For a motorcycle helmet to be road legal, it needs to pass certain safety standards.
There are different standards, but all helmets intended for on-road use sold in the USA must be DOT certified.
Helmets that meet the DOT requirements come with a special DOT sticker on the rear of the helmet, which many riders prefer to peel off and remove for aesthetic purposes.
Can you take the DOT sticker off? Motorcycle riders should not take the DOT sticker off their helmet. It is recommended to keep the DOT label on the helmet and keep it visible. Removing the DOT sticker from the motorcycle helmet can result in a ticket from a law enforcement officer in certain states.
There are a few caveats here that riders should consider and be well aware of when considering taking off DOT stickers. So let’s take a look.
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Do all DOT-approved helmets have a sticker?
According to the NHTSA, all motorcycle helmets that are DOT certified are required to have a permanent and legible DOT label. The DOT label must be easily read and accessed without removing any of the liners or padding.
The NHTSA further expands on the format, content, and appearance of the DOT labeling:
- The symbol “DOT”, horizontally centered on the label, in letters at least 0.38 inches (1.0 cm) high.
- The term “FMVSS No. 218,” horizontally centered beneath the symbol DOT, in letters at least 0.09 inches (0.23 cm) high.
- The word “CERTIFIED,” horizontally centered beneath the term “FMVSS No. 218”, in letters at least 0.09 inch (0.23 cm) high.
- The manufacturer’s name and/or brand, horizontally centered above the symbol DOT, in letters and/or numerals at least 0.09 inches (0.23 cm) high.
- The precise model designation, horizontally centered above the symbol DOT, in letters and/or numerals at least 0.09 inches (0.23 cm) high.
- All symbols, letters, and numerals shall be in a color that contrasts with the background of the label.
- No other information, other than the certification information listed in parts A-E above, shall appear on the label.
- The label shall appear on the outer surface of the helmet and be placed so that it is centered laterally with the horizontal centerline of the DOT symbol located a minimum of 1 inch (2.5 cm) and a maximum of 3 inches (7.6 cm) from the bottom edge of the posterior portion of the helmet.
However, the DOT label will not always be in the form of a sticker. Many helmets actually have the DOT label directly painted on the rear of the helmet.
In certain cases, the specific design of some helmets can make the placement of the external DOT label on the rear of the helmet at the exact spot required by the law impossible, making the helmet illegal for road use even though it may be covering all the necessary safety requirements.
On the other hand, a DOT sticker located on the rear of the helmet does not guarantee that the helmet is actually DOT approved. There are counterfeit DOT stickers that are being sold which riders can stick on the outside of a non-DOT compliant helmet.
Many helmets that are being designed for and sold in other countries around the world can meet a lot more stricter and tougher standards but not be DOT approved simply because they have not been submitted for DOT approval. Nonetheless, these helmets are not road legal in the USA.
DOT certified helmets must also have a manufacturer’s information label located on the inside, which indicates the manufacturer’s name, size, model, month and year of manufacture, construction materials, and instructions to the purchaser.
Other stickers may also be present on motorcycle helmets, such as where to pull the helmet in an emergency (which should also not be removed) and other miscellaneous stickers.
Why is the DOT sticker so important?
The DOT standard (FMVSS 218) is intended to improve the safety of motorcycle riders.
Although it is not guaranteed that a motorcycle rider will crash, it is a well-established fact that motorcyclists involved in crashes suffer more serious injuries and overall consequences than car drivers. And head trauma is among the leading reasons for fatalities when it comes to motorcycle crashes.
Thus it makes sense to seek ways to improve the safety of the riders by focusing on motorcycle helmets, among other things.
This DOT standard sets the minimum requirements that a motorcycle helmet should meet and sets the bar for what is considered a legal motorcycle helmet and what is not (This is why motorcycle riders cannot legally wear a bicycle helmet while riding a motorcycle in many places.)
That being said.
Depending on where the rider lives, the laws they must comply with regarding wearing motorcycle helmets can vary. In the USA, there are states where wearing motorcycle helmets is not mandatory, while others may require a certain group of riders to wear helmets. And in certain states, all riders may be required to wear protective headgear.
See article: What is the best color for a motorcycle helmet
Should you remove the DOT sticker on a motorcycle helmet?
It is not recommended to take the DOT sticker off your motorcycle helmet. Especially if you live in a state where wearing DOT helmets is required by the law. Removing your DOT sticker can lead to potential tickets by a law enforcement officer.
It is required from a DOT-approved helmet to have both the outside DOT sticker and the inside manufacturer’s label. If these labels are missing, the helmet may be deemed illegal for road use.
In fact, on many MSF courses, one of the first things that beginners are told is to always wear a DOT-approved helmet and keep the DOT sticker on (or the DOT label painted on).
Leaving the DOT sticker on can also be helpful if you intend to sell the helmet later, and it is of particular significance if you are considering buying a used helmet.
See article: Is it OK to buy a used motorcycle helmet?
What can happen if you take the DOT sticker off a helmet?
Although removing a simple sticker off the helmet should not affect its protective capabilities, it can lead to problems when it comes to proving to the authorities the helmet is road legal.
A law enforcement officer may decide to ticket the rider if the DOT sticker on the outside of the helmet has been removed, even if a DOT label is present on the inside of the helmet.
In certain cases, the police officer may not allow the rider to leave without a proper motorcycle helmet in certain cases. This can lead to your motorcycle getting towed and impounded if no one can bring you a DOT-certified helmet and you are not allowed to park in the area.
And even if you get away only with a warning, this can be used as a reason to get pulled over again. On top of that, a ticket for a non-DOT-approved helmet can be added on with another offense, such as speeding.
Police officers are well aware that there are riders who are wearing non-road legal helmets, and they can be keeping an eye on anything that looks even a little suspicious.
They are also aware of the fact that people can use fake DOT stickers sometimes, which is illegal in itself and makes matters even worse.
That being said, the focus is often placed on motorcycle helmets that are more likely not to be DOT certified, like half helmets.
Usually, riders wearing full-face motorcycle helmets or high-quality ones like those sold by reputable brands may be less prone to helmet inspections by the police.
Taking off the external DOT label on a helmet that has a DOT label on the inside may not cause as much trouble to the rider since they may be able to prove to the police office it is a DOT-approved helmet. Nonetheless, some officers are looking for labels under clear coat and specific lettering, and in some states, it is required for the label to be visible, so there is no guarantee the rider will leave ticket-free.
At the end of the day, this is a highly situational issue. In certain states, the laws can be fairly ambiguous, leaving place for different interpretations.
Many riders have been peeling the DOT stickers off, have never had any problems with the authorities, and have never been asked to prove they are wearing a DOT-approved helmet. However, there is no guarantee this cannot happen. And at the same time, there are riders who have been pulled over and ticketed because of a peeled DOT sticker.