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Helmet Certifications

John Lyon

If you are amongst those who don’t believe in wearing helmets when riding a motorcycle, you can skip this BLOG completely.  None of this will matter to you. On the other hand, if you like your head and want to keep it working the way you are used to, then this may be of interest.  When it comes to choosing a piece of gear that is designed to save your life, the more you know, the better.  85e37820a0412e513b1fc3833667167f_59077d9afe3e9d23.pngRiders have been wearing helmets since motorcycles hit the streets.  The early ones were very primitive.  They were little more than flimsy cotton batting stuffed leather bonnets that provided a minimal amount of protection.  Think early aviation pilot helmets with googles.  Stylish, but not much help when the leather meets the road.

Enter Herman Roth back in the 50’s.  He envisioned and created a helmet that employed the first impact absorbing liner.  All these years later, the helmet has evolved from Herman’s early attempts into a sophisticated and technologically advanced necessity for riding in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, today’s helmets are not all created equal.  You might be surprised at the shortcuts that some manufactures take in the name of fashion, comfort, and profitability.  Don’t be fooled.  Afterall, you only get one head. So, how do you know that your helmet is as safe as you think it is?  Shouldn’t there be specific standards, testing, and labeling that insure that your investment is what you think it is? The short answer is, yes. Ever noticed those tiny little stickers on the back of some helmets?  You know… DOT, ECE, or Snell.  Well these stickers indicate that the helmet you are wearing meet specific safety standards and are roadworthy.  If your helmet does not have one of these, then you may as well put on one of those leather bonnets.  Here’s some translation for you…


You probably figured that DOT stands for Department of Transportation but they themselves do not inspect or test the helmets.  Nope.  They just set the standards and hold the helmet manufacturers responsible for testing to meet the requirements.  The DOT’s standards are a good starting point as they address helmet retention, field of vision, and penetration but they are by no means a high mark in certification.  They only do random testing to screen for bad designs and there “passing” scores aren’t exactly Mt. Everest.  Still, their standard is better than nothing.  It may be basic but a DOT certified helmet is relatively qualified to keep you safe in a crash.


If your expectations are a bit higher, you may want to look for a helmet with a ECE sticker which means they are approved by the Economic Commission for Europe.  These helmets are put through more thorough and stringent tests than DOT.  ECE is the minimum standard for more than 50 European countries.  ECA tests are conducted by third party labs.  Amongst the criteria that the labs look for are shell strength, field of vision, and impact resistance at fixed points on the helmet.  Additionally, they consider that not all heads are the same shape. Testing is performed on a variety of crash dummy heads to ensure that ill fits and pressure points do contribute to injury in the event of impact.

e727dc6a4a160f6d4ab6ff37cf49ff4e_bdcf8b168e5b29cd.pngOf the three, Snell is the most trusted and rigorous certification process.  Named for Pete Snell, a race car driver who died in a dramatic crash, the Snell Foundation assembled leading scientists and engineers in 1957 to develop and test helmets. Their standard is now the industry benchmark in head protection.  Snell certified helmets are the most commonly allowed at race tracks across the world.  They allow the lowest transfer of g-force through the helmet and endure multiple impact tests with different shaped weighted anvils.  Technicians employ varying levels of force on multiple points on the helmet including specific spots they feel may be poorly designed or weak.