How Often Should I Replace My Motorcycle Helmet?
Your motorcycle helmet is one of the most important pieces of safety gear you can use. A quality helmet can save your life in the event of a motorcycle accident. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of brain injuries by 69% and are 37% effective in preventing fatal motorcycle accident injuries to riders. But your helmet is only going to provide the important protection you need if it works properly. As with all pieces of equipment, motorcycle helmets have a lifespan and will eventually need to be replaced.
According to standards established by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a high-quality motorcycle helmet should be replaced within five years of first use, or within seven years from the manufacturing date. Keep in mind that lower quality helmets may have a shorter lifespan.
The Snell Memorial Foundation recommendations are considered industry standard. The nonprofit organization collaborates with scientists and physicians to test and develop standards to improve the effectiveness of helmets used by racecar drivers, motorcyclists, and others who face significant danger of brain injuries due to the activities they participate in. Their helmet safety standards are updated every five years based on new scientific research and the latest manufacturing technology.
Factors Impacting the Lifespan of Your Motorcycle Helmet
Over time, motorcycle helmets will deteriorate as the materials used for the shell and the liner degrade. In general, enough degradation occurs within five years that you’ll need to replace the helmet. However, there are several factors which can impact the lifespan of your helmet:
- Quality – Not all motorcycle helmets are made the same. The materials and workmanship of a helmet will impact its overall quality and durability.
- Maintenance – You can potentially extend the lifespan of your helmet by keeping it clean and storing it correctly when not in use.
- Amount of use – The number of hours the helmet has been worn will impact its lifespan. Occasional riders will generally be able to get a longer lifespan out of their helmet than heavy riders.
How Does a Motorcycle Helmet Protect Your Head?
There are two components of the protection provided by a motorcycle helmet:
- The outer shell
- The inner liner
Protection from the Outer Shell
The outer shell of the helmet is typically made from a material such as carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass or polycarbonate. It provides two important protective functions:
- It dissipates the energy of an impact
- It prevents objects from penetrating your skull
When the outer shell becomes cracked or damaged, it won’t properly dissipate the energy of an impact. In addition, it may lose its ability to effectively prevent a sharp object from penetrating the helmet and your skull. If you can feel the rough fibers forming the shell’s laminate construction or if you can feel a deformation in the shell, then the damage is likely serious enough that you should replace the helmet.
Protection from the Inner Liner
The inner liner of a motorcycle helmet is made from expanded polystyrene (EPS), a lightweight and rigid foam material that is similar to the packaging materials used to protect consumer products such as TVs and computers when they are being shipped. The EPS liner protects your head by absorbing the energy after a high-force impact. By absorbing the energy of the impact, the EPS liner slows down the speed at which your brain rebounds from side to side in your skull. This minimizes bruising to the brain which can result in a serious brain injury.
When your helmet absorbs impact during a motorcycle accident, the EPS liner will compress in the area where the impact was sustained. Once this compression occurs, the EPS will no longer be able to effectively absorb energy. For this reason, you’ll need to replace your helmet anytime you notice compression in the liner after it sustains a high-force impact.
In addition, the EPS liner will degrade over time due to the sweat that gets absorbed while you ride. As the EPS dries out after absorbing this moisture, it shrinks and hardens a little. Every time this occurs, it becomes slightly less effective at absorbing the energy of an impact. For motorcyclists riding approximately 6,000 to 8,000 miles annually, the EPS liner will shrink 3-5% each year. Over time, the liner will shrink enough that it won’t be able to sufficiently absorb the energy of an impact anymore. This is one of the primary reasons why most helmets will no longer provide adequate protection after five years.
Do Motorcycle Helmets Expire?
Motorcycle helmets eventually expire due to the degradation that occurs to the shell and liner. This is why you should always replace your helmet according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, even if it appears to still be in good condition. If you can’t find a specific expiration date in the manufacturer’s guidelines, you should replace the helmet once it’s five years old. If you don’t remember exactly when you purchased the helmet, you can find the manufacturer’s date on a sticker underneath a section of the comfort liner.
It’s important to understand that your helmet can still expire if it hasn’t been used often. When helmets aren’t used regularly, degradation still occurs (albeit more slowly). The rate of degradation will also be faster if you don’t store the helmet in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
How to Determine If Your Helmet Is Still Safe to Use
You should perform regular helmet checks to identify any signs of damage, wear or degradation. During every helmet check:
- Confirm that the EPS liner is firmly attached to the outer shell
- Make sure the clip system is easily secured and functioning properly
- Inspect the outer shell for chips, cracks and other signs of wear
- Make sure all moving parts on the helmet can move freely as intended
- Confirm that the retention straps are attached and not fraying
Should I Replace My Helmet After a Motorcycle Accident?
Regardless of whether your helmet appears to have sustained damage, you should always replace your helmet if you hit your head during a motorcycle accident. If you hit your head, the EPS liner will get compressed to the point where it will no longer effectively absorb impact in a future collision. Sometimes compression will occur on the side of the liner that is adjacent to the outer shell, making it undetectable.
Pushchak Law Can Help After a Motorcycle Accident
If you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident caused by the negligence of another driver, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your damages. At Pushchak Law, we’ve made motorcycle accident cases a primary focus of our practice. Brian Pushchak has helped hundreds of motorcycle accident victims recover the compensation they deserve, and he understands the complex issues impacting your case. This level of specialization and expertise will give you the edge you need when seeking to maximize the value of your compensation.
Mr. Pushchak has developed a unique Informed Decisions™ Approach focused on helping you receive the best possible outcome to your case. This approach keeps you in control over the process at all times. Mr. Pushchak will discuss your case with you in detail to understand your goals. He’ll advise you of your legal rights and options, answering any questions you may have. While he will recommend the best strategy to achieve your desired outcome, you will always have final say on how your case is handled. This ensures Mr. Pushchak remains aligned with your goals throughout the process.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Pushchak Law serves clients in Denver and the surrounding areas of Colorado.
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