Since The Kneeslider is offering motorcycle helmets these days, I was doing some digging into helmet safety standards and what all of the different labels really mean. I read the Motorcyclist Magazine helmet study closely and it really is quite the eye opener.
Most of us look at the top brands for the most part, make sure all of the “appropriate” safety standards are met, and then choose the helmet we like best. Problem is, some of the best known helmets, certified to the Snell standard, may not be the best choice.
Snell is probably the best known standard, here in the U.S., and we often look for that as a way to identify the superior helmets. But the Snell standard may not be the most protective for our heads in real life. Their test requires a helmet (among other things) to withstand two impacts of a considerable force in the same location, an event with almost zero probability of occuring in an actual accident. The reason why this particular test is a problem is that helmets protect our heads by slowing them down in a crash, letting the foam liner crush and absorbing the force. Once that happens, their ability to protect your head in the same location is greatly diminished. In the real world, that is fine because they’ve done their job but if the Snell test requires a second same location impact, the foam must preserve itself to some degree for the second hit. The result is, the foam is much stiffer and your head is subjected to higher impact forces, more Gs, because of the more rapid deceleration caused by the less forgiving foam.
The D.O.T. and B.S.I. 6658 Type A standards are the other two certifications to look for. You need the D.O.T. under any circumstances because without it, you can’t offer the helmet for sale in the U.S. as a protective device. For decoration yes, protection, no. The B.S.I. standard, originating in Europe requires a lower G limit and has other differing requirements. Some might ask, why not build a helmet that meets all of the standards? It’s because meeting one requirement often requires different construction than what is required for the other. Helmet makers must choose.
That’s the tricky part, a choice made for safety reasons by the manufacturer based on their best understanding of how to protect your head, might be a bad marketing choice since consumers look for another standard before buying. Unless helmet buyers are better educated, the company ends up losing a lot of sales even if they’re producing a better helmet. Quite a dilemma.
A very interesting study for motorcycle riders is the Hurt Report which studied real world motorcycle accidents and gave an often surprising summary. You really should glance at some of their conclusions.
I will be adding a lot more information on this subject as I gather more and I’ll relay whatever I find, including the differing points of view by the different standards organizations. It would be in your best interests to look into this subject before choosing your next helmet. Of course, if you don’t wear a helmet, … never mind.