Whether you ride a motorcycle or sit behind a rider, you should always wear a helmet. Put simply, Washington law requires all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear helmets that comply with certain requirements. If you are in the market for your first helmet or a replacement one, however, you may feel a bit confused. After all, there are thousands of riding helmets on the market today.

Helmets come in a variety of styles, materials and colors. Unfortunately, though, not every helmet offers the same level of protection. On the contrary, some helmets are novelty items that provide very little or no protection for your head. To boost your odds of reaching your destination safely, look for a helmet with a safety rating. Here are three rating systems you may find:

  1. The U.S. Department of Transportation 

Federal regulations require helmets sold in the United States to meet certain quality standards related to labeling, penetration resistance, retention and field of vision. To be sure a helmet complies, the DOT requires strict testing.

  1. The Economic Commission for Europe 

For helmets sold throughout Europe, the ECE provides a seal of approval. Like with safety ratings from the DOT, ECE-certified helmets must pass strict testing. Some motorcycle enthusiasts see the ECE rating as superior to its American counterpart, as ECE rules require testing for collision avoidance in addition to survival.

  1. The Snell Memorial Foundation 

Casual riders are not likely to purchase a helmet with the Snell Memorial Foundation’s approval. If you are a racer, though, choosing a Snell-rated helmet may be the right approach. That is, the foundation has arguably the strictest testing protocols. Specifically, testers locate the weakest point on the helmet and subject it to the harshest punishment.

If a helmet does not have a safety-rating sticker, you should not buy it. Remember, though, even safety-rated helmets do not do you much good if they fit improperly. Therefore, before investing in your next helmet, test it to see if it feels both comfortable and secure when sitting on your head.