There are numerous reasons for buying and wearing ATV (all terrain vehicle) helmets. In the first place, helmets are the best means of preventing head injuries for both the riders and the passengers of ATVs. In the second place, many states require the use of helmets. In the third place, helmets reduce the noise associated with wind passage at high speeds and this too can be an important safety consideration because the rider will be more alert to sounds-such as the approach of another vehicle-which require a response on his/her part. In the fourth place, helmets work to prevent the possibility that one will be momentarily disoriented by having an insect or other physical object strike one’s face.
The first of these reasons for wearing ATV helmets is, of course, the most important of the four. Head trauma is extremely dangerous; it can result in death, or severe neurological damage, or the severing of the spinal cord, a condition which may result in permanent, near-total paralysis and a condition for which, at the present time, there is no cure. If on-road motorcycling without helmets is dangerous, off-road operation of open vehicles without helmets is even more so.
Pursuing the safety question a little further, we recommend that the purchasers of helmets should buy only those which meet both the U.S. Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) and Snell standards. ATV helmets that supposedly meet D.O.T. standards are easily identified by a sticker indicating such that the manufacturers place on them. It is to be noted, however, that ATV helmets have these stickers as a result of the manufacturer certifying that the D.O.T standards are met. From time to time, the D.O.T. will verify whether or not this is so by buying these ATV helmets and sending them to a lab for testing. The fact that these tests of ATV helmets occur after the sticker has been placed, and the fact that some of these ATV helmets fail the tests, makes the D.O.T. sticker somewhat suspect. The Snell Foundation standards are notoriously stringent and we recommend that the consumer should buy ATV helmets which meet those standards, but the issue is controversial because some people believe that the difference between D.O.T. and Snell standards are small. It is to be mentioned that some commentators have advocated ignoring the Snell standards entirely.
There is something counter-intuitive about ATV helmets. That is, when one looks at them, one is inclined to think that the hard material that constitutes their outer shell is what provides protection to the rider. That is not the case. It is the “EPS”-the inner liner made out of Styrofoam-that actually provides protection and the amount of EPS in helmets varies greatly. From a safety standpoint, the optimal ATV helmet is the one that has the most EPS in it.
Facial injury considerations are, generally speaking, of less concern than head trauma, but they can still be important. Most experts recommend that ATV helmets should be “full coverage” helmets, one’s that encase the face rather than those that leave the face uncovered.