Helmet Safety: Things a motorcyclist must know about his helmet
Think about the helmet you own. Did you buy it because of its looks, brand appeal, safety features or simply because it was the most affordable? We all know that helmet is the most important riding gear. Yet most riders don’t know what to look out for when choosing the right helmet. We tend to just rely on our friends’ advice. Given that helmet is usually the only safety gear you have on while riding around Singapore, it would make sense to educate yourself on what makes a helmet the right one for you. Here are six considerations when buying your next helmet.
1. Price is not a measure of safety.
Let’s clear this misconception right off the bat. Just because the helmet is expensive does not mean it is a safer bet. Think about it. The last useful innovation made to the motorcycle helmet design was done in 1968. This means that today, even the lower end brands could easily conform to the basic safety standards. All helmets are essentially made up of two main protective layers. The inner softer layer is made up of polystyrene, and the hard outer shell is made from polycarbonate plastic, fiberglass or Kevlar. Everything else on the helmet is the manufacturers way of making it look nicer and wear more comfortably.
In Singapore, all helmets must be certified safe by the organisation called TUV SUD PSB. When helmets are imported, they will undergo batch testing and, when passed, will carry the “PSB TEST SS 9:1992” safety label. You should see the blue sticker at the back of your helmet. That means, regardless of how much or how little you paid for your helmet, it is safe enough for the road. Do note that in Singapore, it is an offence to use a helmet that does not carry this label, even if it came with overseas certifications like DOT and SNELL (USA). If caught, you can be fined. Even if you think that the chances of getting caught are low, think about the consequences to insurance claims in the unfortunate circumstance that you meet with an accident wearing a non-certified helmet.
2. Know what a right fit is
A perfectly fitted helmet can give you a comfortable ride, and more importantly give the best protection your head deserves. In a 2008 study, it was found that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by around 69% and death by around 42%. Wearing an ill-fitting helmet can increase the risks. To get the right fit, you first need to know the size of your head. Place a measuring tape just above your ears and around your forehead. Choose a helmet size based on this measurement. Then you need to be aware of the shape of your head. Most riders don’t realise that the shape of the head can affect the fit of a helmet. Our head can be classified as round, oval or egg shaped.
Majority of brands try to design a helmet that would fit most heads for obvious business reasons. So far, only Arai is known to design helmets according to head shapes. So this means that you have to try on a few helmet models to find which gives you the most comfortable fit. How do you know your helmet has a good fit? First, it should fit evenly around your head. This means, the internal shape of the helmet is close to the shape of your head. The fit should be firm but not tight. Don’t get a loose (and seemingly comfortable) helmet. The internal padding will tend to compact after use, and you might end up with a helmet that is too loose for you and moves too much when you ride. To test it further, hold the helmet while you are wearing it and move it around while you use your head to resist those movements. The helmet shouldn’t be moving more than the internal liner should allow. Then you move your head around to mimic movements while riding. If it is not straining your neck, you have found a good match. If you are thinking of buying your next helmet online, you have to make sure that you have tried on the exact same model at a store.
3. Don’t use your helmet for too long.
Just like your running shoes, the glue holding your helmet materials together and the shell will deteriorate over time. This is true regardless of brand, frequency of use and care. As a rule of thumb, helmets have a five-year life span from the date of manufacturing. When buying the helmet, look for the date of manufacture and make a note of when you should trash it. Your helmet is meant to take the brunt of a crash instead of your head. Don’t skimp on buying a new helmet after its life span. It may look nice on the outside, but the inner layers may not be able to give your head the protection it should. Don’t even think about keeping your “expired” helmet for your pillion riders. They are trusting their lives with you!
4. Save your face
There are five types of motorcycle helmets – full face, flip-up, open face, half helmet and off-road. In hot and humid Singapore, the open face one is naturally the popular choice among riders. But consider this. Studies show that in a crash, 45.3% of all impacts will land on your face. 19.4% will land on your jaw. That should give you enough motivation to use a full face or flip-up to get maximum protection. Getting a little sweaty for the sake of your face is worth it. The half-helmet might look cool and retro, but it offers the least protection. Don’t even think of buying one of those novelty helmets. They may look cool on Instagram, but it won’t be so novel when you crash.
5. Keep your visor clear
Riders don’t pay enough attention to the quality of the visor. Many prefer just to stick with the cheapest that they can get. Keep in mind that lower end visors do not come with anti-scratch properties. Even with good care, such visors will get scratched over time, which will then affect your visibility. Singapore is prone to thunderstorms. Not only does riding becomes dangerous on the wet roads, the rain and fogging of visors reduces visibility. The clarity of your visor could be a life and death issue in such conditions. Plan to change your visor annually.
6. Let your helmet scream
Chances are, you own a black helmet now. Most image conscious riders want a helmet that matches their bike colour. But you know that matching doesn’t come so easily. So most riders tend to settle for a black helmet. After all, black goes with everything. Here is the catch. When in traffic, your helmet is the most visible part of you to those pesky car drivers. So getting a brightly coloured helmet is like sign post screaming out to all the cars to watch out for you.
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