The standard was revised because NHTSA became concerned when injuries and fatalities among motorcyclists increased for 11 consecutive years.

NHTSA Updates Motorcyclists' Helmet Rule

The new certification label will bear the manufacturer's name and helmet model and the words "DOT FMVSS No. 218 Certified."

Motorcyclists' helmets are about to change. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a final rule on May 13 that took effect immediately and is meant to decrease the use of "novelty" helmets while making it more difficult to sell helmets with markings that resemble the current "DOT" label showing compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, the motorcycle helmet safety standard issued in 1973.

NHTSA says 5.2 million helmets are sold annually. Its text says 54 percent of motorcyclists in 2010 wore a FMVSS No. 218-compliant helmet, 14 percent wore novelty helmets, and 32 percent did not wear a helmet. "These figures represent a significant reduction in FMVSS No. 218-compliant helmet use compared to 2009, when the comparable figures were 67 percent, 9 percent and 24 percent," according to the agency. "This reduction in FMVSS No. 218-compliant helmet use is especially significant in the jurisdictions (20 States and the District of Columbia) with universal helmet use laws where the use of compliant helmets dropped from 86 percent in 2009 to 76 percent in 2010 and the use of novelty helmets increased from 11 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010. This 11 percentage point increase in novelty helmet use in jurisdictions with universal helmet use laws between 2009 and 2010 is evidence of the difficulty encountered by law enforcement officials in enforcing helmet use laws."

The standard was revised because NHTSA became concerned when injuries and fatalities among motorcyclists increased for 11 consecutive years, until the current recession halted that streak. Deaths more than doubled, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, from 2,116 deaths in 1997 to 5,290 deaths in 2008, and the age group with the largest increase in fatalities (from 760 in 1998 to 2,687 in 2008) was motorcyclists ages 40 and older.

FMVSS No. 218 includes energy attenuation, penetration resistance, chin strap structural integrity, and labeling requirements for on-road motorcycle helmets. According to NHTSA research published in 2004, wearing a helmet certified as conforming to FMVSS No. 218 reduces the risk of dying in a motorcycle crash by 37 percent. NHTSA says its tests of novelty helmets found that they failed all or almost all of the safety performance requirements in the standard.

The new certification label will bear the manufacturer's name and helmet model and the words "DOT FMVSS No. 218 Certified."

If 10 percent of the motorcyclists now wearing novelty helmets switch to compliant ones, the new rule could save 75 lives, NHTSA says.

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