Which helmet is safer?

Photo of author
Written By Dominic Howard

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, bicycle, skateboard, scooter, or other wheeled vehicle can literally be a lifesaver. Helmets significantly reduce the risk of serious head injuries in the event of an accident. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69% and reduce the risk of brain injury by 74%.

But not all helmets are created equal when it comes to safety. There are several different types of helmets to choose from, each with its own features, benefits, and levels of protection. As you shop for a new helmet, it’s important to understand the different types available and the factors that impact safety so you can make an informed decision.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing the safest helmet for your needs and budget. We’ll compare helmet types, safety ratings, special features, and other key considerations as we answer the question: which helmet is safer?

Helmet Types

There are five main types of helmets to choose from:

  • Full-face helmets
  • Modular/flip-up helmets
  • Open-face helmets
  • Off-road/motocross helmets
  • Half helmets

Full Face Helmets

Full-face helmets offer the most complete protection of all helmet types. As the name suggests, they completely encase the head and face with a solid shell. The chin bar helps support the structure while also protecting the face in the event of a crash. Full-face helmets are the top choice for most street motorcycle riders as they provide maximum coverage.


  • Covers the entire head including the chin and face
  • The sturdy chin bar provides facial protection
  • The aerodynamic design cuts wind noise
  • Face shield protects eyes from dust/debris
  • Less wind interference due to the enclosed design
  • Lower risk of branches, rocks, and insects in the face

Potential Drawbacks:

  • Heavier and bulkier than other styles
  • Can feel hot in warm weather
  • Face shield prone to fogging
  • Restricted vision to the sides

Modular/Flip-Up Helmets

Modular helmets, sometimes called flip-up helmets, offer a versatile combination of protection and convenience. They function as full-face helmets but have a hinged chin bar that allows you to flip up the front when you need better visibility or want airflow.


  • Can convert chin bar to open-face style
  • Offers full face protection when needed
  • Increased visibility and communication when flipped up
  • Easy to eat/drink without removing the helmet

Potential Drawbacks:

  • Heavier than open-face designs
  • Weaker chin bar structure
  • More expensive than basic open face
  • Parts prone to breakage over time

Open Face Helmets

As the name indicates, open-face helmets leave your face completely exposed. This style resembles a traditional bike helmet with no chin bar. Open-face helmets are commonly worn for cruising on lighter motorcycles or scooters. They provide good visibility and ventilation for relaxed riding.


  • Extremely lightweight and comfortable
  • Allows maximum head visibility
  • Enables easy communication while riding
  • Excellent airflow from front to back
  • Affordable pricing compared to full face

Potential Drawbacks:

  • Does not protect the face or chin
  • Increased wind noise
  • Higher chance of bugs/debris in the face
  • Eyes need shielding from elements

Off-Road/Motocross Helmets

Motocross or off-road helmets are made specifically for dirt biking and intense trail riding. They utilize advanced ventilation systems, chin bars, and visor peaks to accommodate rigorous activity. Most feature snap-on face shields for eye protection from mud/rocks.


  • Aggressive styling matches motocross culture
  • Chin bar protects the face from tree branches
  • Goggle-friendly design with more vents
  • Lightweight materials for maneuverability
  • Removable, washable liner and cheek pads

Potential Drawbacks:

  • Not intended for street use
  • Less noise insulation than street models
  • Less secure fit than full-face designs
  • Visibility compromised by the peaked visor

Half Helmets

Half or “shorty” helmets are a smaller, minimalist version of the open-face. They cover the top half of your head and generally end above the ears. Half helmets are popular among cruiser riders seeking a classic, low-profile look.


  • Iconic retro styling
  • Extremely light and comfortable
  • Allows maximum visibility
  • Easy to pack for storage or transport
  • Low-cost option

Potential Drawbacks:

  • Does not protect the sides or rear of the head
  • No mechanisms to secure fit
  • Increased noise from the wind
  • Higher risk of motion to the front
  • Lacks advanced safety features

Helmet Safety Ratings

Once you’ve decided on a general helmet style, the next key factor is the safety rating. Helmet safety standards indicate how well the helmet absorbs impacts and protects against penetration. The higher the safety score, the safer the helmet.

The two primary safety standards are:

  • DOT (Department of Transportation)
  • SNELL (Snell Memorial Foundation)

DOT Rating

The DOT rating is the minimum federal safety standard that all helmets sold in the U.S. must meet. To earn DOT certification, a sample helmet must pass impact absorption tests, resist penetration, and meet basic requirements for peripheral vision and chin strap strength.

