The Ultimate Guide to Understanding DOT, SNELL, and ECE Motorcycle Helmet Ratings

Introduction

DOT, SNELL, and ECE are three major safety standards that certify motorcycle helmets based on their ability to protect riders in the event of an impact. Each standard has its own set of tests and criteria for certification. Whether you're a new rider or a seasoned enthusiast, understanding the differences between DOT, SNELL, and ECE ratings is crucial for your safety. This guide will help you navigate these standards and make informed choices.

arai countour x helmet in white

image: Arai Countour-X Helmet. Arai Helmets pass both ECE 22.05 and SNELL M2020 Standards

Understanding Helmet Safety Standards

What are Safety Standards for helmets?

Helmet safety standards are developed to ensure that helmets provide adequate protection in the event of a motorcycle accident. These standards involve rigorous testing for various impacts and conditions.

DOT Helmet Standards

Overview of DOT FMVSS 218

The Department of Transportation (DOT) in the United States enforces the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218 for motorcycle helmets. This standard is a benchmark in the U.S. for helmet safety, focusing on impact attenuation, penetration resistance, and the strength of the retention system.

image: label indicating helmet is DOT-certified

image: label indicating helmet is DOT-certified

Key Testing Components of FMVSS 218

  1. Impact Attenuation Test: This test measures the helmet's ability to absorb impact energy. It involves dropping the helmet onto different anvil shapes from a specified height. The peak acceleration of the helmet should not exceed 400g, and the duration of acceleration over certain thresholds is also measured.
  2. Penetration Test: A pointed striker is dropped onto the helmet from a defined height. The test ensures that the striker does not contact the test headform inside the helmet, which mimics the helmet's ability to prevent objects from penetrating through to the rider's head.
  3. Retention System Test: This test evaluates the strength of the helmet's chin strap. The helmet is secured to a test headform, and a series of loads are applied to the retention system. The strap should not stretch excessively, ensuring the helmet remains securely on the head during a crash.

 


Additional Requirements

  • Peripheral Vision: Helmets must provide a minimum peripheral vision of 105 degrees from the mid-sagittal plane.
  • Projections and Surface: Rigid projections on the outside of the helmet are limited, and the helmet must have a continuous contour.
  • Labeling: Helmets must be labeled with the manufacturer's name, model designation, size, month and year of manufacture, and the DOT symbol, certifying the helmet's compliance with FMVSS 218.

Quality Assurance and Compliance

  • DOT relies on a self-certification process by manufacturers. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts random tests on selected helmets to ensure compliance. Helmets failing these tests can be subject to recall.
  • The DOT standard has faced criticism for allowing a higher level of peak impact energy and a significant percentage of non-compliant helmets to reach the market compared to other standards like ECE and Snell.

shoei neotec II motorcycle helmet in red

image: Shoei Neotec II Motorcycle Helmet passes DOT Standards

Comparisons with Other Standards

Snell Standards: Snell Memorial Foundation standards are voluntary and more rigorous than DOT FMVSS 218. They include additional tests like face shield penetration and a variety of surface impacts.

ECE 22:05: The ECE standard requires pre-market testing for each helmet, as opposed to DOT's self-certification model, and includes additional tests such as exposure to solvents and ultraviolet light.

The DOT FMVSS 218 standard plays a crucial role in ensuring minimum safety requirements for motorcycle helmets in the United States. While it has been effective in improving rider safety, it is often compared to other standards like ECE and Snell, which have different approaches and testing criteria. Understanding these differences can help consumers make more informed decisions about their helmet purchases.

SNELL Helmet Ratings

Overview of SNELL Standards

The SNELL Memorial Foundation is an independent authority in the U.S. that sets voluntary standards for motorcycle helmet safety. These standards are recognized for their rigorous testing procedures, often exceeding the requirements set by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

example of a SNELL certification label

image: example of a SNELL certification label

Key Features of SNELL Standards

  • Two Different Standards: SNELL has introduced two standards, M2020D and M2020R, to address various demands. M2020D continues the M2015 requirements, while M2020R aligns more closely with European standards, particularly ECE 22-05 and FIM FRHPhe-01.
  • Rigorous Testing Protocols: Helmets must pass multiple tests, including impact tests on flat, hemispherical, and edge anvils at specified velocities. The recorded shock must not exceed the peak G level set for the test head form.
  • Additional Criteria for M2020R: For the M2020R standard, the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) calculation is also considered, despite SNELL's view that HIC has limited usefulness in evaluating helmet protective capability. This inclusion is to ensure compliance with ECE 22-05 and FIM FRHPhe-01 criteria.

