Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Does Your Helmet Rate?

I was surfing the web today and ran across something I found that surprised me about helmets. Now before you go off an rant about the merits (or not) of helmets you can stop right there. This post is not about that subject and I don't want to open that bag of snakes. I know everyone has strong feelings on this subject and it has been debated on many blogs. This post is going to deal with the standards in which they are certified. 

I for one bought my new helmet because of it's certifying rating which happens to be the Snell M2005 rating. I thought it was the standard which meant "the best" protection. Stacy at did a review on the helmet she bought. While reading her post she stated she bought her helmet because it had ECE 22.05 certification. (Page 102 of this PDF have all the test specs for all certification testing.) I had never heard of that rating before reading her post. So I did some reading to see what it meant. Disclaimer: Stacy I didn't steal your link coming up, I found it today while doing research. I didn't realize until making the link to your post that you had one of the following links.

One of the first links I came across was site called SHARP (BTW they have a great video on helmet sizing) which is a government site for the UK. The reason for going there is I wanted to see how my new helmet rated compared to others. Since they have different models in the UK I picked the XR100 which is for all practical purposes is the same as my RF1000. Or is it? They look the same, have the same feature and for all I can tell are the very same helmet. Except for the certification, the XR is ECE 22.05 and my RF is Snell M2005 rated. Why?

First it has to do with the standards they have set for Europe. But why isn't the Snell rating good enough if it is "the best?" There comes the fly in the ointment. It seems that maybe the Snell standard might be "to good." Huh, to good?

It appears that many experts think the Snell standard is set to high and as such the helmet is too stiff. To stiff? Isn't that what you want? In this article written by a Jim Brown for Motorcyclist (warning VERY long read) these experts have different ideas on how helmets should work. They seem to think the 300g limit that Snell sets is to high. While that is great for large impacts most (Hurt Report say 75%) motorcycle crashes don't generate that much force. They want to see the G limit no higher then 250g and some think that is still to high.

Now just for a counter point on Mr. Browns article here is one at I find it interesting that Mr. Brown doesn't mention the short comings of the DOT rating verse the Shell rating namely the amount of head that is covered and other factors.

What I find funny is how United States government is so pro-active helmet but finding helpful information on the web like that of the SHARP site is so hard to find. I searched the NHTSA for related material and the best I could find was this NHTSA link  that states:

  • NHTSA is developing a video that will be viewable on its Web site in Spring 2007 to assist consumers on how to determine whether a motorcycle helmet fits them properly and how to identify whether their motorcycle helmet is compliant with FMVSS 218.

Do you think I could find it? In fact I can't even find document FMVSS218. Then here is the real kicker, the NHTSA don't even test the helmets, instead relying on the manufacture to use "the honor system" to have carried out the test before putting on the DOT sticker. Sure they do some random spot testing, all of forty helmets a year, lowered from seventy five because the percentage of failure was so high. Where as for Shell testing the manufacture pays them to test their helmets as well as random off the shelf stored bought helmets too.

Now I'm not even going to claim to be an expert on this in the least. To be honest my head is hurting are studying all of this. But I think if I'm going to spend my hard earned cash on something, I think I'll trust my money to someone who is willing to for sure test their product. That's what it boils down to me. I trust the Snell sticker on my helmet.

I'm just posting this so you can determine for yourself what helmet is best for you. The cool thing is as time marches on smart people figure out new things all the time which translate in to better products. With debates like this one, people are pushed to learn more even faster.

All of this led me to the poll on the side. I want to know if it matters to you what certification is on the helmet. Ask your friends to voted too. I'm really curious if it makes a difference to people.




irondad said...

Who would have thought helmets would be so complicated, huh?

My understanding is that Snell ratings were started as a result of a racing driver's death. Thus the full name of Snell Memorial Foundation. As such, it's more oriented towards impacts at pretty high rates of speed. That may or may not be applicable on a motorcycle.

In most motorcycle accidents the rider tips over and slides. Which means the helmet falls from 4 to 6 feet and bounces on the pavement.

That kind of impact versus a high speed crash probably present totally different dynamics. I don't know for sure.

I'm no engineer so I don't have a solid grasp on all the specifics. I just buy helmets with both DOT and Snell stickers and figure I have the best of both worlds!

Thanks for posting this. At least it keeps us all thinking about helmet use which is a totally fine thing.

dave said...

