Helmets.org

Volunteer staff - 100% Consumer-funded

Home Children Materials Statistics Laws Standards
Quick How2Buy Media Teachers About Search


Helmets for Light Powered Vehicles




Summary: If you use a bicycle helmet for a powered vehicle traveling 20 mph (32 kph) or more, you are taking a greater risk than most bicyclists that the helmet will not be adequate for the type of crash you should expect. For reasons explained below we recommend a light motorcycle helmet instead. For low speed powered scooters, CPSC recommends a bicycle helmet.




This page marks the first time we have attempted to offer information for those with motors.

The popularity of motorbikes is rising slowly again, while the electric scooter, electric bicycle and those powered by small gas engines has been growing more rapidly. What helmet do you need for one of those vehicles?

Some light powered vehicles are no faster than a bicycle, leading to speculation that a bicycle helmet could be adequate. We would not recommend that for several reasons:

  • This type of powered vehicle will normally be operating near its maximum speed if on a street or highway. Although some bicyclists can match that speed, most can not, and would be less likely to be traveling at the maximum when a crash occurs. The critical measure is the closing speed with pavement, but with high forward speed there is a higher probability that the average powered vehicle impact would be more severe.

  • This type of vehicle is intended for use on streets and roads, and will be mixing with heavier motor vehicles such as cars and trucks. Bicycles do that too, but are usually off to the side if the motorized traffic is fast, and in most situations they have a different way of interacting with other vehicles.

  • The user of a powered vehicle is cooled by the passing airstream but not generating heat with pedaling effort. Fewer compromises are necessary with heat and weight to produce a comfortable helmet. The rider of a motorbike may freeze in the winter while a cyclist is toasty warm. In the summer the cyclist suffers much more from the heat, and cannot tolerate a helmet without substantial vents.

  • Standard bicycle helmets do not protect the face (you can live just fine with a busted nose or split lip from a bicycle crash) or the jaw joint, which can transmit injurious force to the brain in a crash at motorized speeds. Although some downhill bicycle racing helmets do have a front chinbar, it is seldom padded adequately for impact protection.

  • Helmets for these vehicles may be used at speeds well above the design speed. Modifying small motors for higher output has been an art form in some communities. Some electric bikes come with capability of reaching 28 mph without modification. It may be sufficient just to remove a governor mechanism to run the machine at 35 or 40 mph. And some of the "49 cc" displacement motors turn out to have considerably larger displacements than that when actually measured, with more power than would be expected.

These factors would normally lead us to recommend a light motorcycle helmet for motorbikes or electric vehicles. Helmets meeting any motorcycle helmet standard should be adequate.

Powered Scooters

Powered scooters are a different class of vehicle. They are not as fast as motorbikes and motorscooters because they are not stable enough to travel that fast! The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued an advisory recommending the use of bicycle helmets for riding powered scooters, along with knee and elbow pads. In 2006 they issued another recommendation that bicycle helmets are fine for low powered motorized scooters.

Standards

There is no US government standard for light powered vehicles other than the DOT motorcycle helmet standard.

The Snell Foundation, a respected name in helmet standards-setting, published a standard for use with low powered vehicles, mopeds, and motorized bicycles in 1998. Reflecting the factors we noted above, it has lab test drops somewhat higher than bicycle helmet standards at 2.4 meters on the flat anvil and 1.6 meters on anvils of other shapes. It is referred to as Snell L-98. As of February 2010, 12 years after it was adopted, there were no helmets certified to it listed on the Snell Web site, but you can check this page on the Snell site to see if that has changed.

The Netherlands published their NTA 8776 ebike helmet standard in 2016. It has more stringent requirements than the European bike helmet standard, the CPSC bike standard, Snell's bike helmet standards or any of the ASTM bike standards. Coverage is greater by far, impact velocities are substantially higher and the permissible g level is set at 250g rather than the US 300g.

ASTM has discussed an ebike helmet standard but has taken no action.

Bottom Line

A bike helmet provides some protection, but not enough for a powered vehicle consistently traveling at 20 mph or above. You are taking a greater risk than a bicyclist that the helmet will not be adequate for the type of crash you should expect. Our advice would be to use a light motorcycle helmet or one that meets the Dutch NTA 8776 standard. There are lots of DOT helmets to choose from at your local motorcycle dealer, or you can find them on the Web.



This page was reformatted on: October 6, 2016. BHSI logo
Home Children Promotions Statistics Laws
About New Standards Teachers Search