SNELL Testing Procedures

  • Impact Test: Helmets are subjected to impacts on various surfaces at different speeds, and the energy absorption capability is measured.
  • Retention Strap Performance: SNELL uses heavier weights compared to DOT to test the chin strap's performance.
  • Penetration Test: Similar to DOT, this test assesses the helmet's resistance to sharp objects penetrating the shell.
  • Additional SNELL Tests:
    • Fit Test: Ensures that the helmet fits securely on the head.
    • Chin-bar Test: Evaluates the effectiveness of the chin bar through weight-drop tests.
    • Face-shield Penetration Test: Tests the shield's resistance to airborne projectiles.

SNELL M2020 Implementation

  • Timeline: The M2020 standard was implemented starting October 1, 2019, with certification labels shipped from April 1, 2019.
  • Racing Requirements: Most racing organizations require SNELL-approved helmets, indicating their higher safety standard compared to DOT-approved helmets alone.

SNELL vs. Other Standards

  • DOT: SNELL standards are more comprehensive and rigorous than DOT FMVSS 218, with additional tests that are not part of DOT requirements.
  • ECE: The M2020R standard of SNELL is more closely aligned with the ECE 22.05 standard, including similar tests and requirements.
  • SHARP: The SHARP rating system in the UK, similar to SNELL, focuses on more intense testing procedures than ECE, using a five-star rating scale.

General Observations

  • SNELL standards are recognized for pushing helmets to their extremes, particularly in high-impact scenarios, making them a preferred choice for high-speed and racing applications.
  • SNELL certification is voluntary, and manufacturers often submit their helmets for testing to demonstrate their commitment to high safety standards.

These rigorous testing procedures and the high safety standards set by the SNELL Memorial Foundation make SNELL-certified helmets a reliable choice for riders seeking premium protection, especially in high-speed or racing environments.

ECE Helmet Certification

Understanding ECE 22.06

The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) 22.06 standard represents a significant update over the previous 22.05 standards, reflecting advancements in safety technology and testing methodologies.

DOT and ECE certification on the FLY Racing Formula S-Carbon Helmet

image: DOT and ECE certification on the FLY Racing Formula S-Carbon Helmet

Key Features and Testing Requirements of ECE 22.06

  • Comprehensive Design and Testing Protocol: ECE 22.06 not only involves stringent testing but also specifies various design features that make helmets easier and safer to use, like color-coding of opening tabs and ensuring buckle functionality.
  • Helmet Liner and Noise Regulations: The helmet liner, crucial for shock absorption, must be resistant to deterioration from sweat, and cosmetics, and not cause skin irritation. Interestingly, ECE 22.06 helmets cannot dangerously impair the wearer's ability to hear, limiting the potential for completely silent helmets.
  • Chin Strap and Fastener: These components are rigorously tested for durability, strength, and ease of use. Helmets undergo tests to ensure they remain securely in place during impacts.
  • Modular Chin Bars: For modular helmets, chin bars are tested in both open and closed positions to ensure safety across different configurations.
  • Face Shields and Sun Visors: These are tested for peripheral vision obstruction, light transmittance, scratch resistance, and more.

ECE 22.06 Enhanced Impact Tests

  • Rotational Impact Test: A new addition to the standard, this test measures the helmet's ability to absorb rotational forces, simulating scenarios like glancing blows against curbs or car bumpers.
  • Multiple Impact Speeds: ECE 22.06 includes tests at various speeds (6 m/s, 7.5 m/s, and 8.2 m/s) to replicate different accident scenarios, from high-speed impacts to secondary, slower impacts.
  • Increased Number of Impact Points: The standard has expanded the number of impact points from 6 to 18, requiring more advanced helmet shells for better overall protection.
  • Chin Bar and Visor Testing: The chin bar impact test speed is increased, and new penetration tests are conducted on visors, including tests for optical quality with pinlock fitted.