While the DOT standard is better than no certification at all, it represents only a baseline level of protection. DOT does not require helmets to be re-tested over time as manufacturing processes change. The DOT sticker inside a helmet simply confirms it met requirements at the time it was manufactured.

SNELL Rating

The SNELL Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organization that conducts rigorous independent testing on helmets. The SNELL certification process examines the helmet’s abilities to distribute impact, resist penetration, and withstand multiple forceful blows. Helmets must pass SNELL’s testing criteria to earn SNELL certification.

SNELL re-tests helmets every five years with updated criteria to ensure they incorporate the latest safety advancements. All SNELL-certified helmets will also meet DOT standards, as DOT is less stringent. If you want the highest level of safety, look for the SNELL sticker when shopping for a new helmet.

Other Safety Considerations

Beyond DOT and SNELL ratings, there are other important factors that enhance (or reduce) a helmet’s safety:

  • Weight – Lighter helmets help prevent neck fatigue but may lack reinforcement. Heavier helmets offer more protection at the cost of comfort. Look for the right balance.
  • Inner EPS Foam Density – EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam lining absorbs impact. Higher-density EPS provides reinforcement but reduces comfort.
  • Outer Shell Hardness – The outer plastic shell resists penetration. Harder shells distribute force but can be noisy. Look for an optimal hardness ratio.
  • Price – Up to a point, higher cost often indicates higher safety levels and feature sets. But many quality mid-range helmets offer excellent protection.
  • Fit – A helmet only works properly when it fits correctly. It should be snug with no shifting and allow space for some hair/glasses.
  • Shape – Optimal protection requires a shape that matches your head profile. Round, intermediate oval, and long oval are the most common.
  • Coverage – More coverage equals more protection. Prioritize full solid shell designs over half helmet styles.
  • Extras – Additional features like MIPS, Bluetooth, and tinted visors enhance the functionality but not necessarily safety.

Finding the Right Fit

The right fit is one of the most critical factors when selecting a new motorcycle helmet. An ill-fitting helmet won’t provide adequate protection even if the construction quality is excellent. Here are some tips for getting the best-fitting helmet for comfort and safety:

  • Measure Head Size – Use a soft measuring tape to determine your head circumference in inches or centimeters. This will help narrow your search to helmets in the appropriate size range.
  • Try It On – There is no better test than trying on the helmet. It should fit snugly all around your head without any tight pressure points. Slide it on easily but require firm effort to remove.
  • Check Movement – With the chin strap fastened, check for excess movement. Gently try rotating the helmet from side to side and back to front. Very little motion indicates good fit.
  • No Gaps – Look for gaps between your head and lining. If you see any light coming through, the helmet is too big. Tighten or size down.
  • Test Visibility – Lower the visor to ensure it doesn’t obstruct your sightlines. You should have a full field of vision without ducking your chin.
  • Check Pressure Points – Pay attention to any discomfort around the forehead, cheeks, or behind the ears. Look for a helmet that eliminates pressure.
  • Consider Shape – Optimal fit requires a helmet shape that mirrors your head shape. Check brands known for designs that match your profile.
  • Break it In – Like shoes, helmets break in over time. A snug fit may feel tight at first but mold to your contours after a few rides.

A little time invested in finding the right size, shape, and fit will pay major dividends in comfort and safety. Don’t settle for a helmet that doesn’t feel right when worn.

Special Features to Consider

Many helmets now incorporate advanced features to enhance your riding experience. While not always necessary, they provide added functionality for those seeking more than basic protection. Some to consider include:

  • Bluetooth – Wireless integration to enable communication, GPS navigation, and music streaming from your smartphone.
  • Tinted Visor – Built-in sun shield that drops down for quick daylight visibility adjustment. No need to swap visors constantly.
  • Transition Visor – Special visor that transitions from clear to tinted when exposed to sunlight. Similar to photochromic lenses.
  • MIPS – Multi-directional impact protection system uses a low friction liner to reduce rotational forces during crashes.
  • Drop Down Sun Visor – A tinted inner visor easily triggered to drop down with a switch when glare increases.
  • Quick Release Shield – Toolless removal and swapping of external visors for simple cleaning and replacement.
  • Integrated Camera – More helmets now allow you to mount action cameras like GoPro for recording rides or vlogging.
  • Anti-Fog Treatment – Coatings like Pinlock that prevent inner visor fogging in cold or wet conditions.

