Helmet Laws in the United States
Helmet laws are not nationwide. Individual states are responsible for the governance of helmet laws and enforcement. This is important to understand, especially for motorcycle riders that often travel between states.
Views of helmet laws for motorcycle riders are varied. The idea of motorcycle riders as common outlaws has gone by the wayside, but many still hold onto the ideal of motorcycle riding as a symbol of freedom and view helmet laws as a hindrance on those freedoms. Only 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, have universal helmet laws that apply to all riders. 28 states have laws that to certain ages, typically to those under 20 or 17 years old. Only Illinois, Iowa, and the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire have no laws requiring helmet use. For more information visit:
or check out this interactive map:
For bicycle riders, not only are there individual state laws, but also local ordinances governing the required use of bicycle helmets. These laws and ordinances, mostly applicable to those under 18, began being adopted in 1987 and quickly became a national trend, though it is still not consistent across all 50 states. Currently 22 states, including the District of Columbia, have statewide laws with 201 local ordinances within those states. Some local ordinances require bicycle riders of all ages to wear helmets. For more detailed information, including maps, examples of state laws, and links to additional information visit:
Consumer Protection Information
The Consumer Protection Safety Committee (CPSC) provides consumers with information on what are the correct helmets to wear for certain recreational activities. On their website, they have charted a table that outlines the proper types of helmet for each activity and the safety standard that appropriate helmets should abide to. Find the guide and table at:
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a non-profit, voluntary standards development organization, provides standards to which manufacturers must comply with to meet their approval for the proper level of protection provided by a helmet design. Different standards apply to different recreational activities. For skateboarding and roller-skating standards see:
For snow sports (skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, etc.) see:
Helmet Safety Standards Around the World
In the United States, there are three primary organizations that test, or at least provide safety standards, for helmets. The Department of Transportation provides safety standard for helmet used for motor vehicles can be ridden on public roads. Helmets with DOT approval are not necessarily tested by the DOT, but are supposed to be tested by the manufacturer to meet the requirements of the DOT. Not really a fool proof system, but it is better than nothing. For more information see:
The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218, provides governmental standards for helmet protection levels. Keep in mind these are only minimum performance requirements and are similar to DOT standards. For more details see:
In the United States, the leading authority on helmet safety standards is the Snell Memorial Foundation (SNELL). The foundation was established in1957 after the death of Pete “William” Snell, a popular sports car racer at the time. SNELL sets the bar high for safety standards with helmets. Helmets that carry the SNELL tag must be tested by the foundation, not just the manufacturer. For more information see:
European Safety Standards
On the European side there is Certification Experts (CE) Solutions
CE Solutions provides product certification assistance for manufactures seeking to market their products in the European community. Products must meet the standards of European safety requirements.
The big difference between CE Solutions certification and product certification in the US is that the European standards are legal obligations and are required for allowance into European markets. US standards are not required, but are typically looked for by US consumers.
CE Solutions also follows the American UL and FM certification, the Canadian CSA certification and the Chinese CCC certification.
The following is an example of a CE EN Standard:
THE CE EN 1385 STANDARD: (White Water)
There are six major requirements:
1. Field of vision.
Making sure the helmet design does not interfere with the user’s field of vision
2. Extent of coverage
Making sure the helmet covers all necessary parts of the head
3. Shock absorbing capacity
The most important is the shock absorbing capacity of the helmet. This is tested in a specialized instrument where the helmet is dropped with the speed of 2,5m/s onto a solid metal anvil with a 4 kg metal head inside. Inside the metal head there’s an accelerometer that measures the forces within the impact. The helmets are tested in four conditions: High temperatures (+35ºC), low temperature (0ºC), after artificial aging, and after the helmet has been submerged for 4 hours.
Each helmet is tested on several areas (crown, side, rear & front). The peak acceleration must not exceed 250G for any of the impacts.
4. Retention system performance
This test covers the strength of the retention system (webbing), as well as its effectiveness, i.e. the webbings ability to keep the helmet securely positioned on the head.
After being submerged for at least 4 hours, the helmet must float to the surface.
After all these tests the helmet should not show any damage that would cause any additional damage to the wearer.
A helmet tested to the CE En 1385 standard is not intended for use in white water class V and VI as given by ICF, due to the nature of the test standards. Helmets for use in white water class V and VI, are outside the scope of the CE En 1385 Standard. It is expected that these helmets will have performance requirements in excess of this standard
For information on helmet laws and requirements in Canada see:
For information on helmet laws and requirements in Australia see: