Motorcycle helmets: you can say the two words and most riders, as well as a lot of non-riders, will have an opinion. Now if you add one more word, “motorcycle helmet certifications,” there will be as many confused looks as the former words inspired opinions.
Although many riders know what D.O.T. stands for, the other helmet safety standard certifications are not as well-known. There are many different safety standards because of the regulations adopted by different countries, but these are the four certifications that are commonly discussed: D.O.T., Snell, ECE, and SHARP.
D.O.T., an acronym for the Department of Transportation, is a U.S. safety standard that came about in 1972 with the passing of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. This is the most well-known standard in the U.S. and if a state requires a motorcycle helmet be worn, it must be a D.O.T. certified helmet.
The D.O.T. certification process, as well as the other three certification processes, test using “headforms.” These are weighted head-shaped forms with electronic measuring devices that are dropped onto various shape anvils or the anvils are dropped onto the helmets. All four standards test for three areas of helmet performance: energy absorption, penetration resistance, and effectiveness of a helmet’s retention system.
All of the certification processes have different methods and thresholds for these tests. The other three helmet certifications also have additional tests performed. I’ll go into further detail in a future article.
Snell, condensed for the Snell Memorial Foundation standard, is a private non-profit organization standard. The Foundation and the following standards came about after William “Pete” Snell died in 1956 when his helmet failed to protect him in an accident. For road-use helmets, as opposed to racing, it is a voluntary certification that many motorcycle helmet manufacturers have their helmets Snell certified.
ECE, short for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, is a European safety standard certification. It is actually the most common certification standard used worldwide and has been adopted by fifty countries.
SHARP, short for Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, is a UK standard. It is not as well-known or as popular as the other three standards, but rather than just a “pass” or a “fail,” it gives degrees of performance in a five-star system.
What motorcycle helmet certification is the best? The answer depends on a lot of objective variables relating to an accident and also with whom you are talking. The testing variables and the pros and cons of each don’t give a clear answer either. In a follow up article, I will go into the details that will allow you to make an informed decision of what motorcycle helmet is best for you.