History of Motorcycle Helmets: The Annals Of Safety Gear
Muse as you would, Mojo Jojo’s evil head did not sprout a helmet one day, for it to come into existence. The notion is funny regardless. Ironically, the history of helmets is written in blood. As necessity is the mother of all inventions, the arrival of helmet was necessitated by a number of motorcycle accidents. It started out as the need of the hour and graduated to more critically appraised designs and has, now, settled as an obligatory accessory with a horde of convenience features to make you forget all about its weight and what not. More and more digital features are being built into a model that was originally designed as a shell of canvas and shellac. It goes to show how far we have come with regards to technology.
The action-packed journey of helmet evolution hit these pit stops which changed the course of history repeatedly.
- Milestone 1:
Incipience. Most chroniclers would start off with milestone2 because of its shocking wake-up call nature. But the groundwork was laid by the medical officer of Brooklands race track, Dr. Eric Gardner, who frequently treated head injury cases of motorcyclists. He collaborated with a local person to create a rudimentary helmet out of canvas and a natural product, Shellac. He distributed a bulk of these helmets to the Isle of Man TT races and received reports of significantly less head injury cases that year.
- Milestone 2:
The death of T.E. Lawrence, popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, brought riding safety center stage. Lawrence was a sensational Briton whose diplomatic activities were widely publicized. In 1953, Lawrence crashed a Brough Superior SS100 and sustained serious injuries to his head. He, later succumbed to these wounds. The attending doctor, Hugh Cairns, a neurosurgeon, was deeply affected by the futile deaths of motorcyclists due to lack of proper head gear. His research and perseverance resulted in an avante garde report published in the British Medical Journal as “Head injuries in motorcyclists – the importance of crash helmets. A major hitch in the study was that most motorcyclists were unwilling to test helmets because they condemned them as bulky and troublesome.
- Milestone 3:
Helmets did not develop as fast as motorcycles. So, more speed on these machines meant more accidents. Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycles had brought their A game into the market and their motorcycles were chasing thunder at the time. Meanwhile, Professor C F Lombard laid the cornerstone for the modern impact absorbing design of helmets. A professor at the University of Southern California, he kickstarted the trend of having comfort and safety in one. He designed a lid with a hardy shell and double layered lining, one for rider’s comfort and another to protect against impact. After this, investors sat up and took notice of this emerging market.
- Milestone 4:
Another unfortunate accident that now stands prominent in the dubious world of helmet safety is the passing away of William “Pete” Snell who fell victim to a car accident. The Snell Memorial Foundation was set up in his memory. This private firm set up standards separate from the governmental standards in different countries. Snell approval is now synonymous with kickass quality in helmet sturdiness. All major associations now accept Snell certification as a sterling standard of helmet performance. It is periodically revised to combat new dangers that arise with the advent of speed enhancing techniques in motorcycles and digital distractions.
- Milestone 5:
Helmets were in vogue with the authorities who saw the advantages of wearing them and the serendipitous results against head injuries. But the general populace lived in a devil-may-care era and refused to wear the eyesore that took all the attention away from their fancy rides. Due to these deflecting ideologies, it became necessary for the governments to mandate the use of helmets. Australia lead from the front in terms of helmet regulation, starting January 1, 1961. The USA also hitched its wagon to the helmet train. In 1966, The Highway Safety act pushed all states to issue mandatory helmet laws. The American National Safety Standard for Motorcycle Helmets also took roots which set up safety standards for helmets.
- Milestone 6:
The mandatory helmet law could not hold ground in the US, with Michigan repealing it in 1968. This mood trickled over to other states and put an end to financially punishing states with this law. On the current date, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire remain the three states with no laws for helmet safety whatsoever.
With all the effort channelized into making the helmets as comfortable a companion as the love seat you cuddle in, there are a lot of reasonable arguments for wearing one. The bloodshed that led to this point in helmet innovation leaves a trail of convincing wreckage in its wake. So open your eyes and ears when history whispers in your ears to watch out.