Our Portsmouth motorcycle accident lawyers sometimes receive calls from injured individuals who were involved in motorcycle accidents, but failed to wear a helmet. Unfortunately, we can’t really do much to help them since it is the law in Virginia that helmets and eye protection be worn when riding a motorcycle. Virginia is a contributory negligence state, which means that if you are violating the law when an accident occurs and you’re injured, you probably won’t have a viable personal injury claim. 

Eye protection can consists of goggles, glasses, a face shield on the helmet, or a windshield on the motorcycle itself. The helmet must meet the safety standards of either the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) or the Snell Memorial Foundation (SMF) to be compliant in Virginia. Both sets of standards were determined after rigorous investigation and crash testing. They represent what these institutions believe is the best helmet design to protect a rider in a variety of circumstances. The DOT standards are less stringent than the SMF standards.

How do you know if a helmet meets one of these safety standards?

The rules within standards are lengthy. They specify every detail of a helmet down to the size and weight of the rivets holding it together. It would be impossible for a lay-person to take a printout of the standards to a store and pick out a helmet. Luckily, the organizations have official stickers that can only be put on helmets that meet their standards.

Is a DOT or SMF approved sticker the best way to pick out a helmet that complies with the Virginia helmet law?

If you find a helmet with an official DOT or SMF sticker on it from a reputable helmet dealer, that helmet meets one or both safety standards.  Unfortunately, counterfeit stickers are everywhere. Dishonest retailers buy counterfeit stickers to put on non-compliant helmets to boost sales. Some counterfeits are so good, they’re impossible to tell from the real sticker. Therefore, you shouldn’t rely on the sticker alone.  

What should I look in a helmet to determine whether it meets Virginia standards?

While the only way to know for sure if a helmet meets DOT or SMF standards is to actually apply the specifications to the helmet, there are things to look for in a helmet that make it more likely to meet at least the DOT standards:

  • At least a 1-inch thick inner lining of firm polystyrene foam
  • Sturdy chinstraps attached with strong rivets
  • Helmet weight of about three pounds
  • Any decoration or other element aside from visor fasteners that extends more than two-tenths of an inch away from the helmet (like spikes)
  • Manufacturer label with the name, model, size, month and year of manufacture, construction materials, and owner’s information

A safe helmet could save your life in an accident. The best way to ensure you have a safe helmet – not to mention one that satisfies Virginia law – is to make sure it meets either the DOT or SMF safety standards.