Flip Helmets and Accessories

  • Testing for Flip Helmets: These helmets are now subjected to more rigorous tests, including a reverse roll-off test and an impact test with the chin bar in both open and closed positions.
  • Testing of Helmet Accessories: The standard includes testing helmets with original manufacturer accessories like intercoms, ensuring they do not adversely affect safety.

Implementation and Compliance

  • Transition to ECE 22.06: While ECE 22.05 helmets remain legal and can still be sold, the transition to 22.06 is aimed at providing riders with more advanced, safer helmets. Helmets need to pass a series of tests before they can be approved under the new standard, ensuring a higher level of safety and performance.

Observations

The ECE 22.06 standard represents a significant advancement in motorcycle helmet safety, offering riders more robust protection through comprehensive testing and stringent design requirements. While the transition to this new standard is underway, ECE 22.05 helmets still provide a significant level of safety and remain legal for use.

Helmet Types and Safety Features

A helmet's safety features can vary from one type to the next. Here are the key differences and safety features of each, and how they relate to various helmet safety standards:

Full-Face Helmets

Construction: Full-face helmets are characterized by a single-shell construction that fully covers the head and face, including a chin bar and a sealable visor.

Safety: They offer the highest level of protection, especially for the chin and jaw areas, which are commonly impacted in crashes. Many full-face helmets meet stringent safety standards like SNELL and ECE.

Weight and Choice: Generally, full-face helmets are lighter due to the absence of additional mechanisms like hinges. They also come in a wider range of styles and are often more affordable.

Disadvantages: They can feel claustrophobic to some riders and offer less convenience for communication and eating/drinking without removing the helmet.

Modular Helmets

Design: Modular helmets combine features of full-face and open-face helmets. They have a chin bar that can be flipped up, transforming them into an open-face helmet for convenience.

Safety: While modular helmets must meet basic safety standards like DOT and ECE, the detachable chin bar makes them slightly less protective than full-face helmets, especially in high-impact scenarios. They often don't meet the more rigorous SNELL standards.

Comfort and Communication: These helmets are popular for their convenience, allowing easy communication and the ability to eat or drink without removing the helmet. They're also beneficial in hot climates, as the front can be lifted for ventilation.

Noise and Weight: Modular helmets tend to be heavier and noisier due to additional components like hinges and locking mechanisms.

Open-Face Helmets

Design: Open-face helmets, also known as "three-quarter" helmets, cover the top, back, and sides of the head but leave the face exposed.

Safety: They provide less protection than full-face or modular helmets, especially in the chin and face area.

Comfort: Open-face helmets offer more ventilation and may be more comfortable for riders who feel claustrophobic in full-face helmets.

The choice between full-face, open-face, and modular helmets largely depends on the rider's priorities in terms of safety, comfort, and convenience. Full-face helmets are preferable for maximum protection, particularly for high-speed riding or racing. Modular helmets offer a good balance of protection and convenience, suitable for touring and urban riding. Open-face helmets provide less protection but are favored for their comfort and open feel.


Real-World Impact of Helmet Standards

The effectiveness of motorcycle helmets in reducing injuries and fatalities in accidents is well-documented and significant.

Impact on Fatalities and Injuries

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that from 2002 to 2017, over 25,000 lives have been saved due to motorcycle helmet use. Helmets are estimated to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41% effective for passengers​​. [Source]
  • A comprehensive study conducted in Taiwan, involving eight level-I trauma centers, focused on the impact of helmet types on head injuries. It found a strong association between helmet use and the reduction of head and neck injuries in motorcycle accidents​​. [Source]
  • Research shows that helmets can reduce the risk of death in motorcycle accidents by 42% and the risk of head injury by 69%. Another study found that helmet use reduces the risk of severe head injury by almost 50%​​. [Source]

Helmet Usage and Legislation

  • Helmet usage varies based on local laws and regulations. In areas with universal helmet laws, helmet usage is significantly higher compared to regions with weak or no helmet laws. This indicates the effectiveness of legislation in promoting helmet use among motorcyclists​​.
  • In different countries, the enforcement and impact of helmet laws can vary. For instance, in some U.S. states, helmet use is optional, whereas in other countries like Brazil, it is mandatory. This disparity in regulations can lead to differences in helmet usage rates and, consequently, in the incidence of injuries and fatalities​​.

