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Motorcycle Helmet Safety Ratings Details Explained in 2021

Helmets are an important tool to protect when riding a motorcycle. In 2013, more than 88,000 accidents in the USA involved motorcycles. Hence, the motorcycle helmet safety rating issue must be taken seriously by riders as well as governments through the enforcement of laws. But different standards across regions are maintained and can vary in their capabilities to protect. Europeans have a standard called ECE, while Americans’ standard is DOT. SNELL, FIM, and SHARP are other standards that are 3rd party organizations that contribute to the motorcycle helmet safety ratings  

Motorcycle Helmet Safety Ratings: Why Are They Important?

If you are riding a motorcycle, you definitely will be risking your body on the road. An accident can be fatal if proper protection is not worn. Brain injuries are the most common pattern of injury in motorcycle accidents. Wearing proper protection can ensure that such brain injury is avoided. The best motorcycle helmet plays a crucial role in protecting the head from such fatal accidents. Many riders have a psychological block in accepting this truth. Thanks to governments across the globe for taking steps to ensure that riders, as well as their passengers, are wearing helmets. 

The main purpose of helmets is to absorb the shock from a collision. The quality of a helmet to protect the head is vital when considering a helmet. The development in material technology has enabled lightweight materials to become integral parts of helmets. Impact resistance research has also brought developments in making the best helmets with high capability to absorb shocks from collisions. When deciding on a helmet, such quality features may cost a higher price, but it is worth considering it. 

The level of comfort is another important factor when choosing a helmet. The safest helmets are those which have full face coverage. Choose a helmet that is most comfortable when worn. You may want to test wearing before purchasing. Make sure that the helmet is comfortable for all sides of your head. Ensure that there are no itchy corners poking on your head or face. This will make you uncomfortable when riding and can be a nuisance in the long run when you are taking a long journey. 

While choosing a full-face helmet, make sure that the view in front is also full and not only partially viewable. Some of the most popular manufacturers of helmets include Iron Horse Helmet, Bell, and Nola. Their products have incorporated ventilation capabilities which can be very comfortable as air flows in and out of the helmet. Anti-fog features can be another important benefit that can make your ride easier in cold weather. 

What Are Helmet Safety Ratings?

Helmets have different ratings as seen from the back of the helmets. The ratings indicate which represent the different standards of the helmet. There are mainly 2 standards by government bodies. One is the USA-based DOT while the other is the European-based ECE. There are 3 more 3rd party agencies that also provide safety ratings. 

DOT – represents the US standard given by the US Department of Transport. 

ECE– stands for Economic Commission of Europe which has helmet standards accepted and applied in more than 50 countries in Europe. 

FIM – is rated by Global Motorcycling organizations which is relatively a newer standard.

SNELL– comes from SNELL Memorial Foundation which applies ratings for certain racing organizations. 

Make sure that your helmet has passed one of the standards otherwise you may be using something that may not be able to protect your head. There are such helmets without passing the standard and are known as novelty helmets. They do not offer any protection but may look very gorgeous in design and presentation. They may not be legal to wear in some places where helmets must have standard ratings. Helmets may have one or a number of ratings such as DOT and SNELL, or DOT and ECE and so on. 

How Motorcycle Helmets Are Tested?

Helmets are tested by the organizations providing the ratings. There aren’t too many to be confused about. However, this may not be the case all the time. For example, the FMVSS 218 standard is not tested by the issuing body but is actually tested by independent contractors. 

The testing of helmets focuses on energy transfer from impact. This tests how much energy the head will absorb from the impact. That is why it is important to test how strong a helmet is to protect the head injury from occurring. Unlike car crashes, other factors such as the angle of the rider in the collision, rider’s position, and trajectory are to be considered when testing helmets. 

The helmet is placed securely and an anvil, typically made of iron, is dropped on the helmet to check its strength. Anvils of various shapes and sizes are applied to find if there are weak points in a helmet. The drops are made in a way that simulates accidents or collisions. There is also the need to check if the helmet can protect from punctures. Such tests are done where sharp anvils are dropped to check if there is considerable puncture at all. 

