When purchasing a motorcycle helmet, you generally assume that it’s fit for the purpose and that it offers a decent level of protection in case of an accident. The primary reason for making this assumption is that probably the helmet you are purchasing has been put through a series of standard tests that measure its protective ability and is certified. Arguably, the most popular standard testing for motorcycle helmets is the ECE standard. But how does it ensure our safety when riding?
The multinational ECE helmet standard is a set of guidelines for testing motorcycle helmets to ensure they are safe to use. It is owned by the Economic Commission of Europe (ECE), and the specific guideline is called ECE Regulation No.22. This regulation sets the minimum safety requirements that all motorcycle (scooter) helmets must pass before they can be sold and used by riders on public roads in more 50 countries globally, mostly in Europe.
Read on to know the standard’s history, what it all means, the testing procedures, the updates, the criticism, and how it compares to other motorcycle helmet standards (DOT, SNELL, SHARP & FIM).
First, A Brief History of the ECE Helmet Standard
Isn’t it cliché’ that the helmet industry was birthed for military needs and then borrowed into the civilian domain in peace time? The same can be said of virtually any piece of technology that is now commonplace and transforming everyday lives into a sci-fi movie.
The use of leather helmets for the purpose of keeping the rider’s hair straight and muffling the bike’s engine noise started in the early 1900s, when motorcycles were essentially “motorized bicycles”. But many say that the birth of the motorcycle helmet compulsory rule was through the tragic death of a hero, T. E. Lawrence. I beg to differ! It isn’t until the British Army loses two of their outriders six years later (1941) that something actually happens.
For all dispatch riders, it is now compulsory to wear a helmet with either a cork shelled or a rubber lid. It’s not like anyone can protest, the “Pudding Bowl” with its flamboyant fiberglass shell, leather interior and strap, earflaps is a gorgeous piece; albeit lacking ear and eye protection. Improving on this, many motorcycle manufacturers started making and advertising motorcycle helmets for injury protection. And the statistics have been clear; not wearing a certified helmet can be a matter of life and death.
Motorcyclists Injured & Killed and Injury-to-Death Ratios (2013-2017)
From the statistics above, it’s clear that 5,172 riders perished in motorcycle crashes in 2017 out of which 3,164 were not having their helmets on. This would hypothetically mean that if they were on certified helmets, about 749 more would have survived. What’s more, the average injury-to-death ratio for helmeted riders is 15.73 while the average injury-to-death ratio for unhelmeted riders is 20.55. This suggests that wearing a certified helmet can significantly reduce the number of injuries and deaths in motorcycle accidents.
Back to history: In March 1947, the Economic and Social Council established the Economic Commission for Europe to enhance economic cooperation and integration in the continent. Roughly a decade later, the commission came up with the 1958 Agreement, which allowed for the implementation of uniform technical prescription protocols for wheeled vehicles, equipment, and parts. The result was the creation of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) standardizing organization to come up with regulations for safety standards for protective equipment like motorcycle helmets.
In 1972, the ECE 22 (also known Regulation No.22), indicating standards that motorcycle helmets had to meet to be available for purchase, went into operation. It’s ECE 22 that first introduced the prerequisite for health safety standards, and in 1982, the new ECE 22.02 rating standard became effective. The first ECE helmet certification was instituted in 1982 as ECE 22.02. The numbers after “22” denote the version of the rating.
Through the decades, the ECE helmet standard has been revised severally in line with advancements in technology and material science. Today, the most common rating version is the 5th amendment ECE 22.05 that was implemented in March 2005, but it’s revised to ECE 22.06 (the 6th iteration) in June 2020. The new ECE 22.06 helmet rating standard has been in force since January 2022 and has stricter requirements for manufacturers to meet. It is not an easy task to comply with.
By now, the ECE 22.06 regulation has been accepted across Europe, and from whatever I can tell, in places as far and wide as New Zealand and Japan. By 2024, only ECE 22.06-certified helmets will be on motorcycle gear shops, but if you own an ECE 22.05 helmet, you’re legally allowed to ride on the roads with it indefinitely.
