A guide to UK motorcycle helmet law and safety standards

Person riding their motorcycle in full gear including helmet
Image source: Harley-Davidson via Unsplash

Whether you’re a learner rider or a seasoned biker keeping up-to-date with the latest crash helmet regulations, find out everything you need to know about motorcycle helmet law in the UK.

This article includes information on the year it became law to wear a crash helmet, safety helmet standards and ratings, the penalty for not wearing a motorcycle helmet and more.

Do you have to wear a helmet on a motorbike in the UK?

By law, you must wear a safety helmet when riding a motorcycle or moped on UK roads. Quads and trikes are excluded from this unless you live in Northern Ireland, in which case it’s required that you wear a helmet. Even if you don’t have to wear a helmet by law, most government guidelines advise you to wear a helmet if possible.

Your helmet must meet British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI Kitemark. It is also legal if it meets one of the following standards:

  • UNECE Regulation 22.05 (also known as ECE 22.05)
  • a European Economic Area member standard offering at least the same safety and protection as BS 6658:1985 – it must also carry a mark equivalent to the BSI Kitemark.

BS 6658:1985 specifies the requirements for helmets for riders, drivers and passengers of motor vehicles. ECE 22.05 specifies regulations for protective helmets for drivers and passengers of motorcycles and mopeds with or without a side-car.

Motorcycle helmet safety ratings

Despite meeting the minimum British safety standards, legal helmets vary in the level of protection they offer. This is where the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) comes in. SHARP was launched in 2007 by the Department for Transport (DfT) to help motorcyclists make informed decisions when buying a crash helmet and provide advice on how to select a helmet that fits correctly and comfortably.

SHARP shows you approved helmets and how much protection they offer using a simple 1-to-5 star helmet safety rating system. 1-star indicates a low rating despite still conforming to the UK’s minimum safety standards, while a 5-star rating indicates much better all-round protection.

To calculate helmet safety ratings, each model of motorcycle helmet undergoes 32 impact tests at three speeds. Learn more about SHARP’s testing methods.

When did crash helmets become compulsory?

The UK crash helmet law was introduced on 7 February 1973 and debated at the House of Commons on 5 April 1973. The law was finally put into operation on 1 June 1973.

The law was opposed by a number of people, including founder of the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), Dennis Howard. MAG suggest that each biker should have the right to make personal decisions about their welfare, and the group is still fighting for the law to be rescinded today.

Interestingly, 88% of motorcyclists in the UK were already wearing crash helmets before the law was passed. This figure shows that the majority of the motorcycle community were safety conscious and already willing to wear a helmet.

What is the penalty for not wearing a motorcycle helmet in the UK?

Police community support officer looking at parked cars
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Motorcyclists caught not wearing a crash helmet could either receive an official warning or a fine of up to £500.

Not only is riding a motorcycle without wearing a crash helmet illegal, but it is also extremely dangerous. A helmet reduces the risk of serious head and brain injuries by minimising the impact of a force or collision to the head. Should you have an accident and you’re not wearing a helmet, you are more likely to receive severe or fatal injuries.

According to the World Health Organisation, head injuries that result from motorcycle collisions are a leading cause of death and disability. This is why it’s essential for motorcyclists to wear a crash helmet.

Types of motorcycle helmets

There are plenty of different crash helmets to choose from – it is important to buy one that offers a good SHARP safety rating, is comfortable and fits correctly. Some of the top motorcycle crash helmet manufacturers include AGV, Arai, Bell, HJC, Shark and Shoei.

Are half helmets legal in the UK?

While half helmets offer less protection than a full motorcycle helmet, it entirely depends on whether the half helmet meets British safety standards. That said, SHARP only tests full face and system (flip visor) helmets which is why you should consider a full face of system helmet for better protection.

Are open face motorcycle helmets legal in the UK?

Open face helmets offer a little more protection than half helmets, however, the answer is the same. Any open face helmet needs to meet British safety standards in order to be considered legal. Again, SHARP only tests full face and system (flip visor) helmets.

Are DOT helmets legal in the UK?

If the DOT helmet doesn’t meet the UK safety standards as mentioned above, then it is not legal in the UK. DOT refers to the Department of Transportation in the US.

The DOT certification is the US version of the UK’s ECE certification, however, ECE standards are considered to be generally higher than DOT standards. Therefore DOT helmets still need to meet the UK safety standards to be legally compliant.

Are tinted visors legal?

This is a grey area because there are no official government rules for tinted visors. According to the government, vehicles first used on 1 April 1985 or later must let at least 75% of light through the front windscreen – although this does not likely apply to motorcycles.

According to some sources, a motorcycle visor tint of up to 50% is acceptable during daylight hours only. The 50% rule is related to what is permissible to still get the BSI Kitemark or meet the ECE regulation. Additionally, The Highway Code states that motorcyclists should not use visor tints at night.

If you ride with a regular visor or goggles they must either:

  • meet a British Standard and display a BSI Kitemark
  • meet a European standard offering at least the same safety and protection as the British Standard and carry a mark equivalent to the BSI Kitemark (UNECE Regulation 22.05).

Stay safe and protected on the roads

Man putting his helmet on, already kitted out with motorcycle gear
Image source: Adobe Stock

With around 80% of all motorcyclist fatalities involving head injuries, it’s essential for all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet that meets UK safety standards is a legal requirement as is insurance – both are there to keep you safe and protected while on the road.

At Bikesure, we have access to a wide variety of specialist motorbike insurance schemes to help you find the right motorbike insurance policy to suit you and your bike. We also provide extra coverage to insure your helmet and leathers.

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August 8, 2023