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NHTSA Steps Up Motorcycle Helmet Labeling and Performance Testing Requirements


NHTSA Steps Up Motorcycle Helmet Labeling and Performance Testing Requirements

June 20, 2011

A final rule issued May 13, 2011, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revises existing motorcycle helmet labeling requirements and establishes new minimum performance requirements for helmet safety testing. The NHTSA expressly states in the final rule that the amendments to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 are meant “to reduce traumatic brain injury and other types of head injury” — and also to make it “easier for State and local law enforcement officials to enforce State laws requiring the use of helmets meeting that standard.”

Manufacturers of motorcycle helmets, along with helmet retailers — especially those selling novelty helmets — should be aware of the heightened standards and make sure their policies, practices and products comply with these new regulations.

In the final rule, the NHTSA points to research showing that the number of motorcycle fatalities increased annually between 1998 and 2008 (and increased as a percentage of all motor vehicle occupant deaths), that head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents, and that wearing FMVSS 218–compliant helmets reduces the risk of dying in a motorcycle accident by 37 percent. As the BNA reported in its May 31 Product Safety & Liability Reporter (Vol. 39, No. 21), the final rule also notes that increasingly popular novelty helmets, such as the German army-style or “skullcap” helmets, frequently do not comply with NHTSA standards and are often misleadingly labeled by riders or retailers so they appear to have legitimate certification from the Department of Transportation.

Enhanced Label Requirements

The final rule states that it “revises the existing requirements for the ‘DOT’ certification label and other labels and adds new requirements to make it more difficult to label  novelty helmets misleadingly.” Revisions with respect to helmet labeling include:

  • An enhanced DOT certification label, bearing the manufacturer’s name and helmet model, is required. The word “Certified” is now required, along with “FMVSS No. 218.”
  • The size label must state the helmet size in discrete, numerical terms, instead of generally stating that the helmet is “small,” “medium” or “large.”
  • Manufacturers now have increased flexibility for placement of the certification label: between 1 and 3 inches from the lower rear edge of the helmet.

Minimum Performance Requirements

 The final rule establishes minimum performance requirements for tests to ensure helmets retain structural integrity, minimize impact energy in a variety of crash scenarios, resist penetration, and remain securely fastened to the rider’s head. Highlights of these changes include: 

  • The final rule sets a quasistatic load application rate for the helmet retention system.
  • The impact attenuation test has been revised to specify test velocity and tolerance limits and to remove the drop height test specification.
  • The rule provides tolerances for the helmet conditioning specifications and drop assembly weights.

For more information, click here to read the full NHTSA final rule (76 Fed. Reg. 28132).

If you have questions about how these new standards may impact your business, please contact any member of the Goldberg Segalla Product Liability Practice Group.