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Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards – Where’s the difference?

A motorcycle rider’s preparation plays a big part in their safety on the road. Whether an accident was caused by yourself or others, the right protection gear can lessen the impact on your health and life. Given the importance of our brain in regard to our body functions, a motorcycle helmet is critical when it comes to protecting our wellbeing.

To help us find the highest quality and best protection, multiple government and private organizations have implemented tests for motorcycle helmets. The models that reach their safety standards are given a certificate. Who are these organizations, and what are their respective criteria for a good helmet?

The Necessity of Motorcycle Helmets

Many countries have made wearing a helmet mandatory, while others heavily advise their citizens to wear them for their own good. However, wearing other protective gear that protects vulnerable body parts is universally voluntary. Why is the head protection so critical? The reason is our head’s unique importance when it comes to controlling our body and experiencing the world.

Our brain controls every process that regulates our body and creates our awareness. Losing a limb might restrict our movement and flexibility. Damage to the brain, however, can negatively impact thoughts, memories, emotions, motor skills, senses, and many other functions of our body. Injuries of the same force that hit our brain vs. other organs have a higher chance to cause extensive negative effects throughout our body, including a much higher rate of fatality or paralysis.

In 2008 The Cochrane Collaboration published a study review that compared 61 observational studies about motorcycle accidents and whether a helmet helped to reduce head, neck or fatal injuries. Their result:

  • Motorcycle helmets were consistently found to reduce the risk of death and head injury in motorcycle accidents.

They estimated that motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of death by 42 % and the risk of head injuries by 69 %. They could, however, not make conclusive claims as to which kind of helmet build worked best. Likewise, they noted that the speed of the driver is an important factor deciding over the fatality of an accident as well.

Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards

There are six established safety standards created by different organizations:

Helmets that were approved by them are typically marked by their certification sticker.

The Differences Between Safety Standards

Why do multiple organizations feel the need to test helmets themselves when others have already proven their effectiveness? The answer is that they often have a different focus on what makes a helmet truly safe. They typically use different criteria for severity, impact circumstances, test equipment and variety.

The most basic elements of the safety tests are:

  • An Impact Test: Impacting a helmet with different velocities against surfaces with different shapes and materials…
  • A Penetration Test: Dropping heavy objects from great height onto the helmet, shooting visors with air rifles…
  • Retention Strap Test: Pulling on the chin strap with hanging or falling weights…
  • Peripheral Vision Test: The helmets must not interfere with peripheral vision (at least 105 degrees must be unobstructed)…

During these, they test for abrasion-resistance, durability and slipping.

DOT

The DOT describes the legal minimum standard a helmet must reach in the US. It includes the mentioned tests under different weather conditions.

SNELL

The Snell tests are stricter and more varied. Next to the mentioned tests, there are:

  • A Roll-Off Test: Testing whether a rolling force will pull the helmet off a head.
  • Chin Bar Impact Test: Testing the strength of the chin bar specifically.

Additionally, most of their tests are more elaborate. That includes measuring a brain’s acceleration during crashes, as well as multiple retention and penetration tests.

ECE

The ECE is closer to the DOT when it comes to the number tests, but it is more comprehensive. They test multiple helmets of the same model to ensure a consistent quality, and test multiple sizes to see if one is weaker than others. They also expose their helmets to more adverse influences like UV-light and solvents.

SHARP

The SHARP tests only test ECE approved helmets that are sold in the UK, meaning their standard is higher than the ECE. They also include many different speeds, surfaces, and measure how much rotational energy would be transferred to a rider’s head in an accident.

The SHARP standard is different to other standards by not letting helmets pass or fail. Instead, they give 1-to-5-star ratings, so you can compare helmets more effectively.

FIM

The FIM oversees international world championship level races. Therefore, they focus heavily on high-speed crash protection and rotational force resistance. They only test full-face helmets. Overall, their standard is higher than the ECE.

BSI

The BSI is a second British certificate. They use most of the same minimum requirements as the Snell Foundation.

Conclusion

Helmets play a big part in protecting yourself from injuries and death. The different safety standard certificates can help you find the best helmet. All safety standards point to good helmets. If you want the best: The Snell and FIM helmets must pass strict tests to succeed and offer good protection. The SHARP certificate is another good guide. You can use its star rating system to compare how helmets that have passed other standards differentiate.

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