I am a re-entry rider, and having been involved in an accident years ago that resulted in my chin piece (full face style) hitting the pavement (yes with my face in it :)), I wouldn't even consider a helmet without a Snell rating as I was looking for a new one.
I also wanted a flip front, but Snell will not issue a rating for these helmets citing the possibilty that they might come open during an accident...yeah.
Then I found this article
Sorry if I duplicated anything already said, and I am thinking that even though there may not be a Snell sticker on it I will reconsider my thoughts on a flip front helmet. Just more food for thought.

Earl Thomas said...

I guess that it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to call me a safety gear hound, I'm always trying different stuff in the interest of protection, comfort, styling, yada yada yada........
But ultimately, trying to understand the specifics of the different certification standards just makes my head hurt (pun intended).

I do in fact look for the Snell and D.O.T. certifications if for no other reason that I feel both standards have my personal safety in mind with the additional interest in constantantly improving safety as well.


Stacy said...

If ECE is good enough for Germans and MotoGP riders, it's more than enough for me. :)

@fasthair: I'm glad my review sparked an interesting discussion.

Ann said...

The problem is this: DOT helmets are only rated for impacts of up to 13 mph. I did one of my first college papers (recently) on this subject. It was quite interesting.

fasthair said...

Mr. Irondad: Your understanding of why the Snell rating was devolved was for racing for which the impacts are much greater, this you are correct. You are also correct that when we crash we do only fall about six feet or so. This is why the debate for the lower G impact is so hot.

Mr. Dave: Welcome back to the world of motorcycles! Glad to hear you made it through your crash too! Your link doesn’t work. So if you could try to post it again or send me an email (link in profile) I would be happy to post the link here, plus I want to read it.

Mr. ET: I know you are one of those ATGATT type of guys which is cool. My head hurt while researching this post too. I think you are right too. I believe that all of the standards have our best interest in mind. Like I said this debate fuels more testing which is always a good thing.

Ms. Stacy: No thank you for getting my brain engaged. Like I said it was your post showing me about the ECE rating that get me wondering what it was all about. And I agree if it is good enough for MotoGP and the like it is good enough for me too. My post wasn’t about which standard is best. But was meant to show and maybe educate someone along the way. Thank you for my education.

Ms. Ann: There are problems with all the standards which I think is clear with this debate. Like I said to Stacy this wasn’t about which is best but to get people to look at the debate and decide for themselves. I would really like to read your paper you did for school. Could you post it on your blog or email it to me? What grade did you get on it?

To all thanks for voting too.


RickNiekLikeBikes said...

When I got my first helmet, a motorcycle accessories sales professional simply said, "Oh You want a Snell Rated Helmet!" I asked him if Snell rated helmets were the same and he said "All you need to know is that it's Snell Rated."


Anonymous said...

For the sake of your readers, please read up on the difference between "to" and "too".

Thanks for the info on the SHARP site. They recently did some nice tests on modular helmets.

fasthair said...

Rick: Did this salesperson help you in getting the proper fitting helmet according to the SHARP video?

Mr. or Ms. A: It’s too bad you didn’t use your name so I could call you by name when replying to your comment. I thank you for taking the time to enlighten me. But since I am too dumb to know better or to understand the use of the word "to" would it be too much to ask for you to point out where my grammar errors are please? I’m just trying to learn so I don’t make too many mistakes like that too many more times. Oh I want to thank you for stopping by my blog too. And please stop by again, it will be nice to see you again. But next time would it be too much to ask for you to use your name? I really do like to know who I’m talking to.

That SHARP site is a nice place. But just like everything else about this debate I was reading yesterday and seen where their method of testing is coming under fire too.

Update: I just ran my post through MS Word and yup, you are right. I screwed up the use of the word “to” once. It should have been “Too stiff”. I’ll know better then to do that again. Crap, I see I missed and apostrophe too. It should have been Mr. Brown’s and not Mr. Browns. Those are the only two green squiggly lines I see. But I probably missed a comma or two too. I will really work on this too so my readers can enjoy this to the max. MS Word says I didn’t screw up this reply to you too bad. That makes me feel better too.


PatnWilton said...

Fasthair, I found this website very helpful.

It is webBikeWorld. They do a lot of reviews on helmets. They try them, test them and rate them. So far it has been the best site for information. Check it out.