Helmet Types and Their Effectiveness

Various types of helmets, such as full-coverage, open-face, or modular helmets, offer different levels of protection. Full-coverage helmets are generally more effective in preventing injuries compared to open-face or half-coverage helmets​​.

In summary, the use of motorcycle helmets, particularly those complying with recognized safety standards like DOT, SNELL, and ECE, significantly reduces the risk of fatalities and severe injuries in motorcycle accidents. The effectiveness of these helmets is evident in real-world scenarios across various countries, underscoring the importance of helmet use and appropriate safety legislation for motorcycle riders.

Myths and Misconceptions about Helmet Use

myths and facts about motorcycle helmet use graphic

While some states in the U.S. don't require the use of helmets and although some riders feel that riding without a helmet is "the only way to ride" for a variety of reasons, several common myths have been debunked by various studies and safety experts:


1. Myth: Helmets are Uncomfortable
Contrary to this belief, modern motorcycle helmets are designed with the rider's comfort in mind. They have evolved to be lightweight with superior ventilation and sleek designs, making them comfortable to wear​​.

2. Myth: Helmets are Restrictive
Modern helmets are designed to provide maximum visibility and peripheral vision. They do not restrict a rider’s vision or movement. Federal safety standards require helmets to provide 210 degrees of vision, which covers the range of most crashes​​​​.

3. Myth: Helmets are Expensive
While high-quality helmets can be an investment, they come with safety features that significantly improve a rider's safety in an accident. The cost of a helmet is justified by the level of protection it provides, potentially saving lives​​.

4. Myth: Helmets are Unstylish
There is a wide range of helmet designs available, catering to different personal styles. From sleek and simple to bold and colorful, riders can find helmets that match their aesthetic preferences​​.

5. Myth: Helmets Cause More Injuries Than They Prevent
Helmets significantly reduce the risk of head injury by 69% and neck injury by 50%. They are crucial in reducing fatalities in motorcycle accidents by 37%​​.

6. Myth: Only Kids Need Helmets
Helmet laws are not based on age but on safety. Adults are not exempt from the risk of injury or death in motorcycle accidents. Helmet use is essential for all riders, regardless of age​​.

7. Myth: Motorcycle Helmet Laws Are Unconstitutional
Motorcycle helmet laws have been upheld as constitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court and the highest courts in 25 states. These laws are within the state’s power to regulate health and safety​​.

8. Myth: Helmets Make Injuries Worse
Helmets are designed to absorb shock and protect against severe injuries in accidents. They are less likely to cause neck and spinal injuries, contrary to this myth​​.

9. Myth: Helmets Impact Your Vision
Studies have shown that helmets do not negatively impact a rider’s hearing or vision. They are designed to be safe and comfortable without compromising sensory abilities​​.

10. Myth: I'm Not Traveling Far, So I Don't Need a Helmet
Accidents can happen at any distance, and even minor accidents without a helmet can lead to serious injuries or fatalities​​.

11. Myth: Riders Who Wear Helmets are More Careless
There is no evidence to support this claim. Safety precautions, including helmet use, are essential regardless of how cautious a rider is​​.

These debunked myths highlight the importance of wearing helmets and choosing ones that meet safety standards. Helmets are a critical piece of safety equipment for all motorcyclists, significantly reducing the risk of serious injury or death in accidents.

Conclusion

Understanding helmet safety standards like DOT, SNELL, and ECE is crucial for every motorcycle rider. These standards are not just technical specifications; they are essential guidelines that ensure the helmet you wear can effectively protect you in the event of a crash. The right helmet can be a lifesaver, reducing the risk of serious head injuries and fatalities.

We encourage you to visit the Sprocketz store, where our gear specialists are ready to assist you. They can help you understand the different safety features of each helmet, guide you through the process of correctly sizing your helmet, and answer any questions you might have about helmet safety standards.