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Are Helmets Safe to Use After They’ve Been Dropped? 

February 28, 2024Personal Injury

Helmets are scientifically proven to significantly reduce the risk of a serious or deadly traumatic brain injury in a bicycle or motorcycle accident. What many people do not realize is that the integrity of a helmet is only preserved before it has absorbed its first impact. If the helmet liner is compressed just once – including if the helmet is dropped, in some circumstances – the helmet needs to be replaced.

How Do Helmets Work? 

Helmets are designed with two key components that make them effective at protecting the head and skull from external forces that could cause injury: a hard outer shell and a soft inner liner. The hard shell that comprises the exterior of a helmet is designed to resist impact and prevent penetration. It is the first line of defense in an accident.

The inner liner is usually made from some type of foam or material that is soft enough to absorb the force of an impact but durable enough to protect the skull. The purpose of the inner liner is to compress or deform upon impact, allowing it to absorb energy and spread it out to reduce the amount of force transmitted to the wearer’s head.

Can I Use a Helmet After It’s Been Dropped? 

If a helmet is dropped with enough force to compress the inner liner, it should be replaced. The crushing of the foam liner cannot be reversed. Most helmets use expanded polystyrene (EPS) inner liners, which consist of plastic beads packed together with air bubbles. Upon impact (even a minor impact), these air bubbles can get squished and will not be able to regain their position. This compromises the helmet’s ability to properly absorb a second or subsequent impact. 

If the helmet was not dropped with enough force to crush the inner liner, its energy absorption properties most likely would not have been damaged. However, if an impact to a helmet is severe enough to affect the inner liner and crush the air bubbles in the EPS, it will no longer perform up to the Snell Memorial Foundation’s safety standards. The liner’s ability to manage, reduce and dissipate impact forces will be adversely affected in this deformed condition and the helmet must be replaced.

The Importance of Buying Helmets New

It is not always apparent if a used helmet has been dropped or involved in an impact. From the outside, a helmet may look brand new, with no visible scratches or dents. However, the liner may contain invisible defects or signs that it was compressed. This is why it is important not to buy a used or second-hand helmet. Buy a new one that carries a safety certification.

When to Replace Your Helmet  

If your helmet fell while empty, the foam liner may not have been affected, as there was nothing inside the helmet to compress the EPS liner from the inside. If it sustained an impact with your head inside, however, the air bubbles have most likely been compressed and the helmet needs to be replaced. This is true even if the helmet fell from a low height.

If you are not sure whether your motorcycle or bicycle helmet should be replaced, it is always better to get a new one. Do not risk a serious brain injury by assuming that your old helmet is still operating at maximum efficiency. It is better to be proactive and replace the helmet to ensure that it provides adequate protection in the event of an accident.

If you get involved in a motorcycle accident or bicycle accident in Colorado and suffer a head or brain injury, discuss your legal rights with a Denver personal injury attorney at Dormer Harpring during a free consultation.