Effects of Motorcycle Helmets Upon Seeing and Hearing
Motorcycle helmets are designed to protect riders from head trauma and sometimes offer face and eye protection. But some are concerned about helmets’ flaws regarding impairment of the visual field and hearing ability.
Measuring a Motorcycle Helmet's Impairment of Hearing and SightIn the early 1990s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study entitled "The Effects of Motorcycle Helmets Upon Seeing and Hearing." During the study, 50 motorcyclists drove their personal motorcycles on a designated test route. Each was instructed to make lane changes in response to an audible signal. The riders performed the course three times - once with a full coverage helmet, once with a partial coverage helmet, and once with no helmet. When changing lanes, riders were instructed to check the adjacent lane and make the lane change as they would normally. For half the riders, researchers monitored degree of rotation they turned their heads when checking adjacent lanes. This measurement served to provide evidence of potential visual limitations. They analyzed the other half of the riders for hearing impairment. Volume level of the sound signal varied to determine if the helmet interfered with ability to hear the signal.
Visual Limitations from Motorcycle HelmetsAfter the testing was complete, the researchers concluded that lateral vision was insignificantly reduced when wearing a helmet. Riders wearing either type of helmet increased the degree of rotation when they turned their heads to check the adjacent lanes before making a lane change when prompted. Even though 19 of the 23 riders who participated in the vision test turned their heads further when wearing a helmet, the time to do so did not increase significantly. Therefore, the NHTSA concluded that while helmets do slightly reduce the field of vision, it is not significantly so to produce a higher risk of a crash.
Hearing Limitations from Motorcycle HelmetsThe ability to hear and react to nearby hazards is extremely important to motorcycle riders who may need to instigate split-second maneuvers to avoid collisions. While it is believed that the presence of a helmet over the ears would diminish the riders' ability to hear a siren or other emergency signal, this was not the case. During the trials, hearing tests showed that there was no significant difference between helmet use and ability to hear the lane change prompt sound. However, the motorcycle's speed was a significant factor in the diminishment of hearing. As the motorcycles increased speed, the amount of wind noise increased and therefore impaired the riders' ability to hear the lane change signal sound.
Helmet Impairment ConclusionsOverall, researchers saw no significant impairment of hearing or vision to determine that motorcycle helmets may do more harm than good. Therefore, it recommended that riders continue to wear helmets in an effort to protect their head from serious injury.