The Evolution of Motorcycle Safety: Helmets & Protective Gear, Safety Research, and Laws & Regulation

The Evolution of Motorcycle Safety: Helmets & Protective Gear, Safety Research, and Laws & Regulation

Motorcycles make up 10 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities as motorcyclists are 16 percent more likely to die in an accident than individuals in other vehicles. Part of this has to do with other motorists not seeing motorcycles on the road; however, a major chunk of this has to do with general motorcycle safety.

Because motorcycles lack enclosure, seatbelts, and other aspects that make cars the safer alternative, the right helmet, gear, regulations, and laws enacted can allow motorcyclists to remain safer.

Although we often complain about laws and regulations, we can be thankful for the progress motorcycle safety has made, in part helped by adequate motorcycle safety research and testing.

Considering May was Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, let’s delve into how motorcycle safety has evolved through time:

Helmets and Protective Gear

1860s to 1900s

Motorcycle safety was not much a concern at this time. However, many motorcyclists often war full-length boots as did many other folks in the workforce.

Early-1900s: Flat-Caps and Gauntlet Gloves

Police gauntlet gloves and flat-caps – mainly used for keeping one’s hair in place while riding rather than for head safety – were popularized.

1910s: Leather Skull Caps, Riding Trousers, and Protective Goggles

Motorcyclists were now being seen wearing leather skull caps, thick protective riding trousers (especially by Harley-Davidson), and goggles (to protect from wood splinters) more for protective purposes rather than just for style.

1928: The First Leather Motorcycle Jacket, American Perfecto

The first motorcycle jacket made from leather was designed by New Yorker, Irving Scott, known as the ‘Perfecto’ or ‘American Perfecto.’ Many leather jackets today have a similar style: epaulets and a diagonal zipper.

The Perfecto was popularized by Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie, The Wild One.

1930s: Waterproof Waxed Cotton Suits

British company, J. Barbour & Sons, started to manufacture waterproof waxed cotton suits for motorcyclists.

Mid-1940s: The British Army Begin Wearing Helmets and Leather Suits

British WWII soldiers were given either a rubber or a cork shelled helmet for motorcycle-riding known as a crash helmet. The soldiers also wore two-piece leather suits for fire protection purposes. Shortly after, motorcycle racers caught on to cowhide leather suits as well.

1953: Creation and Patent for the First Modern Motorcycle Helmet

Professor C.F. “Red” Lombard from the University of Southern California created and patented the first modern shock-absorbent motorcycle helmet.

1954: The Development of the ‘Bell 500’ Helmet, the First Open Face Helmet

The first helmet made from fiberglass that wrapped completely around the head and covered the ears (open face), the Bell 500, was created by Roy Richter of Bell Star. A Bell 500 was priced at $200 – the equivalent of an average month’s salary at the time.

1971: First Full-Face Helmet

The first full-face motorcycle helmet was designed by BELL along with the first off-road motorcycle helmet.

1971: First Motocross-Specific Gloves

Glove specialists of Held of Germany along with Erwin Schmider designed the first pair of gloves dedicated to motorcycle riders.

2000: Facemasks and Bright/Reflective Gear

To help motorcyclists filter air while riding, facemasks became popular. Brightly-colored and reflective gear (e.g. jackets) also became popular in regard to motorcycle safety.

2004: First Bluetooth Enabled Motorcycle Helmet

Motorola and MOMODESIGN announced the first-ever Bluetooth enabled helmet (open face) that would allow motorcyclists hours of talk time while on a ride, all while providing safety for one’s noggin.

To learn more about these helmets, check out the best Bluetooth motorcycle helmets to see what they provide today.

Research, Laws, & Regulations

1935: First Solid Research on the Importance of Motorcycle Helmets

Australian neurosurgeon of motorcyclist T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Dr. Hugh Cairns, conducted in-depth research in a British medical journal that’d later encourage the developed of the motorcycle crash helmet.

1957: Founding of the Snell Memorial Foundation – Motorcycle Helmet Safety Testing

Snell Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides research, education, and independent testing of motorcycle helmets, was created. The organization was named after William Snell who was severely injured during an accident in a race.

1958: Requirement for Motorcycle Officers to Wear Motorcycle Helmets

The California Highway Patrol was the first group to be required to wear motorcycle helmets by law.

1961: First Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Law for Everyone

Despite helmets being around for a while, Australia was the first country in the world to enforce motorcycle helmet-wearing for all motorcyclists.

1966: Highway Safety Act of 1966

The Highway Safety Act of 1966 came to be the first federal safety law requiring individual states to create and enforce helmet laws for motorcyclists in exchange for highway construction and maintenance funding.

Today in the U.S., all states have either a universal law (all riders must wear helmets) or a partial law (only certain riders must wear helmets).

1974: Federal Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) implemented strict standards for helmet manufacturers via Safety Standard No. 218 (FMVSS 218). This required manufacturers to have an official DOT-approved sticker in each helmet.