then retired to Clouds Hill in Dorset England. Lawrence would meet his end riding a Brough Superior, after swerving to avoid two young boys in the street. He sustained head trauma and was in a coma for five days. He was not wearing a helmet, it was 1935 and for the most part only racers wore helmets at the time; Lawrence died never recovering from his coma. Cairns was so effected by the death of T.E. Lawrence that he begun to research how to protect those who rode motorcycles from head injuries. He ended up coming up with two helmet types, a vulcanized rubber helmet, and a pulp helmet. He stated that From these experiences there can be little doubt that adoption of a crash helmet as standard wear by all civilian motorcyclists would result in considerable saving of life, working time, and the time of hospitals should wear these helmets. That is indeed what happened in 1941 for all military personnel on active duty, but the UK would not get a universal helmet law until 1973.

The United States was first in adapting a universal helmet law that covered all 50 states. The 1966 Highway Safety Act induced all states to create a universal helmet law. If States did not, then they would lose 10% of their highway funding. This legislation passed, but it was highly disliked by the motorcycling community. The American Motorcycle Association stated that it infringed on people’s right to free choice and also argued that motorcycle helmets put motorcyclist in more danger rather than less. Other arguments were based on whether the federal government had the right to withhold funds from states as punishment. By 1976, the 1966 Act had been Amended so that the Federal Government could only withhold funds from States that did not create a law for those riders 17 years and younger. This allowed for states to completely do away with a helmet law for those over the age of 18, or set standards for those who choose not to wear a helmet. In 1991 Congress tried to encourage states to create a universal helmet law by passing the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act. When put into place, States that did not adapt seatbelt and helmet laws had 3% of their highway funding diverted directly to highway safety programs. Those States who did comply got complete control of their grant money. This act was later repealed by Congress by lifting the sanctions on the states that did not create universal helmet laws. As of today 2 States have no helmet law, 27 have a partial helmet law, and only 19 have a universal helmet law.

Description[edit | edit source]

The motorcycle helmet itself is different than other helmets because it is designed specifically for motorcycle riders. The motorcycle helmet comes in three well known designs full-face, half-cover, and 3/4ths helmet. Helmets are designed to fit the circumference of the wearer's head. There are certain brands that carter to different types of head shapes. Brands design preference can usually be learned from trying on different helmets or speaking to more experienced riders. The physical structure of modern day helmets comes in four parts: outer shell, protective padding, comfort padding, retention system.

The outer shell is for dissipating the initial impact, preventing penetration, and preventing abrasive injury. The outer shell can come in three different materials Polycarbonate (PC), Acrylenitrile-Butadiene-Strolye (ABS), and Fibre Reinforced Plastic (FRP). Modern helmets have also used Carbon Fiber to create the outer shell. These are not the only materials used when making motorcycle outer shells however they are the most common. Depending on how stiff the helmet needs to be, dictates the material used. The next layer is the protective padding, the main shock absorbing material in the helmet. The material used most commonly in helmets is Expanded Polystyrene foam. It is between 25 and 40mm thick depending on the styling and aerodynamic needs.

The comfort padding is to increase the wearing comfort of the helmet and provide a good fit for the rider. It has low-density polyurethane foam and normally has a cloth surrounding the foam to wick away sweat. The retention system is to keep the helmet on the head of the rider before and during an impact. The retention system normally consists of a chinstrap and two D-rings. The chinstrap is secured through the pair of D-rings, tightening the helmet. The standard for motorcycle helmets varies from country to country. The United States has the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 set by the Department of Transportation (DOT FMVSS218). The European Union has the Economic Commission for Europe Regulation No. 22 (ECE 22.05). These standards and all others focus on the same performance feature first, impact reduction.

The first helmet standard was created in Britain in 1952. The British Standard Institution (BSI) issued the British Standard, testing consisted of applying shock loads to a helmeted dummy. The measurements would be collected from a gauge put between the helmet and the dummy itself. A wooden block weighing ten pounds would be dropped from a height of nine feet. The criterion stated that the output force could not exceed 5000lbs. BSI formed the basis for modern day standards like Snell, ECE, and DOT. All manufactures create helmets to these standards in order to sell their products in those countries.

Life Cycle, United States[edit | edit source]

Birth[edit | edit source]

As stated earlier, the United States was the first nation with a universal helmet law. This allowed the birth of motorcycle helmet usage to be fairly easy. The nation was developed by 1966, so pricing of helmets was not an issue when introducing helmet use into the market. The biggest obstacle during the birth process was not the economics or technology, but the legal and cultural aspects of helmet use.[1] Helmet usage was seen as a choice among motorcycle organizations like the American Motorcycle Association. Outlaw groups like Hell’s Angels and movies like Easy Rider perpetuated a certain image of the motorcycle rider; the birthing phase of helmet use faced an uphill climb.[2] Magazines like Easy Rider started national campaigns against the 1966 Act. In its 1971 one issue it made the case for its efforts: You, as an individual, can stand on your roof-top shouting to the world about how unjust, how stupid, and how unconstitutional some of the recently passed, or pending, bike laws are—but all you will accomplish is to get yourself arrested for disturbing the peace. Individual bike club scan go before city councils, state legislatures, and congressional committees, but as single clubs, and unprofessional at the game of politics, their efforts are usually futile. . . We need a national organization of bikers. An organization united together in a common endeavor, and in sufficient numbers to be heard in Washington, DC, in the state legislatures, and even down to the city councils

The legality of 1966 Act was also called into question. Did the United States have the right to deny choice from motorcyclists? Many groups equated their right to free choice similar to the woman’s right to choose if she wanted an abortion. In the end, a revision was made to the 1966 Act to remove the tie from highway spending and helmet laws. The counter to that argument, made by Susan Baker an epidemiologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Injury Prevention Center, compared the situation to when scientists, having found a successful treatment for a disease, were impelled to further prove its efficacy by stopping the treatment and allowing the disease to recur.

