The History of Motorcycle Helmets

The History of Motorcycle Helmets

September 12, 2013

The History of Motorcycle Helmets

It’s a known fact that the most important piece of safety equipment is your helmet. And although its mandated use sparks debate, there is no questioning that helmets save lives. But helmet technology has come a very long way over the years, and helmets were not always as safe as they are today. Furthermore, helmet laws have evolved as more research has emerged supporting the importance of a helmet’s role in rider safety.

Lawrence of Arabia and the Invention of the Crash Helmet
T.E. Lawrence was a very famous and highly decorated British soldier who fought during WWI. His military career and life were captured in his own words and still read and studied today in the form of his writings. A film about his time in WWI was released in 1962 (Lawrence of Arabia), further cementing his place in the chronicles of history. But as decorated and beloved as he was, he was not immortal. He died from head injuries at the age of 46 after crashing his motorbike, a Brough Superior SS100.

His death was mourned by many, including the neurosurgeon who tended to him, Dr. Hugh Cairns. Cairns was so deeply affected by the loss of Lawrence, that he was inspired to research ways to protect motorcyclists’ heads in the event of a crash.

The Evolution of the Helmet
Another man also came up with the idea for a motorcycle helmet. Professor C.F. Lombard of the University of Southern California developed and patented a helmet that had an internal layer intended to absorb and disperse the shock of impact. However, early helmet models were ineffective. It would take decades of research in materials and design to make helmets work.

The first enhancements to the early helmet designs related to the helmet’s shape and the method of securing it to one’s head. As materials improved and became lighter, more layers were added to increase the strength and durability of the helmets. Furthermore, advancements in computer testing made it easier for helmet manufacturers to test helmet quality and effectiveness in a lab setting.

As technology and materials production continues to improve, so do helmets. In facts, helmets have become so effective and important when saving lives, that many states actually mandate their use while riding.

The History of Helmet Laws
As research emerged in the early 60’s about the effectiveness and enhanced safety of helmet usage, the American government took major steps to lower the number of motorcycle deaths. In 1966, The Highway Safety Act was passed. This required all states to mandate the use of helmets if they wanted to receive federal funding for highways. That same year marked the formation of the American National Safety Standard for Motorcycle Helmets, an organization that led the way for standards in helmet manufacturing.
In 1968, the great helmet debate officially began when Michigan repealed its helmet law. This started a domino effect that led to the states lobbying congress to stop financially penalizing states with no helmet laws in 1976.

Helmet laws are still controversial, but only three states have no laws governing the use of helmets while riding: Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

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Sources:
http://www.thehistoryof.net/the-history-of-motorcycle-helmets.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorcycle_helmet#Origins