Which tests are done for helmets? 

Testing bodies include the American rating standard called DOT, the European standard called ECE, the racing standard SNELL, SHARP, and FIM standard by global race track standard. Each helmet with the rating stickers depicts that they have passed the testing authority’s standard. Helmets can have one sticker, two stickers, or more. 

The DOT standard has a number of tests such as retention test, penetration resistance, vision scope, and labeling. The tests are rigorous and are all well documented. This assures that the helmet reaches the safety standard required by the DOT rating. 

ECE 22.05 standard is relatively a newer standard which is more comprehensive than the DOT standard of the USA. The tests are of higher quality that can contribute to avoiding accidents. The optical quality of the face shields and shell rigidity are tested. The tests are by independent labs to ensure there are no biased results. 

As the crashes in Europe are of lower speeds, hence the impact testing is different to USA DOT testing. Curbstone, a smooth anvil is applied for testing which is conducted through a lower energy based blow compared to SNELL and DOT tests. However, the blows are conducted on fixed points which may tamper the result outcomes. This may cause passing of a helmet that could be potentially unsafe. DOT and SNELL tests, on the other hand, are tested by testers who could strike anywhere they want, ensuring that the results are full proof from any biased outcomes. 

What is a Snell safety rating?

SNELL Memorial Foundation is considered to be the gold standard in the helmet safety standard. It checks the safety of a helmet for the racetrack. SNELL also checks for stability and ease of quick removal in cases of emergencies. SNELL technicians are also on the look for any possible weaknesses in the helmet. Hence, the process for checking is so rigorous that a safety pass by SNELL ensures the highest quality a helmet can possess. The technician checks inner components as well such as the fiber lining. 

SNELL standards come with a criticism of being too rigid. Two strikes for testing are not practically seen in the real world, says the motorbike experts. Experts state that with rigid helmets, the chances for head injury increase. 

What is a SHARP safety rating?

SHARP helmet safety scheme is a relatively newcomer in the safety measuring industry. The aim of SHARP is to rate the helmets with stars that have passed ECE 22.05 standard. The stars on the helmet will demonstrate the energy management capability of the helmet. This allows the users to get a detailed comprehension of how much safer are the ECE passed helmets. 

Which is better: DOT, SNELL, SHARP, or ECE?

In order to understand which standard is the best, we need to check their summary in brief as outlined below – 

DOT FMVSS 218

  • 400 g peak energy transfer is maximum it can allow
  • Two strikes allowed for each location making it more test worthy
  • A high coverage area is allowed for testing
  • Headforms are limited
  • Factors such as optics, friction resistance and removability is not tested

ECE 22/05

  • 275 g energy allowable which is low
  • Large headforms are tested 
  • Single strike testing is too low for testing standard required in US market
  • Biased results may be seen as fixed positions are tested

SHARP

  • Color code and star ratings used to determine the rating of each helmet
  • Both high and low velocity impacts are applied to test
  • Each helmet has five points of impact testing
  • Ratings give users more information
  • Testing results are more European market match rather than US market

SNELL

  • Tests are done to check stability, face shield shattering and removability
  • Thorough testing done by testers trying to find any weak points
  • Costs for testing is higher
  • Race based testing can leave out street based helmet checks 

What is the best motorcycle helmet safety rating?

Speed of the motorcycle will determine how hard you may crash and the subsequent protection needed. Number of factors play a critical role in determining which helmet is best for the rider such as fit, the ease of use, comfort and needed protection in certain locations. A lighter helmet may be comfortable for the rider, but the protection needed in a fast route may require the rider to wear a stronger heavier helmet. 

The rating can help in solving this need. In the US, a DOT certification may be good enough. However, if you are, for example, planning to take a trip on LA’s freeway, then the speed taken will best suit a SNELL certified helmet. 

Good fit is also important when choosing the best helmet for you. If a cheaper priced DOT certified helmet fits better than a luxuriously priced SNELL helmet, it would be wise to choose the DOT certified helmet as the protection will be better. 

What is Shoei and Arai Helmet?

Shoei helmets are one of the best helmets with standards of SNELL, DOT, SHARP and ECE. Shoei’s X-Fourteen is a professional helmet for the sporting industry coming at a price of almost 900 USD. The helmet is made to ensure that it is aerodynamic, safe, and also attractive. It is stable when motor racing while also giving the highest level of comfort and noise suppression. The components in the helmet are all adjustable as well as removable. The helmet has the anti-fog feature. However the price is high, but worth it. It may not be suitable for daily use and so motor racing lovers would best utilize it. 

Arai Signet-X is also a highly recommended helmet from users giving it a 5 out of 5 score. It is certified by SNELL, ECE, DOT, and SHARP. One of the features of the helmet is that it has a better absorption capacity as it is made from multi layered fiberglass. The ventilation inside the helmet is rated very well. The anti-microbial component makes the helmet more comfortable than other helmets. There is also foam which enables the fitting against the jaw better. There is an emergency quick removal system installed which allows the user to remove the helmet quickly, especially in cases of accidents. Hope you don’t have to use it ever! The anti-fog system Pinlock max vision 120 is installed in the helmet as well to ensure that fog does not get in the way of users vision. The price is comparatively cheaper than Shoei’s X-Fourteen at around 700 USD. However, there are other brand lines of Arai which could easily cross 4 figures. 

While price is a reflection of higher quality safety features, even then, there are affordable helmets which can bring in safety features within affordable prices. Duchinni D832 model comes at a price of less than 100 USD but with high safety features. SHARP ratings show that Shoei and Bell are the safest of brands while Schuberth and Arai come with the highest price and comparatively less safety ratings. 

Do helmets expire?

Helmets do not necessarily have an expiry date as they are not biodegradable products. However, the use based wear and tear will eventually make the helmet less effective and comfortable. A number of factors can make a helmet ineffective such as how much is the helmet used, when it was manufactured, where has it been stored, has the helmet faced any impacts? 

While the motorcycle rating organizations do not mention any expiry date, the DOT FMVSS-218 standard requires manufactured date on each helmet. It gives an idea of how long the helmet has been used and when it should be replaced. The reason is to ensure that there are no counterfeit labels on the helmets. As such, DOT requires each helmet to have the model number, the manufacturer name, the FMVSS218 label and the work certified below. 

Typically, 3 to 5 years of usage time is advised by helmet manufacturers. SNELL memorial advises 5 years of use and replacement afterwards. 

Which is better, Arai or Shoei?

Shoei focuses on user comfort as depicted in their philosophy statement ‘active safety’. Arai has a similar focus on personal safety which can be seen from application of their own standards surpassing that of ECE standards of Europe or DOT standards of USA. 

In terms of Shell construction, Shoei’s focus on rider comfort makes them create helmets that have the least air resistance. This way, they want to ensure that the rider is having a smooth ride. Shoei also ensures that the noise created during the air resistance is the least so that a rider in a long journey can have lesser fatigue experience. 

EPS or Expanded Polystyrene is the layer of foam which absorbs the shock received by a helmet. Arai applies one layered EPS while Shoei uses two layered multi-density design. A rider expecting to have full protection would choose Shoei helmet in terms of EPS impact.

The internal fit by Shoei focuses on the American market with one model. Arai, on the other hand, has 3 models for different regional settings. The long oval, intermediate and round oval are three models produced by Arai. As understood, the rider who has the need for extreme internal fit would prefer Arai as the options for choosing are more. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Helmets are an important accessory when riding a Motorcycle. It can protect a rider from major injuries in the head. When choosing a helmet, there are safety standards that can assist in the decision. The Americans have DOT standards while Europeans have ECE standards. SNELL, FIM, and SHARP are other safety standards that are also applied in helmet safety checks. The test procedures are rigorous in some standards ensuring that the safety of the helmet is well tested. Arai and Shoei, both Japanese, are the most popular brands in motorcycle helmets but can have high prices to be considered affordable for low-budget helmet buyers. However, buying a helmet that can protect your head should be worth every penny spent on helmets.

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