As an avid motorcyclist I have always been reassured if slightly baffled by helmet standards, if seems odd that there is more than one standard and as you dig deeper you learn that different standards have vastly different requirements and not surprisingly, there is serious controversy about which is best. A DOT certified lid might not pass a Snell test and a Snell might not pass a DOT. The same goes for the ECE R22-05.
So what does it all mean?
Well I’m going to give you a break down of what each standard means and how they’re different. I’ll briefly explain the positives and negatives, then I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Because at the end of the day, it’s your head on the line.
These tests all involve inverting a helmet with a “headform” inside it, the headform is weighted and it contains instruments for measuring liner velocity and G-forces. The helmet slides down a rail at high speed (usually at around 7.75 metres per second) and strikes an anvil, the anvil is shaped differently depending on the certification and the specific test being applied.
On impact the G-force exerted on the headform is measured. The test is then repeated on the same impact point to ensure the helmet can protect from multiple strikes (usually two strikes of equal force) to the same area.
DOT – An acronym for Department of Transport, DOT is the is US government approved standard and, in the United States, is the most popular. DOT standards are aimed at protecting skulls from 90% of impact types ( low to moderate energy impacts according to the HURT Report) and favours a more shock-absorbent helmet. The maximum G-force allowed by the DOT test is 250g’s, an impact of 200 to 250 g’s to the head would result in a severe, though probably survivable brain injury (the DOT anvil is either flat or “kerb shaped” depending on the test). The DOT’s favouritism towards more shock-absorbent helmets seems to fall inline with recent studies indicating that absorbing the force of an impact is more important than resisting the impact.
Snell – The Snell Memorial Foundation is a not-for-profit, independent organisation established in 1957 and is named after William “Pete” Snell, a famous racing car driver who was tragically killed in 1956 when a helmet failed to protect his head during an accident. The Snell M2005 is the “old standard” and favours a more shock-resistant helmet, the M2010 is the new, more shock-absorbent standard. The Snell M2005 test allows an impact-shock of up to 300g’s, a 250 to 300g impact would result in a critical head injury. The M2010 standard allows a maximum of 275g’s (the Snell anvil is a steel ball shaped rather like a tennis ball, they also test with flat and “kerb” shaped anvils). The Snell M2005 standard is widely believed to be too “hard”, the newer M2010 is set to replace it completely in 2013, the M2010 standard favours more impact-absorbent helmets and a helmet that passes the M2010 test will probably also pass the DOT and ECE R22-05 tests (though this isn’t guaranteed). Snell certified helmets are allowed by the AMA for professional motorcycle racing however the M2005 standard will no longer be permitted after 2011.
ECE R22-05 – Developed by the rather lengthily named United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, this is the most common helmet certification internationally, required by over 50 countries worldwide. It is approved for all competition events by AMA, WERA, FIM, CCS, Formula USA and the big one – MotoGP. It, much like the DOT standard, favours a more impact-absorbent helmet allowing a maximum of 275g’s (the ECE R22-05 anvil is either flat or “kerb shaped” depending on the test). The ECE R22-05 is arguably the most up-to-date helmet certification standard, it’s wide use in a variety of high-level motorcycle racing classes is reassuring to many. The ECE R22-05 has more in common with the DOT standard than either the Snell M2005 or M2010 standard, an ECE R22-05 certified helmet are likely to pass the DOT test and vice-versa.
Helmet certification standards are a highly controversial subject in motorcycle circles, everyone wants to believe their helmet’s certification standard is number 1 but at the end of the day it’s down to each rider to do their research, make their decision and the wear their helmet. Every time.