Full Face Motorcycle Helmets (Types of Helmets - Part 1 of 4)

Full Face Motorcycle Helmets

A full face motorcycle helmet is the most common type of helmet you’ll see on the road. This is the style most traditionally associated with what a motorcycle helmet “looks like.” It’s also the style that provides you the best protection.

It seems odd that this is a claim which would need to be defended, but one common claim you’ll hear among “anti-helmet” riders is that full face motorcycle helmets actually increase your risk of serious injury or death in a crash. The reasoning of this urban legend tends to go along the lines of “wearing a motorcycle helmet increases the odds of a broken neck” then citing such reasons as “the size of a helmet creates more leverage against your neck in a crash” or “the helmet adds weight that makes your neck break more easily, like an orange on a toothpick.” Most people who tell this also cite some personal experience like “I knew a guy who had a motorcycle helmet and broke his neck.”

So, rather than arguing, let’s look at the statistics.

First, let’s just deal with the broken neck claim. The first thing to say is that, yes, a motorcycle helmet increases the weight of your head. But the question is whether that increases your risks. Interestingly, some surveys of the medical literature show a wash when it comes to neck injuries. According to these reports, motorcycle helmet use seems to neither decrease nor increase the incidence of neck injury. And yet, that sort of makes sense. A helmet is protecting your head, not your neck.

Other reports, however, show a large decrease in neck injury amongst riders wearing motorcycle helmets. There is no support, however, for claims that motorcycle helmets actually increase head or neck injury. And most studies show significantly LOWER neck injury amongst helmeted riders involved in a crash. (see Sarkar, S., Peek, C., & Kraus, J.F. (1995) Fatal Injuries in Motorcycle Riders According to Helmet Use. Journal of Trauma, 38(2): 242-245. )

So if wearing a helmet doesn’t pose an increased risk to your neck, what about your head?

The leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes is head injury. Period.

(see: U.S. Department of Transportation/National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, State Legislative Fact Sheet)

Second, the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Authority) estimates, based on cold hard crash statistics, that a rider without a helmet is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and 15% more likely to suffer a nonfatal head injury than a helmeted motorcyclist. Add that up and an unhelmeted rider is 55% more likely to suffer either a serious or fatal head injury in a crash.

Is that a coin flip you’re willing to take?

Some would say yes, and there are understandable reasons some people choose to accept that risk. But please understand that the claims that wearing a motorcycle helmet actually INCREASES the odds of injury or death are just plain false. The facts support the undeniable conclusion that you are far, far safer with a motorcycle helmet than without one.

But look, I get it. There are some reasons people don’t want to wear a motorcycle helmet. And I sort of forgot that this post was going to be about full faced helmets, so let’s get back to it. How bout a convenient transition:

Some of the reasons people don’t like to wear motorcycle helmets have to do with the experience of using a full faced helmet.

There ya go, now we’re transitioned. Right then. Here’s a picture of a full-faced motorcycle helmet to the left, in case you're a newbie and need a visual here. (The helmet pictured is an Arai RX7 Corsair Full Face Helmet by the way).

So, let's talk helmets. A full faced helmet provides the best possible protection in the event of a crash, but for certain people there are some downsides.

First, if you live in a warmer climate, a full faced motorcycle helmet can get hot. Really hot. Fortunately manufacturers have provided some creative solutions, mostly involving vents in the helmet. These can do a lot of good, and a vented helmet is critical if you have to ride in hot weather, but it’s still true that these helmets can get hot.

Second, there is the “purity” argument. Part of why we all love to ride is the feeling of being connected with the experience. You all know what I mean. There’s a sense of being at one with the road and with the ride that you get when you’re on a bike that just can’t be reproduced in a car. And there are people who feel that a full face motorcycle helmet disconnects them from this experience. You lose the wind on your face, you’ve got a shield between you and the world, and you feel less connected with the ride. These are legitimate arguments, and they need to be balanced against the risks incurred by wearing a less protective helmet. I’ll be discussing all these other sorts of helmets in the posts to come.

There’s one final point before I wrap it up. And again, it’s not about telling you which motorcycle helmet to buy (though obviously my own opinion is clear). Rather it’s about understanding the risks and making your own decision with complete knowledge.

So the fact is this: statistics show that 35% of crashes involve severe impact to the chin area. The full face motorcycle helmet is the only design which provides protection in this type of crash.*

Ultimately the decision is yours, but it’s at least important to understand the consequences of the decision. So one consequence of not buying a full face helmet is a statistically significant increase in the odds of severe trauma to your mouth and jaw in the event of a crash.

Again, I’m not trying to scare anyone here, I just fully believe in helping people understand the variables involved in important decisions.

So, let’s recap.

Full Face Motorcycle Helmets - Pros and Cons

Pros: Hands down best possible protection. Keeps you warm in a cold climate. Huge variety of styles and colors.

Cons: Can get hot. Feeling detached from the “pure” riding experience. Some say reduced hearing (disputable).

*Much of this discussion also applies to “hybrid” helmets. Also known as modular or flip-up motorcycle helmets, which I’ll discuss in the next post. They’re sort of a variant of the full face motorcycle helmets, not entirely apart from the discussion here.


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carrhall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
carrhall said...

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