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Why Motor Cops Should Wear a Full-Face Helmet

A full-face modular helmet better protects officers than the traditional three-quarter helmet, especially with newer, faster cycles now available to LE.

January 31, 2012  |  by Carrick Cook - Also by this author

The Shoei Multitec is a full-face modular helmet offering greater officer-safety features. Photo: Shoei
The Shoei Multitec is a full-face modular helmet offering greater officer-safety features. Photo: Shoei

With the crop of quicker, more agile police motorcycles now arriving at law enforcement agencies, you would think helmet progression would be parallel. Agencies have hesitated to adopt advanced helmets such as Shoei's Multitec that are specifically designed for today's cycles.

The three-quarter face helmet was adequate when motor officers rode the Kawasaki KZ 1000 primarily because the full fairing offered additional protection. With newer bikes such as the Kawasaki Concours 14P, the variable windshield design sacrifices wind protection for aerodynamics. As a result, debris and other particulates hit the rider's face. One of the greatest officer-safety risks is the increased speed and acceleration that these new bikes can reach.

A study completed by the University of Southern California—sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—revealed some startling data. Of the collisions investigated in what was known as the Hurt Study, 68 percent of the time there was an impact on the face. A traditional three-quarter helmet issued to many of the nation's motor officers does not protect an officer's face. Aside from the obvious potential for facial injury during a crash, less dramatic injuries caused by debris or skin cancer must also be considered.

During my staff study in support of modular, full-face helmets, I uncovered some significant statistics. I compared the safety standards for helmets set by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Snell Memorial Foundation. The DOT sets minimum safety standards for helmets sold in the U.S. that are known as FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) 218. Snell sets voluntary standards.

One of the misconceptions is that DOT doesn't double-impact test their helmets, when in fact they do. In their testing variances, Snell uses a harder force during their testing; the likelihood of survival is minimal, after the severity of this impact. DOT testing is the only process in which there is a time restriction on how long the rider's brain is allowed to incur the g-force transferred during the wreck. The longer g-forces are transferred to the rider's brain, the more likely that rider will incur some type of head injury.

One selling point on the Shoei Multitec is the significant reduction of g-forces during testing, when compared to the Arai LE Classic. Using the same testing protocol, there were on average 42 Gs less during each impact. This g-force reduction would theoretically reduce the seriousness of injury to the rider's head during a crash.

These findings clearly support the use of a full-face modular helmet for officers. Agencies that make this move would clearly see reduced injuries during wrecks and better protect the motor officers.

Editor's note: For a more complete version of Officer Carrick's report, read the Arizona Police Science Journal's May 2011 issue starting with Page 28.

Tags: Motor Patrol, Motorcycles, Arizona DPS, Kawasaki, Arai, Shoei


Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Vet Rider @ 1/31/2012 5:15 PM

This story's assertions do not adequately account for other factors, like heat effects in urban police riding. It also does not so clearly apply to departments that utilize Harley Davidson and other more wind-protective brands of motorcycles. Perhaps the design of the bike's windscreen should be more of a cause for concern. Police riding is not the same thing as sportbike riding and there are many things to consider. I would also be concerned with the inherent dulling of sensory input a fully enclosed helmet might cause. I know these helmets are better than they used to be, but there is still an issue. Sometimes it's the subtlest sound or farthest periphrial vision that can alert a street cop to an impending danger, especially during times the bike is not moving. Every helmet is a compromise. A full face model may not always be the best choice!

jason v @ 2/1/2012 5:01 AM

I think its time that the police and dot along with major helmet manufactures get together and design a helmet for law enforcement. There are lots of motor officers in the usa and through out the world. Its time for a motor officer helmet not just some off the shelf helmet modified to do a very dangerous job.

Motor13 @ 2/1/2012 6:08 AM

As a motor officer I was required to wear a 3/4 helmet and found it to be hot and uncomfortable. These helmets also impair normal hearing and restrict peripheral vision. All the motor officers I worked with despised the 3/4 helmet and we were allowed to go back to wearing 1/2 helmets. The 1/2 helmet has long been the traditional American police motorcycle helmet and a favorite with officers. Full face helmets can also create a perception in the community that motorcycle officers are unfriendly, unapproachable, and are attempting to conceal their identities.

GZ @ 2/2/2012 9:50 AM

Y'all crack me up. We wear half shell helmets, no bullet proof vests and carry slap jacks next to our revolvers. Who needs all that safety gear stuff, we'd rather look cool !

Motor11 @ 2/7/2012 7:46 AM

I think some of you missed a very important item in the story. The author was talking about a modular full face helmet, which allows you to lift the chin bar when contacting citizens. During inclement weather, high winds, high speeds, etc., you have the option to lower the chin bar for full face protection. We use the HJC Symax's and I would never go back to a 3/4 or 1/2 helmet.

Tom3 @ 10/1/2012 11:34 PM

Modular helmets are the future whether we like it or not. "Vet": I work in an urban area in Arizona where you'd be hard pressed to find a hotter area. Wore the Arai 3/4 for years and switched to modular. No issues with heat and no difference to speak of. The vest and uni are more of a factor for heat than an extra piece in front of the face. "Motor13": With all due respect you sound like an administrator. Your perceptions stated will be there whether it's a full face or not. As far as "tradition", shall we all go back to carrying wheel guns and not wearing ballistic vests also. Just saying.

Robocop @ 1/25/2013 5:37 PM

Actually I agree with Motor13. I wore a 1/2 shell and I could hear and see everything and did not have to remove it when talking to someone. I have also gone down a couple of times and while I did sustain a concussion on the last time I also hit hard enough to break some teeth and knock out my fillings but my face WAS protected and it was just the sudden stop that did the damage there. The helmet did it's job and did not even crack it, unlike many of my bones and the rest of my body. <VBG> I prefer the 1/2 helmet and thought it sufficient for the job we did in the city as we really had no freeways to patrol, just a 3 mile spur into town. For civilian riding I use a full face helmet much of the time if riding at highway speeds or a 3/4 if just riding around for fun and sightseeing.

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