43% DOT helmets fail tests: A deeper analysis



Alright that’s enough giggling, had enough of your racket on the last article as well. Can’t a man even make fun of other less competent men in peace? Jesus, what has the world come to.

Saw this article on Rideapart, and the headline is quite troubling, “DOT Helmet Failure Rate Increases To 43 Percent“. A cursory look at the article made the headline look rather clickbait-y, but I used Rideapart to go to the source at Ultimatemotorcycling, and their headline was much more realistic and subdued. Then I used Ultimatemotorcycling to look at the actual data, and things aren’t as bad as they would seem.

Are roughly 50% of all DOT certified helmets actually failing inspections, and hence unsafe to use? Short answer is NO, long answer is also NO.

Short summary of the articles

DOT is a US based self-certification type of system. The Govt. doesn’t test helmets directly before they go out for sale, they try to scare the companies into testing themselves, with the Govt. then picking random samples from the market to determine if the helmets are safe enough or not. If not, big fines and recalls.

As Boeing’s self-certification of the 787 Max would tell you, it’s not the greatest idea to allow violently capitalist institutions to regulate themselves, but that’s where we are now. The data released by NHTSA on the random sample testing seems to imply that a substantial number of companies are selling unsafe helmets.

The “failure” of a helmet during testing can either be a relatively minor problem of mislabeling, or the major one of performance failure. The data indicates that performance failures in 2019 are at a staggering 43%.

The data

I’m only going to look at the data for the last 3 years, because that’s the generally accepted life of a helmet, and I can’t be bothered to look further.

Here are the actual helmets that failed since 2017. The ones marked in red are the failures from well-known brands:

I then picked up only the famous brands and looked at the individual failure reports, below is a table of that data, with links to the reports if you want to check them out for yourselves.

BrandModelFailure typeReason for failureLink to report
HJCIS-CRUISERFAIL LabelingLable not permanenthttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645995
HJCRPHA 90FAIL LabelingLable not permanenthttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645994
SPEED AND STRENGTHSS1710FAIL LabelingLable not permanenthttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645997
AGVOF32 (RP60)FAIL Performance, LabelingImpact durationhttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645537
HJCIS-5FAIL LabelingLable not permanenthttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645540
ICONALLIANCEFAIL LabelingLable not permanenthttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645541
AGVOP03 (BLADE)FAIL PerformanceImpact durationhttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645216
SHARKSKWALFAIL LabelingMissing manufacturer identificationhttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645191
SHIROSH-61 APPFAIL LabelingMissing manufacturer identificationhttps://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/acms/cs/documentList.xhtml?docType=CTR&docId=645206

In those same years, you can see below all the well-known brands and their helmets that passed without any trouble:

The analysis

There are only 2 helmets from popular brands that failed for performance:

1. AGV OF32 (RP60)

The reason for failure in both cases was the same:

S5.1 Impact Attenuation. (b) Accelerations in excess of 200g exceeded a cumulative duration of 2.0 ms: Low temperature sample, right location, flat anvil, 2nd impact, 2.1 ms.

As far as I understand, this failure happened because the acceleration of 200g happened for 2.1 milliseconds, whereas the limit set by the Govt. is 2 milliseconds.

I don’t know how important 0.1 milliseconds of extra acceleration is, but it doesn’t sound too bad.

Could an expert please tell me more if I’m wrong?

So overall, considering the number of popular helmets that passed, and only 2 helmets from AGV failing on performance, I’d say the whole overreaction about the statistics was unwarranted.

All the helmets that failed on performance are from unknown, rather sketchy sounding companies. Why anyone would buy a safety device from a company named Badass Helmets is beyond me, most of the failed helmets seem to be the upside-down bowl of spaghetti kind, popular with cruiser riders.

These people need to start making some good choices with their helmets, and their bikes.

The end

Yes the whole self-certification thing is stupid, yes the sample size tested by the Govt. is too small, yes we need a unified system of helmet certification that can be trusted.

But the data itself doesn’t show that things are too bad. DOT marked helmets from reputable brands continue to be safe, and there’s no reason to doubt that has changed.

Look mommy, I can write not completely useless stuff as well sometimes!

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  1. Sitaram PR

    Kudos!! Well researched article.
    When i read the article, was taken back seeing that 43% of helmets fail DOT. But yeah..it is fermented cat vomit :):) (in your words).
    Keep the articles coming !!