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Helmet Safety Ratings

If you have ever spent any time staring at the back of your helmet (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?), you probably noticed a bunch of different stickers. These stickers represent different certifications, and depending on your lid, you may see one or more of these:

  • DOT: Standards determined by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT rating currently in effect is federal standard FMVSS 218, and any helmet with the DOT sticker should meet these standards (more on that later).
  • ECE: Standards determined by the Economic Commission for Europe. This multinational standard is used by more than 50 countries in Europe, and any helmet with this sticker must meet the current ECE 22.05 standard.
  • SNELL: Standards determined by the Snell Memorial Foundation. This is a voluntary testing procedure, and is only required by certain race bodies. The current standard is SNELL M2015 for street-use helmets, and SA2015 for race-use helmets.

 

DOT FMVSS 218

  • Pros:
  • High-energy testing scheme, uses the hemispherical anvil and two strikes per location
  • Technician is allowed to strike the helmet anywhere within a large coverage area
  • Reasonable maximum allowable energy transfer of 400 g peak
  • CONS:
  • “Honor system” of random testing is ineffective, and many helmets labeled DOT may not actually pass the standard
  • Limited number of headforms used
  • Testing not related to impact energy management is somewhat lacking: no testing of optics, removability, friction resistance and several other important factors

ECE 22.05

  • PROS:
  • Standards are actively and thoroughly tested on all helmets sold with ECE certification
  • Very low peak energy allowable (only 275 g)
  • Extensive battery of testing for a variety of safety-related features.
  • Eight headforms for a larger range of testing variables
  • CONS:
  • Curbstone anvil and single strike equal very low-energy testing, arguably too low for the higher speeds in the United States
  • Fixed helmet strike positions make it possible to cheat the impact testing
  • Headform variety can mean displaced center of gravity during testing, reducing impact energy in tests by up to 20 percent

SNELL M2015

  • PROS:
  • Standards are actively and thoroughly tested on all helmets sold with SNELL certification
  • Very low peak energy allowable (only 275 g)
  • Testing for stability, removability, face shield shattering
  • Extreme “edge” anvil tests intense impact energy
  • Technicians actively search out weak points on helmet, ensuring the most thorough testing possible
  • CONS:
  • Higher cost of private SNELL testing often reflects in higher retail price of SNELL-certified helmets
  • Race-oriented nature of SNELL can exclude helmets with useful street options (internal sun shield, most modular helmets)

SHARP

  • PROS:
  • Helmets are tested using both higher and lower velocity impacts than any other testing scheme
  • Extensive battery of impact tests
  • Five impact points per helmet
  • Post-impact “helmet autopsy” used to identify potential weak points
  • Rating systems offer consumers more than a simple “pass/fail”
  • CONS:
  • Controversy over the effectiveness of “star” and “color code” rating systems
  • Testing designed around European crash data, and does not take into account the energy levels and conditions in American riding
  • Curbstone and flat anvils simulate lower energy levels than the DOT and SNELL regulated hemi anvils