motorcycle helmet facts versus fiction: debunking common myths

Despite the obvious safety benefits of helmets, many riders still find reasons to reject them. In these cases, rebels have a major cause for concern. Get the facts and see why there's never a good reason to hit the road without your helmet.

are motorcycle helmets required?

Currently, 19 states have a universal helmet law. There are 28 other states with only a partial law for certain riders, and 3 others (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) that have no helmet law at all.

The fact that so many states allow riders leeway when it comes to helmets could be a big reason for the misguided doubt about their usefulness. How much doubt? Shockingly, only 34 to 54 percent of riders opt for helmets on their own if they're not legally required.

But here's the truth: the helmet is the single most critical piece of motorcycle safety gear. Riders without helmets are roughly 40 percent more likely to suffer fatal head injuries in a crash than those wearing them. So whether or not your state mandates helmets, protecting your head while riding is always a brainy idea.

6 myths you should know

There are a number of rationalizations motorcyclists use to hit the road sans helmet. And they're all baloney! We'll sort out motorcycle helmet facts from fiction so you can ride with a clear head.

Myth: helmets damage your neck and spine

Helmets add weight to your head, which causes some to believe they pose added risk to your neck and spinal cord in an accident. This is wildly untrue. Motorcycle helmets are designed to absorb the impact of your head hitting the ground or other obstacle. And less impact at the crash point means less impact on your neck and spine. Naturally, helmeted riders suffer far fewer significant spinal injuries than exposed ones.

Myth: helmets impair your hearing

If anything, the opposite is true. Some helmets have actually been proven to help block out distracting wind noise, which could make it easier to pick up important traffic sounds, such as sirens or passing cars. At the very least, wearing a helmet won't make it any harder to hear your surroundings.

Myth: helmets don't work at high speeds

Because the Department of Transportation (DOT) tests helmets by dropping them from a 6-foot height, which produces a 13-mph impact, many people (mistakenly) assume this means helmets only work if your motorcycle is traveling at 13 mph or less. Not the case.

The truth is this 13 mph doesn't have anything to do with the speed of your bike, but rather the speed of your head when it hits the ground. See, in roughly 90 percent of accidents, riders fall from their bikes from a 6-foot height, striking the ground at roughly 13 mph, which is why the DOT tests the way it does. Rest assured, your helmet can easily function if the bike itself is going faster than 13 mph.

Myth: helmets don't allow safe peripheral vision

Actually, all DOT-compliant helmets are required to provide at least 210-degree vision. This is more than enough to account for normal peripheral vision, which is only about 180 degrees. In other words, everything you normally see will still be visible when you slap on your dome.

Myth: helmets make you less careful

On the contrary, according to some studies, it's the riders wearing the most gear (helmets included) who tend to drive the safest. While this might seem counterintuitive, it only makes sense that the same cautious impulses leading some riders to dress safely would extend to their actual riding habits, too. At any rate, there is no evidence to show that helmeted riders behave more recklessly than exposed ones.

Myth: "I've never worn a helmet and I'm fine. I don't need one."

Don't confuse luck with invincibility. Motorcycle riders are about 16 times as likely to have a fatal crash as automobile drivers. Fortunately, wearing a helmet can reduce that fatality risk by roughly one-third, meaning if your luck on the road runs out, you'll certainly be glad you played it safe.

the (very real) benefits of motorcycle insurance

One more important myth worth dispelling is that wearing a helmet automatically prevents accidents. While we wish this were the case, no amount of safety gear can guarantee an incident-free ride.

Luckily, there's motorcycle insurance. Just like your helmet, motorcycle coverage kicks in exactly when you need it most to help you recover from trouble.

Flexible options such as collision, comprehensive, and medical payments coverage can help pay for costly injury and bike-repair bills stemming from an accident. Plus, when you select comprehensive coverage (or comprehensive and collision coverages) on policies from Esurance, you receive $3,000 of optional equipment coverage at no added cost to you. Get your free motorcycle insurance quote today.

State-by-state regulations
Find out more about the specific motorcycle helmet laws in your state.

Car insurance myths
Learn the truth about widespread whoppers facing today's drivers.

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