While features like Bluetooth and cameras add entertainment and convenience, only true safety enhancements like MIPS are worth paying extra for. Prioritize protection over flashy add-ons when comparing helmet options.

The Best Helmet Brands

With so many helmets on the market, it helps to focus your search on models from reputable manufacturers known for safety and innovation. Some of the top brands favored by motorcyclists include:

  • Shoei – Regarded for comfort, aerodynamics, noise control, and high-end features. Consistently top-rated but very expensive.
  • Arai – Excellent safety scores and pioneering use of materials like carbon fiber and dual-density EPS foam. Also pricier but fans insist worth it.
  • Shark – European styling with high-tech designs like integrated sun visors. Very popular for its features and mid-range pricing.
  • HJC – Budget-friendly helmets meeting DOT and SNELL standards. Great balance of protection and value.
  • Bell – Known for advanced features like transition shields and integrated cameras. Reasonable prices with frequent sales and discounts.
  • Scorpion – Innovative use of polymer shell technology for lightweight designs with good ventilation. Value priced.
  • NEXX – European styling with high-tech carbon shells and sun visors built into their helmets. Mid-range pricing.

While cost often reflects quality, even budget brands offer options that meet or exceed minimum safety standards. Don’t assume paying more guarantees you the safest helmet. Carefully assess construction, ratings, testing, and features to find your best match.

The Safest Helmet is the One You’ll Wear

At the end of the day, the single most important factor is choosing a helmet you’ll be comfortable wearing every time you ride. An expensive helmet does nothing if left sitting on the shelf while you ride helmetless. Identify your must-have features, find a solid design within your budget, and ensure the fit is right. With a combination of education and experimentation, you’ll soon be riding safely with the helmet best suited to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I determine which helmet is safer for me?

A: To determine the safest helmet, look for those certified by reputable safety standards such as DOT, ECE, Snell, or MIPS. Consider your intended use, fit, and the type of protection offered.

2. What does DOT, ECE, and Snell certification mean?

A: DOT (Department of Transportation), ECE (Economic Commission for Europe), and Snell are standards that assess helmet safety. Helmets meeting these standards have passed rigorous tests for impact absorption and retention systems.

3. What is MIPS technology in helmets?

A: MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) is a safety feature that reduces rotational forces on the brain during angled impacts. Helmets with MIPS can provide additional protection against certain types of head injuries.

4. Are expensive helmets safer than budget ones?

A: Price isn’t the sole indicator of safety. Look for helmets with proper certifications and features, regardless of price. Research and reviews can help you find a safe and affordable option.

5. Should I choose a full-face or open-face helmet for maximum safety?

A: Both full-face and open-face helmets can be safe, depending on usage. Full-face helmets offer better protection for the face and chin, while open-face helmets provide better visibility and ventilation.

6. How do I ensure the right fit for a safer helmet?

A: A proper fit is crucial for safety. Measure your head’s circumference and try on different sizes within a brand. The helmet should fit snugly but not uncomfortably tight and should not move easily on your head.

7. Can I buy a used helmet and still be safe?

A: It’s recommended to buy a new helmet due to the uncertainty of a used helmet’s history and potential impact damage. Helmets can degrade over time, affecting their ability to protect.

8. Is style a factor in helmet safety?

A: While the style doesn’t directly impact safety, it’s important to choose a helmet you’ll actually wear. A helmet that fits well and feels comfortable is more likely to provide the necessary protection.

9. Are there specific helmets for different activities, like biking and motorcycling?

A: Yes, helmets are designed for various activities. Make sure to choose a helmet that’s appropriate for your intended use, as different activities might require different levels of protection.

10. How often should I replace my helmet for continued safety?

A: Manufacturers generally recommend replacing your helmet every 3-5 years, regardless of visible wear, to ensure optimal protection. If your helmet has been involved in a crash, it should be replaced immediately.


In conclusion, when considering helmet safety, it’s imperative to prioritize those that adhere to the latest safety standards and technologies. While both traditional helmets and advanced models offer protection, helmets with features such as MIPS technology, enhanced ventilation, and a snug fit tend to provide a higher level of safety. Ultimately, the safest helmet is one that fits well, offers optimal impact protection, and meets or exceeds industry safety standards. Remember that individual preferences and activities will also play a role in determining the most suitable helmet for each person. Always prioritize safety and choose a helmet that aligns with your specific needs and activities.

Leave a Comment