• Sep 28, 2009
There's a bit of controversy going on in the helmet world, and it has a direct impact – pun intended – on every motorcycle rider trying to protect his or her head while looking for the best helmet to buy. All helmets approved for sale in the United States are tested and approved by the Department of Transportation, and wear a DOT sticker to certify the fact. The issue is with the additional SNELL Memorial Foundation certification that some helmets have.

According to The New York Times, in order to attain the SNELL M2005 certification, a helmet needs to be able to withstand that impact of a small steel sphere, twice, with the headform inside the helmet experiencing less than 300 times the force of gravity (300 g's). That's a huge amount of force, and it has led to SNELL M2005 helmets being so exceptionally rigid that some head injury researchers believe riders are suffering brain damage because of it. Also, SNELL doesn't use headforms of different weights, so riders with small heads can especially disadvantaged because of the disproportionate forces they'll encounter in such a firm helmet.

Some helmet companies and doctors and the U.S. and European helmet certification authorities believe that the SNELL M2005 test is obsolete, and that helmets should be "softer, softer, softer." SNELL has admitted to the need to update its test, and will be unveiling the M2010 standard shortly. The problem is that the M2005 standard helmets will continue to be sold in America until 2012. They won't be able to be sold in Europe until SNELL re-engineers its test to allow for more forgiving headgear. For you riders out there, do your homework, ask around, and make sure to buy the helmet that's right for you. A cranium is a terrible thing to waste.

[Source: The New York Times | Image: SNELL Memorial Foundation]


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  • 19 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Didn't a politician(s) a few years ago recommend legislation to require seat-belts and/or air bags on bikes? The biggest fear bikers should have is a politician engineering a "solution" for safe helmets. Let's pray that doctors, scientists, and engineers prevail.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I got in a motorcycle accident a year ago and had a Snell certified helmet on. My brains would of been all over the road with out it and my head hit the ground so hard my face shield poped off. Hospital did a scan of my head and was fine. I think the helmets are fine. I didn't even realize I hit my head til after I took the helmet off and saw how banged up it was.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Glad to hear that you made it out as good as you did. Keep that helmet on.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's not that you can't survive crashes in a Snell helmet, obviously wearing a helmet of any sort is going to be better than smashing your face or skull into the ground. But in more serious crashes the fact that it's so stiff is going to make it hard for the helmet to absorb energy like car crumple zones do.
        In theory in very, very, very, high speed impacts the Snell would do better than the softer helmets since it would finally crumple but basically the point is that at 300G's your brain is pretty screwed regardless so the protection is pointless.
        Anyways in most motorcycle accidents the most common impact is from being thrown then your head accelerating from gravity and hitting the ground.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I had a similar experience and am also glad I had a snell certified helmet. If I hadn't, then I probably would have serious facial damage. All that ended up wrong to my head was my cap on my tooth popped off. It has done that a few times before though.
      • 5 Years Ago
      How can you do this article without linking to the Motorcyclist article (a few years old now) that started the controversy?

      http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/gearbox/motorcycle_helmet_review/index.html
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thanks for the link. It's a long but very good read.
      • 5 Years Ago
      There was a similar debate raging on whether it made sense to make F1 carbon fibre monocoques even more indestructible. The problem was that while they could withstand anything, drivers' bodies couldn't. Enter internal injuries.

      Now, why a helmet has to whithstand a double impact on the same spot? What's likelyhood of that happening. I guess it converges to zero. And nobody is going to use damaged helmet again.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, it's very common to have a double impact. Your head won't necessarily bounce on the pavement once and come to rest - more likely is that you'll be skipping along for a while until the friction finally brings you to a halt.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I use the SHARP ratings that jim posted. i just replaced my helmet because of those ratings. My original KBC helmet had a SNELL approval but only garnered a 1 star crash rating from SHARP. My new AGV helmet is only DOT approved and gets a 5 star rating. SNELL is great for race car crashes, what it was originally intended, not so good for motorcycle crashes.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well I'm glad they are constantly looking for better standards for helmets, reminds me of the NASCAR, brain stem issue... but the real rub is that this debate will get watered down and misconstrued and give non-helmet idiots more rhetorical firepower when they are coming up with urban legend reason why to NOT wear helmets. I think the debate for scientists is not the dot vs snell or helmet vs. non-helmet it's dot standard vs. better snell standard vs. best future snell standard. However, I think the dumbing down of this will reach the street in the helmet or not debate form, and sadly someone is going to die because of it. I was in a bad motorcycle crash and I am luck to be hear becasue of my helmet, my own mistake was going out with proper boots on, which I wish there was more attention to.
      • 5 Years Ago
      From my own research I want a helmet that at least meets ECE 22-05, the European standard. It is possible for a helmet to meet both Snell and ECE 22-05 (DOT is a given in the US) and that is my recommendation to anyone who asks.

      The Snell Foundation is a fine organization and have contributed greatly to motorcycle and motor sports safety, but they did fall behind the brain injury research in the M2005 standards, but we should be glad they are addressing that research in the latest version.
        • 5 Years Ago
        BTW: if you're research helmets I'd suggest you review the SHARP website (http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/), produced by the UK equivalent to the US Dept of Transportation.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ouch... I would really hate to be in a collision with one of those...

      Maybe they should start using those dummies with sensors...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Anyone know if there is a similar issue with Snell SA class helmets?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ok, I've been reading Autoblog forever it seems....but I had to finally comment on this one. Sure, the Snell std. may be a little outdated according to some (who knows, maybe it is?), but, I too (and I haven't read all the comments yet) am another recent (4/09) crash survivor who was wearing a Snell approved full face helmet at the time of impact (name brand of Sh@#ei if that helps ). And if I didn't mention the speed (let's just say it was brisk) and on the freeway , thrown against the concrete divider and slid down the road, thanks to a good 'ol cager. Obviously , something RIGHT is going on w/ Snell, hopefully , updated standards will make them even better!

      • 5 Years Ago
        • 5 Years Ago
        it happens to the best of us
      • 5 Years Ago
      was going to say that not all craniums are a thing to waste but someone would not take it as lightly as it is offered...
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