Are you wearing a helmet?

If you live in a “western country” outside of the United States, you are probably required by law to wear a motorcycle helmet when riding a motorcycle. Australia is no exception to this rule. In Australia, this helmet must comply with Australian Standards AS 1698.

Let me state upfront: I have not read AS 1698. I am not a lazy person, but from my “Internet research” it appears reading standards is not a right of all, unless they wield a credit card… Besides, it wasn’t actually AS 1698 that interested me for the sake of this post.

From my understanding of AS 1698 and various reading I have done over time on the standards, it’s one of the better standards motorcycle helmets are tested against. It includes an element of destructive testing which (from memory) includes “batch testing”. In other words, it isn’t a “pass once and you are free to sell all you want” standard.

The standard covers all sorts of aspects – some fairly obvious, some less so. Things like:

  • How much energy the helmet is capable of absorbing. (In other words, making sure your head isn’t subjected to a 300G impact.)
  • Making sure a three kilogram spike does not penetrate the shell.
  • Testing that the strap adequately holds the helmet to your head.
  • Ensuring that the helmet permits a suitable range of peripheral vision.

In the eyes of the law, if your helmet does not have the official AS 1698 sticker, you are not wearing a helmet! So, if you feel the really cool graphics of your helmet clash with the sticker: “suck it up, buddy!”. But as I said earlier, AS 1698 is not what this post is all about.

I want to blog about AS 1609. This is the standard that covers motorcycle helmet visors (and other things like visors for race car drivers). Like AS 1698, if your visor does not feature the standard’s sticker, you are considered to not be wearing a helmet. This standard too, has its intentions on protecting the wearer. As such it features things such as protection against corrosive materials, stability of the material at adverse temperature ranges, strength of the material and optical clarity.

Put simply, it is the last point that I take issue with. It’s not like I ride around with my eyes shut – so optical clarity is important to me too. But currently, there are no tinted visor sold in Australia that pass this standard. But what aspect of the standard do they violate? If it’s the optical clarity – then I can live with that. I always carry a clear visor with me (complete with AS 1609 sticker!) Modern helmets make light work of changing visors, so the inconvenience of travelling with a bum-bag is something I can live with. I am not so sure I want to ride with a visor that may shatter if it is struck by a small stone. The standard is too encompassing. It is my opinion that it would be better for visors to pass two standards – one dealing with strength and another to do with optical clarity. It would be more informative to the wearer than this leaflet that came with a tinted visor I recently purchased:

Blanket disclaimer of unsuitability

So, when riding in sunny conditions, what are your choices? The way I see it, you have three:

  1. Wear sunglasses and use a clear visor. I used to do this a lot and don’t recommend it. Helmets don’t accommodate glasses particularly well. If you need to wear prescription glasses, make sure you test the helmet fit and comfort when wearing them, prior to purchase. The other reason I don’t recommend wearing sunglasses is that if they are not a well-fitting pair of wrap-around glasses, there is the chance for sunlight to get in behind the lenses. When this occurs, all you tend to see is your eyeball staring back at you! This is mildly disconcerting at the best of times and inappropriately distracting whilst travelling on a motorcycle.
  2. Squint. What would those optometrists know anyway? This raises another point. Sunglasses sold in Australia pass yet another Australian Standard: AS 1067. Maybe tinted visors should be subject to this standard conformance too?
  3. Break the law. Ride with a tinted visor… you rebel, you!

Technically, even though I carry a clear visor with me I am breaking the law by wearing a helmet fitted with a tinted visor. At times I have been booked or pulled over for random breath testing / licence checks whilst wearing a helmet fitted with a non-approved visor and I have yet to come across an officer who has even commented on it. Put simply, police officers are people too and are quite capable of applying common sense. If you are riding in conditions where “optical clarity” is unlikely to be an issue, I suspect it would take a fair degree of provocation on your part to provoke the officer into handing over a ticket for not wearing an approved helmet… But don’t count on it!

If you are riding at night or in dimly lit conditions, you can probably expect less favourable behaviour from a police officer, even if you are riding with the visor up, as Jeff Anderson found out:

…I was recently pulled over for wearing my tinted visor at night. The visor was up and not in use as it reduces vision. the officer said that it was illegal even though it wasn’t in use…

Jeff was writing on a forum which featured a section where you could ask an “an active serving motorcycle police officer. Interestingly enough in the response “Hubie” (the aforementioned police officer) mentions a rumour of an upcoming photochromic lens style visor, which is expected to pass the Australian standards testing. I can’t imagine that one will be cheap!
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