When a motorcyclist goes into a shop to buy a helmet and starts reading the stickers and labels on the helmets for sale, he or she is likely to have some questions.
This is due to several reasons. In spite of interest and lip service to international harmonization, there are still numerous performance standards for motorcycle helmets.
Some are government standards and others issued by private organizations. These standards differ in many ways but are similar in that they measure a helmet’s ability to absorb impact. The effectiveness of the retention system that keeps the helmet on the head is also tested as are accessories such as face shields.
Equally important, although not directly addressed by helmet standards, are wearability issues such as comfort, ventilation, weight, fit, cost, appearance, and availability.
There are two ageless helmet maxims that the reader should be aware of. First is that if you can tell the helmet designers exactly what your crash will be, they can make you the best possible helmet for that particular crash.
Second is that the best helmet possible won’t protect you if you’re not wearing it.
Motorcycle helmets are designed, manufactured, and tested to meet performance standards. These performance tests drive the helmet design and the measured performance of the helmets in laboratory testing, and therefore accident performance as well.
In spite of the similarity of purpose, the methods and requirements vary dramatically from standard to standard.
Some are relatively simple, and others are far more complex. It is important to note that none of the standards are meant to precisely replicate the threats that a motorcyclist may see in a crash.
This is primarily due to the need for reliability and repeatability in the testing environment, to say nothing of the variability of actual crashes.
There have been several studies of motorcycle crashes over the last 25 years that have attempted to evaluate any protective advantage or disadvantage of helmets meeting one standard or another (Hurt, 1981; tte, 1991).
No advantage has ever been shown in these field studies for any particular standard, so the helmet industry and individual riders are left comparing theoretical pros and cons of the various standards.
That is not to say that research has not shown important differences in helmets.
Since helmets protect best what they cover most, additional coverage has always been found to provide additional protection: a full-facial coverage helmet has more protection than an open-face which has more coverage and protection than a shorty (partial coverage) helmet.
Research in California (Hurt, et al, 1981) showed that 90% of real life crash impacts are at or below the impact requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, performance standard for motorcycle helmets (also known as FMVSS 218 or DOT).
It is critical to note that helmets have been continually shown to be effective in reducing head injury, regardless of what standard they might meet. The only noteworthy exception is the novelty helmet worn in protest of mandatory helmet use laws.
These “helmets” do not meet any standard and cannot be expected to provide meaningful head protection.
In the United States, there have historically been two helmet standards applicable to motorcycle helmets. The FMVSS 218 or DOT is the mandatory U.S. government standard that all motorcycle helmets must meet to be legal for sale and use on public roads and highways.
This standard was first issued in 1974 and was updated in 1980 and again in 1988.
Much work has been done toward another update in the near future. The second standard is issued by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a private organization that issues its own motorcycle helmet standard.
A third helmet standard from the Economic Community of Europe (ECE) is actually the most commonly used internationally, the ECE 22.05, required by over 50 countries worldwide. While helmet standards all have the goal of regulating helmet performance for protection of riders’ heads, some performance requirements conflict between standards.
An advantage of the ECE 22.05 standard is the requirement for mandatory batch testing of helmets before they are released to the riding public.
What this means to the consumer is the quality of the helmet in meeting the ECE 22.05 standard is assured by a mandatory sample testing of every production of helmets before they leave the factory, not with random testing performed after thousands of helmets with unknown quality are delivered to the dealers.
No one helmet designed to a particular standard or standards can provide the maximum protection in all types of crashes and no helmet can protect the wearer against all foreseeable impacts.
Helmets can be designed to provide additional protection, for example, full-face helmets compared to the open-face types, but added protection comes with a weight penalty.
How much weight are you willing to wear? If you reject helmets with less coverage, you will end up with a helmet that covers most of your head and weighs about three pounds.
By choosing a helmet meeting a performance standard such as ECE 22.05, you can minimize that weight while maximizing protection.
If you’re not comfortable with a helmet that only meets the US Government DOT standard, what do you look for? Historically, American riders have looked for a Snell label but the world is getting smaller and we now have other viable alternatives.
The ECE 22.05 standard is used in over 50 European countries, including Germany, a country known for taking a hard line on personal protection.
Helmets certified to the ECE 22.05 standard are approved for competition events by AMA, CCS, FIM, Formula-USA and WERA and are chosen by nearly every professional motorcycle racers competing in world championship road racing, motocross and off road events, including the ultimate sport of Moto GP.
Helmets that are certified to both DOT and ECE 22.05 offer the highest level of realistic protection with the added benefit of light weight for day-long comfort and rider performance.
From “R” (June 2016): “As someone who works in a consultancy that needs daily access to a wide range of standards I may be able to help you find access to the standards you need.
Most universities have special academic access to the full database of BS EN ISO ECE and other standards used in the UK and Europe.
Normally, academic staff and post grad students have unlimited access to download, store and print any standard they want for free.
These officially may not be used for non academic purposes beyond the university’s own operations…
But if you know anyone who works in or studies in a UK or European university they are likely to be able to find they can get access to the database via their university intranet. They can therefore log-in and download whatever standards they want or need.
Some public libraries can also get you access to standards.”
From “P.S.” (March 2015): “Just a quick note on the ECE 22.05 standard: as of July 1, 2012, it is approved in provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, Canada.”
From “A.S.” (May 2013): “I’ve just read your item online on the Reg 22 for motorcycle helmets. Very useful. Nice one. But you mention that you didn’t know where the 05 part of the regs comes from. In the PDF link that you put on your item page 9 explains it.
At paragraph 5.1.2. The 05 is the latest revision of the regs with the latest up to date approval requirement.
I once had a student turn up for training with a helmet that was R22-04 which means it was subject to an earlier approval revision and had not been tested up to the latest 05 standards. So the 05 is just the latest revision of the Regulation 22.
From “J.N”: “I just wanted to commend you on your article describing the 22.05 standard. As an engineer with a few years of certifying US motor vehicles to the EU/ECE standards, I can tell you that your comments are spot on.
We spent tons of money homologating products to those standards.
Also, as you mentioned, the batch testing or conformity of production is a major hassle for a manufacturer but ensures adherence to the certified standard.
When testing is preformed, our engineers and an engineer from a type-approval agency such as Lux Controls in Luxembourg or TUV in Germany will be present to witness the test – simply called witness testing. No penciling in pass/fails with this process.
If you fail, its back to the drawing board and you are paying for the witnesses time!
(FMVSS) DOT is manufacturer self-certification. The manufacturer tests in the lab and if you pass, you’re compliant until DOT/NHTSA reacts to complaints which subsequently can drive product recall.
No conformity or production batch testing as is required in Europe. Harmonization of standards has been in the works forever and will likely continue.
Standards are so essential for conducting business and technology development. You’re welcome to add my comments but I should modify it a bit to make clear that DOT does do spot testing post production.
ECE 22.05 would be batch tested before the products are released to the consumer
Thanks for reminding your readers that the world is indeed shrinking.”