Although there are a whole host of motorcycle helmet styles to choose from, for the most part, motorcycle helmets fall into one of three broad categories: full-face motorcycle helmets also known as full coverage or integral helmets, three-quarter helmets also known as Jet helmets, or half helmets.
Diehard fans in each of these groups will argue until the cows come home; their choice of helmet is safer, no doubt backing up their choice with a list of reasons. However, taking a step back and approaching the question from a purely logical and neutral standpoint, you would have to think full-face helmets cover the largest area.
Therefore, they must be the safest choice, or are they? Are full-face motorcycle helmets safer? Are full coverage integral helmets really capable of reducing the risk of head injury?
Full-face motorcycle helmets are 45.3% safer than the other motorcycle helmets currently available. They provide the most extensive coverage of the head and therefore offer the most protection. They are the only style helmet that protects the chin and jaw while also providing complete facial protection.
Unfortunately, the world is seldom black and white, and this is one such instance where there is a range of variables that influence the safety and performance of full-face motorcycle helmets.
Logic and neutrality are fine in theory, but the real world brings challenges of its own that create issues regarding safety for the full-face helmet. While it is important to be aware of these challenges, they are less serious than the increased risk of a traumatic head injury that is known to be associated with half and three-quarter helmets.
Reasons Full-Face Helmets Are Safer
When comparing the full-face helmet with the half or three-quarter helmet, the difference in the coverage area is clear for all to see. The difference has practical implications as well, with the full-face helmet protecting not only in the event of an accident but when out riding, where it offers protection from debris and the weather.
However, anyone who has had a bug in the eye at 80 mph would probably add bug protection to the list as well.
In the 1980s, Dietmar Otte set out to quantify just how much safer full-face helmets were over their competition, analyzing recent motorcycle accidents to determine the location of the primary impact. The distribution of impact locations relevant to the helmet is illustrated below.
By determining the proportion of the primary impacts occurring in locations that would not be protected by other helmets that were not full face, Otte determined that the full-face helmet was 45.3% safer.
In 2009, the study was repeated. The Motorcycle Accidents In-Depth Study results were like Otte’s, giving the original research further credibility and seemingly providing some hard evidence that full-facial helmets are safer than their half and three-quarter helmet counterparts.
The Benefits of a Chin Bar on a Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
What makes these studies even more interesting is the number of impacts in the chin bar area, a feature that is somewhat lacking on the half and three-quarter helmets. Otte found the primary impact in most accidents was on the chin bar (34.6%). The chin bar was also center stage in an Australian study which found that the jaw takes 50% of the severe impact in motorcycle accidents.
The facial area, which is protected by a shield in a full-face helmet, accounted for just over 10% of the primary impacts in Otte’s study, with the subsequent study finding that even when the face isn’t the primary impact location, it was still susceptible to cuts and grazers in the majority of accidents.
Traumatic Brain Injury, Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets lead the way
The statistics relating to traumatic brain injuries suffered due to a motorbike accident also offer compelling evidence regarding the level of protection offered by the three helmet types. Half helmets have been found to offer protection against traumatic injury in 38.6% of motorcycle crashes.
Three-quarter helmets offer protection in 55.5% of accidents. In contrast, the full-face helmet leads the pack again, protecting against traumatic brain injury in 69% of cases. So full coverage integral style motorcycle helmets clearly offer superior protection from a serious head injury.
Neck Protection provided by Full-Face
It is also important to note; the full-face helmet will protect the neck area in an accident. The half and three-quarters helmets do not have the in-built neck protection offered by the full-face helmet.
The Comfort and Performance of Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets
Some riders will never exchange the freedom of having the wind blowing in their face as they ride by switching to the enclosed full-face helmet. On a hot day, the half and three-quarters helmets offer the advantage of keeping the rider cooler.
There is a possibility that a rider wearing a full-face helmet may risk overheating or heat stroke. Neither condition should be taken lightly, but knowledge is power, and a rider can mitigate this risk.
The potential risk of overheating or heat stroke is insufficient to compensate for the increased risk of head injury should the rider switch from a full-face helmet. Despite this risk, the full-face helmet must still be considered the safer option. It is also worth noting the reverse applies with half and three-quarter helmets in the winter. Remember Harry and Lloyd.
Do Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets have Hearing Deficits?
One of the disadvantages of the full-face helmet is that the rider’s hearing is impeded, making it harder for them to hear other traffic, road noise and to communicate with other riders and passengers. Hearing is one of the ways riders identify hazards and manage risk while riding.
The limitations that a full-face helmet places on hearing do when looking at this one aspect render the full-face helmet, less safe than its half and three-quarter counterparts. Again, this can be compensated for, making it a disadvantage but certainly not a factor that would make the helmet unsafe.
Not Quite Safety, other advantages of Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets
Although not entirely falling into the safety realm, there are a couple of other benefits offered by the full-face helmet. For the famous and (infamous), the full-face helmet provides extra protection we mere mortals probably do not appreciate, that of anonymity.
Although for those who have more than a few miles on the clock, a full-face helmet may allow them to pass themselves off as a marginally younger model. Half and three-quarters helmets might struggle to compete on those pain points.
While all men might be created equal, all motorcycle helmets are unfortunately not. The full-face helmet offers the best protection against traumatic brain injury among the three main types of helmets on the market today.
It also protects the entire head, something the half and three-quarter helmet cannot compete with. While there are some disadvantages relating to the heat when wearing a full-face helmet, they can be mitigated and managed. The clear evidence regarding the effectiveness of a full-face helmet cannot be ignored.
We only have one brain and should take whatever steps necessary to protect it, which in this instance means opting for the full-face helmet. They have been proven to be safer than the alternatives.
Coming from a former doctor and motorcyclist who has seen the devastating consequences of motorcycle accidents, honestly, hand on heart, anything less than full-face motorcycle helmets are not with the risk. Full coverage or integral motorcycle helmets, more commonly known as full-face motorcycle helmets are clearly the safest helmets available.
In Summary Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets are the Safest of All the Different Types of Helmets.
The full-face helmet is clearly safest choice of styles of motorcycle helmets. Full-face helmets provide the greatest coverage for your head, face and neck. Full-face motorcycle helmets also protect the rider from the environment including rain. sleet, snow, or or debris and bugs striking your face shield.
Safety in Numbers: Dietmar Otte’s Motorcycle Helmet Impact Diagram
About the author: Michael Parrotte was the Vice President of AGV Helmets America, and a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, Sparx Helmets. In addition, he is the founder and owner of AGV Sports Group.