Business·Marketplace

Motorcycle helmets bought from online platforms had counterfeit safety certifications, test finds

A CBC Marketplace investigation has found that some motorcycle helmets purchased on popular websites would crack and fall apart in a crash — and that the safety certifications on them are counterfeit.

Marketplace investigation finds helmets crack and fall apart during safety testing

Will these motorcycle helmets keep you safe? We put them to the test

2 months ago
Duration 8:14
They're the only thing protecting your head from the pavement in a crash, but are all motorcycle helmets built the same? Marketplace puts motorcycle helmets from third-party sellers on Amazon, eBay and Walmart to the test, and shows how easy it can be to fall for fake safety certifications.

Experts are warning consumers to think carefully before purchasing safety equipment online, especially when it comes to protecting their heads.

A CBC Marketplace investigation has found that some motorcycle helmets purchased on popular websites would crack and fall apart in a crash — and that the safety certifications on them are counterfeit.

Marketplace purchased helmets for sale on Amazon, eBay and Walmart's marketplace advertised as U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) certified. Manufacturers, who are responsible for conducting testing, include the letters "DOT" on the back of a helmet to indicate the helmet has met or exceeded the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. It's one of the three required safety certifications for motorcycle helmets in Canada. 

But despite advertising that the helmets were safety certified, Marketplace found that each helmet failed portions of the safety standard, which, according to experts, means the DOT certifications were counterfeit.

Chris Withnall, senior engineer with Biokinetics lab in Ottawa, which tested the helmets, said it can be "a matter of life and death."

"A helmet might look like a motorcycle helmet, but it might not actually behave like a motorcycle helmet when you need it most," he said.

This helmet, purchased from a third-party seller on Walmart.ca, failed to prevent a striker from contacting a testing headform. (Southern Impact Research Centre)

After Marketplace told Amazon, eBay and Walmart about the helmets' counterfeit safety certifications, all platforms removed the listings the show had identified.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for eBay wrote that it invests millions of dollars into keeping its platform safe. A spokesperson for Amazon wrote that its partners are "contractually obligated to ensure that their products comply with all applicable laws and Amazon policies," and it urged concerned consumers to contact its customer service team. A spokesperson for Walmart wrote that the sellers are responsible for "ensuring their products meet all legal and regulatory requirements." 

Marketplace also asked the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to respond to the investigation. In an email, the agency wrote that it relies on a self-certification process and will sometimes conduct random tests on some helmets, but it does take feedback and complaints from consumers into account. It also said it will recall helmets if necessary and acknowledged there are retailers that use fake DOT labels. 

When shopping for helmets, Milan Uzelac, a senior motorcycle instructor with the Rider Training Institute, urges riders to stick with reputable brands and try helmets on in-person. 

"If and when things happen, you want to be confident that the helmet you're wearing is going to protect you," he said. 

Watch the full Marketplace investigation to see exactly how each helmet failed the testing, and for tips on red flags to look for when shopping for helmets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenny Cowley is an investigative journalist in Toronto. She has previously reported for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at Jenny.cowley@cbc.ca.

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