In the State of Washington, RCW 46.37.530; Motorcycles-Helmets and other equipment rules, is the state law that requires a helmet to be worn while operating a motorcycle. Specifically subsection (3) states; “For the purposes of this section, “motorcycle helmet” means a protective covering for the head consisting of a hard outer shell, padding adjacent to and inside the outer shell, and a neck or chin strap type retention system, with the manufacturer’s certification applied in accordance with 49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218 indicating that the motorcycle helmet meets standards established by the United States department of transportation.” With that being said, we must understand what “49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218” means.
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations (FMVSS) the required standards are established and set. Washington State law adopted the standards. Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 571-Standard 218 (49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218) sets the minimum standards for a legal helmet in the United States. A bit of trivia, FMVSS sets the minimum standards for all motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment (seat belts, mirrors etc.) sold in the United States. You will be able to identify a legal helmet when you understand these minimum standards.
That’s a very long document, so I’ll make this as simple as possible. There are two dead (no pun intended) giveaways in identifying an illegal helmet:
• FMVSS 218 compliant motorcycle safety helmets will have a firm inner liner of polystyrene foam that is about one inch thick. In some helmets this may covered by a comfort liner, but you can feel the thickness. Non-compliant helmets normally contain no liner or thin soft foam padding. Layman’s language, if you don’t have a minimum of one-inch padding between your head and the hard outer shell of the helmet, it’s not legal.
• The neck or chin strap retention system must be secured and made of metal fasteners.
These two, of many helmet requirements are the two easiest identifiable requirements. If a motorcyclist is riding with a helmet that doesn’t meet these easily spotted requirements, an officer has probable cause to make a traffic stop on the rider. Once the rider is stopped there are other regulations that will prove the helmet is what we call, a “Novelty Helmet.”
• Compliant motorcycle safety helmets will have the symbol “DOT” permanently installed by the manufacturer on the back of the helmet. Some “novelty type” helmets are supplied with a separate “DOT” sticker or one can be purchased separately and placed on the helmet by the motorcyclists. This does not make this a compliant helmet.
• Each compliant motorcycle safety helmet will have a permanently attached label either sewn or glued in the interior of the helmet by the manufacturer that has the manufacturers name or identification, precise model, size, month and year of manufacture, type of shell and liner construction materials and an instruction label for cleaning and care of the helmet.
Once a suspected rider, wearing a suspected illegal helmet is stopped, the DOT Sticker and/or the Manufacturer’s Label are usually not found on the helmet. I’ve attached the RCW that covers Washington State law requiring motorcycle helmets. I hope this helps to answer your question. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Washington State Helmet Law