Growth[edit | edit source]

Regardless of the barriers placed in front of helmet laws, usage has increased with greater helmet technology and faster motorcycles; it peaked in 2000, at 71%. After many states begin to repeal their universal helmet law, helmet usage percentage went down to 48% in 2005. In has since begun to grow again holding steady at 60%.

The growth phase in the United States was helped with the advancement of helmet technology and motorcycle technology. Helmets became safer and cheaper, while also being comfortable and stylish. From 1990-1999, the speed wars were occurring between Japanese manufactures. The goal was to see who could make the fastest motorcycle. By 1999 the Suzuki Hayabusa, from the factory, could go 188mph (one magazine claimed 194mph).[3][4] An agreement between the Japanese was soon made to physical limit speeds, it still stands. It is important to note this was only an agreement, not law.[5] Today’s faster motorcycles play a part in the increase of motorcycle helmet usage. Those who ride motorcycles for speed can top 175mph easily with a few simple, cheap modifications to the common one thousand liter sports bike. These are not the thousand+ liter motorcycles like the Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZX-14R. This could not be said about even the top tier motorcycles of the 1960s and 1970s. Only race bikes, superbikes, and heavily modified road bikes were topping 150mph in that era.

Maturity[edit | edit source]

Assuming that maturation occurred in 2006 at 71%, helmet use in the United States has two paths it can take. It can continue to hover at 60% percent, having reached saturation, but never truly maturing. This would be disappointing from a public health standpoint because we know that helmets do reduce head trauma. The second path is helmet use could go is up, with the increase of motorcycle speeds and the decrease of the Baby Boom generation, who were influenced by films like Easy Rider, helmet use could become more of a necessity. This would lead to a rebirth of helmet use through legislation. Universal helmet laws will be put into place allowing for saturation in untapped markets.

Analysis[edit | edit source]

Using helmet statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation, and Highway Statistics; I was able to find the average number of motorcyclists who wore a helmet from 1960-2013. A regression was run to model the following logistic equation: S(t)=K/[1+Exp(-b(t-t0)]


S(t) is helmet use among riders
t is time
t0 is the inflection time
K Saturation of motorcycle helmet usage
Regression Results
K = 7200
b = 0.737167131595249
t0 = 2004.03194
Adjusted R Square = 0.727780243437936

S-Curve Motorcycle Helmet Usage

Description of Analysis[edit | edit source]

I could not find the exact number of motorcyclists who wore a helmet durimg 1960-2013. However using the percentages gathered by NHTSA, and multiplying those percentages by the number of registered motorcycles collected by the Department of Transportation.[6][7][8] I was able to get a estimation for the number of those who wore helmets in the United States. I choose K to be 7200 because that would be 85% of registered motorcyclists wearing a helmet in the year 2013. From the estimation this should of occured in 2008, so it is clear that some external factors are accounting for the lack of maturation.

Future[edit | edit source]

Moving forward motorcycle helmets will become safer and smarter. The idea of augmented reality glasses already exists with Google Glass, but that will soon be coming to the motorcycling community. The Skully AR-1 will contain Bluetooth, internal speakers, a rearview camera, and a heads-up-display. To top it off the helmet will be voice activated, so all commands can be done without your hands ever leaving the bars.[9] This is an important innovation in helmet technology because it will make motorcycles more appealing for those who enjoy technology for technologies’ sake, and those trying to reenact Iron Man.[10] This technology will hopefully help provide a rebirth in motorcycle helmet legislation, mainly for the addition of a rearview camera. The addition of a backup camera is already mandatory for all cars manufactured after May 1 2018.[11] This could become a mandatory feature for all DOT certified motorcycle helmets as the technology becomes more standardized. It is realistic to think that 10 to 15 years all motorcycle helmet manufacturers will provide at least one helmet in their line-up with a rearview camera and HUD display.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Motorcycle helmet use life cycle process has reached its maturity given helmet laws. Although innovation in both motorcycles and helmets will attract a more diverse and tech savvy crowd, the reality is legislation will be the only way for motorcycle helmet usage to experience a rebirth.

References[edit | edit source]

Works Cited[edit | edit source]

van den Bosch, Henricus Lambertus Antonius. "Crash helmet testing and design specifications." Dissertation Abstracts International 68.02 (2006).

Sass, Tim R., and Paul R. Zimmerman. "Motorcycle helmet laws and motorcyclist fatalities." Journal of Regulatory Economics 18.3 (2000): 195-215.

Jones, Marian Moser, and Ronald Bayer. "Paternalism & its discontents: motorcycle helmet laws, libertarian values, and public health." American journal of public health 97.2 (2007): 208-217.

Houston, David J., and Lilliard E. Richardson. "Motorcyclist fatality rates and mandatory helmet-use laws." Accident Analysis & Prevention 40.1 (2008): 200-208.

Maartens, Nicholas F., Andrew D. Wills, and Christopher BT Adams. "Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Hugh Cairns, and the origin of motorcycle helmets." Neurosurgery 50.1 (2002): 176-180.

Martin, John. The World's Fastest Motorcycles. Capstone, 1994.

Sievert, Terri. The World's Fastest Superbikes. Capstone, 2002.