How Aussies buy motorcycle helmets

7 January 2016
When it comes to buying a motorcycle helmet,what are our attitudes?

To the average person, the act of purchasing and using a motorcycle helmet may seem like an incredibly simple one; enter store, find one that fits, hand over some money, leave, use for the foreseeable future. But the reality is that different motorcyclists have different buying habits and attitudes, as evidenced by a Canstar Blue survey on the subject.

From a safety perspective, our findings are quite reassuring for the most part:

  • Only 14% of motorcyclists had previously or were currently using a helmet after it had been involved in a crash.
  • 83% of motorcyclists knew never to wear a helmet that had been involved in a crash.
  • 71% of motorcyclists knew that when it came to safety standards, not all helmets are created equal.

Particularly interesting is that only 16% of motorcyclists surveyed had ever bought a helmet from overseas, while only 24% had bought a helmet online. Purchasing a helmet online can be tricky as you need to ensure it complies with the correct standards and you run the risk of the helmet not fitting correctly if you didn’t try it on first. If you fail to wear a helmet that complies with our country’s strict standards, you could end up with a fine.

The research also found that the average motorcyclist paid just shy of $380 for their most recent helmet. If you’re keen to spend a bit more though, here are some high-tech versions to check out.

The legal standards

While some laws differ slightly from state to state, Australia as a whole has some of the world’s most strict and comprehensive motorcycle helmet laws, and that’s definitely a good thing. However, if you’re not aware of the legal standards for motorcycle helmets in Australia, here are the basics of what you need to know.

The base standards that motorcycle helmets have to comply with are the Australia/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1698:2006 (as amended) Protective helmets for vehicle users or the European UNECE22.05 Standard. Helmets that comply with this standard will have a sticker or some other mark signifying this.

The main points of the standards are:

  • The helmet needs a means of absorbing impact energy, a means of distributing load, and a retention system. All of these components need to be permanently attached.
  • Nothing fitted to the helmet should be likely to cause injury in the cause of an impact.
  • The retention system (e.g. the chin strap) needs to be adjustable in order to produce tension.

For more information about helmet laws, visit your state’s relevant page. For example, NSW’s laws can be found here.

So what’s in a helmet that can make such a crucial difference in the event of a crash or incident, and what does it do to protect your head?

The construction

A motorcycle helmet is typically comprised of four elements; a rigid outer shell made out of fiberglass (possibly reinforced with Kevlar or carbon fiber), an inner layer of crushable foam, comfort padding, and a retaining system, usually in the form of a chin strap.

The purpose of these elements

The comfort padding plays little to no role in protecting your head in a crash, but the other three parts of the helmet each play their own crucial part in reducing the chances of you sustaining a seriously nasty head injury.

The helmet as a whole is designed to distort and crumple, which will (ideally) expend at least some of the energy otherwise destined for the motorcyclist’s skull. It is designed to take the force from the initial point of impact and redistribute it around the entire helmet, to reduce the chances of the initial impact causing a serious injury or death.

The rigid outer shell is there for two main reasons; to prevent penetration of the helmet by a pointed or jagged object, and to protect the inner liner, which requires support and structure, lest it disintegrate due to abrasion.
The inner liner of foam is designed to crush on impact, extending the stopping time of your head by about six thousandths of a second. This significantly reduces the peak impact to the brain, which can be the difference between life and death. Thicker foam is better, as it gives your head more space and time in which to stop.

The chin strap is simply there to ensure that your helmet stays firmly on your head in the case of a crash, so that your head is fully protected from the start to the end of the impact.

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