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Helmet Safety Ratings 101

motorcycle helmet safety ratings
Your guide to Motorcycle Helmets and how they're rated.

Whether you’re navigating hair-pin turns on your daily commute, or gearing up for a big race this weekend, a helmet is one of the most important pieces of gear for your two-wheeled adventures. Unless you want to risk a sudden impact to your unprotected noggin, take a few minutes to brush up on your helmet safety ratings. Learn how are helmets rated for safety and compare safety ratings and certifications to find the best helmet for your riding style. Thankfully, modern helmets combine safety, style and comfort for racing, cruising and any other riding style.

Helmet Safety Certifications Explained

While there are many different safety tests and helmet designs, most helmets are rated through one of three organizations. So, what do helmet safety ratings mean? Here are the three main certifications you need to know:

  • ECE
  • DOT

SNELL M-95 and M2000 is certified by the Snell Memorial Foundation. Because the Snell Foundation certification isn’t a government-issued certification, it may not prove that a particular helmet is legal to wear on the road. However, Snell certifications are typically stricter than similar government certifications, so it’s a good idea to pick up a lid with one of these stickers.

ECE is the European standard of certification. While not the same as the American DOT tests, the European Standard 22/05 and BSI 6658-85 Type A are useful certification tests. The BSI test includes a chin strap retention, abrasion and slippage test that isn’t featured in many other tests.

Finally, one of the most important safety stickers to look for on your helmet is a DOT sticker. While a DOT test may not be as thorough, it’s the legal baseline for road-ready helmets. Similar to Snell Foundation tests, DOT testing looks at impact, retention, chin bar and positional stability factors before certifying helmets.

History of Helmet Designs

While helmets have been around for years, early additions were nothing more than a chunk of leather strapped to your head. If you’re thinking this probably wasn’t the most effective design, you’d be right. It took the death of T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, in 1935 for crash helmets to get their first big innovation.

The neurosurgeon who treated Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Hugh Cairns, came up with crash tests and created the Cairns crash helmet. This design could protect you from winding up with a handlebar penetrating your head, but otherwise didn’t do much to prevent trauma due to impact.

Additional protection was added by Herman Roth, with a floating inner suspension, hard shell and chin strap. Since the 1950s this basic design has been the go-to helmet design for two-wheeled riders.

Today’s helmets borrow this same design, but add a whole host of innovative features. Cooling vents, wicking material and more comfortable shapes and visor designs all make the latest helmets comfortable, safe and downright awesome.

Common Safety Tests

Helmets certified by the Snell Foundation go through these thorough safety tests. DOT and ECE tests are similar, but aren’t as thorough in particular areas. For a reliable helmet when things turn sour, pick up a helmet design that’s underwent these impact tests:

  • Positional stability test: This test uses a head form placed at a 135-degree angle. Once the helmet is strapped on, a weight is dropped from a specific height onto the helmet. The test is repeated at 180 degrees. The goal is to see whether the helmet will roll off with an angled impact.
  • Impact testing: A range of controlled impacts batter the helmet to determine whether it can handle a beating and keep you protected. It’s effectiveness is measured by the G-force it can withstand.
  • Chin bar test: A chin bar should be able to deflect a five kilogram weight a minimal distance. This test drops a weight to hit the center of a helmet’s chin bar and measures the downward deflection.
  • Shell test: The shell of a motorcycle helmet should withstand penetration. This Snell test uses a three kilogram pointed object dropped on the helmet. This object can’t come in contact with the head or penetrate the helmet at all.
  • Face shield test: Similarly, the face shield, or visor, should protect the rider from a penetrating projectile. This test uses an air rifle to shoot a soft lead pellet about 310 miles per hour at three different points on the visor.

These tests are common on Snell rated helmets. While the DOT and ECE certifications use slightly different tests and testing procedures. For instance, DOT helmets are tested by the manufacturer and subjected to a random test by the DOT. Snell certifications are issued by the Snell Foundation, so a third-party team ensures the accuracy of the results.

Many helmets sport multiple safety certifications. It’s not uncommon to see a helmet that has two or three certification stickers. While this means that multiple parties have subjected it to a battery of tests, it doesn’t necessarily mean a helmet is safer than another option that only has a single sticker.

Signs You Need a New Helmet

Chances are, you’re probably already rocking a helmet with one or more of these certifications. However, have you ever checked the expiration date of your helmet? If you’ve ever been in a minor or major collision, it’s time to replace your helmet. Helmets that haven’t seen much action should still be swapped out every five years.

Five years may not seem like a long lifetime, but a range of everyday factors can reduce the safety of your helmet. Cleaners, sweat, paint, fuel and other fluids can degrade certain helmet materials and reduce its effectiveness. Don’t take a tumble with a weakened helmet, but invest in a new, durable helmet for your next ride.

The Verdict

From motocross and offroad racing to city cruisers and roadsters, your two-wheeled transportation can be a safety hazard without the right equipment. Now that you’ve brushed up on the importance of motorcycle helmet safety ratings, it’s time to pick the best lid for your next ride. Compare helmet types, safety ratings and costs to find the best option for your situation. Shop online to easily compare all your options and enjoy killer deals and affordable shipping.

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