Who Tests Helmets for ECE Certification?
The certifying organization, in this case the ECE, like SNELL (and unlike DOT), doesn’t allow helmet manufacturers to self-approve that they have passed their standard. Each maker is expected to deliver a few pieces of helmets per batch to the set-aside laboratory to verify their effectiveness. At the laboratory, specific parts of the lids are thoroughly checked since the helmets are approved by parts.
ECE standard firmly outlines the different helmet sections (the chain strap, the shell, the visor, the field of vision, and so on) that need to be impacted during testing. But given the massive technological, engineering, and design advancements in motorcycle helmet production over the last 20 years, the testing procedures for the ECE 22.05 and ECE 22.06 are somewhat different.
Next, we look at these differences!
ECE 22.05: The Most Common Motorcycle Helmet Standard
The current ECE 22.05 standard is the European approval of the minimum safety requirement of a motorcycle (or scooter) helmet. It defines what manufacturers have to do in order to produce and test an effective motorcycle crash helmet. Besides being road-legal, some race associations, like MotoGP, AMA, and Formula USA, approve ECE 22.05 helmets for competition.
For a helmet to receive ECE 22.05 approval, it’s passed through a series of tests to determine whether it offers sufficient protection for use on European roads. The helmet is put through a series of crash simulations to measure the level of protection it offers. For instance, does the helmet stay on the rider’s head during a crash?
ECE 22.05 Testing Procedure
Diagram of the ECE 22.05 testing procedure, including steps for verifying the proper functioning of protective helmets.
Before most tests for ECE 22.05 certification, the helmet is conditioned to stimulate real-world conditions. The conditioning can involve exposing the helmet to UV radiation, water and solvents, relative humidity, and certain temperatures for a given amount of time. The testing procedure for ECE 22.05 is as follows.
- Shock Absorption Test: The helmet is dropped on a flat anvil and a kerbstone anvil at 7.5 m/s. The maximum acceleration of the head form not exceeding 275 G and the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) value not exceeding 2,400. Each impact point is only tested once.
- Rigidity Test: The helmet will be placed under an initial load of 30 N, and the load will increase by 100 N after every 2 minutes to reach a maximum of 630 N. The deformation of the helmet shall be measured with each load increase and after restoration of the load to 30 N.
- Visor Test: The visor is tested for scratch resistance, light transmission/diffusion, penetration, opening angle, and mist formation (optional). The visor should be able to maintain minimum light transmittance of Tv80% after the abrasion test.
- Retention Test: Five different headforms of mass 3.1kg. 4.1kg, 4.7kg, 5.6kg, and 6.1kg are used for the retention test. The maximum movement of the helmet on the head after a drop should be less than 30 degrees.
What We Like About ECE 22.05
- The ECE label is a sign of safety for the assurance of tests
- The helmet only transfers 275 G peak energy; hence, they’re safer than most helmets
- It uses about 8 head shapes to provide a wide range of rider groups
- Its battery testing is intensive to guarantee user safety
What We Dislike About ECE 22.05
Well, anything with strengths must have some downfalls. Here are some of the things that most motorcyclists would not prefer in ECE 22.05.
- The parts of the helmet, which are tested, are known to most manufacturers, meaning they can concentrate on making them best but only on the sample batches, endangering the user.
- About 8 head forms are used in their preparation and testing, which could displace the center of mass, increasing the impact by about 20%
- Used single strike falls short of the energy transfer typical in higher speed limits in the U.S.
While helmets with ECE 22.05 certification that were manufactured before the end of 2021 are still legally permissible to use and ride with, they often perform better than those with only a DOT sticker. However, with the recent publication of Amendment 6 by the ECE, it’s important to note that helmets will have to meet the new standard ECE 22.06 in order to be sold on the market after a certain date.
ECE 22.06 Regulation: Is It the Ultimate Helmet Testing Standard?
ECE 22.06 compliance timeline graphic showing key dates for implementation of the regulation for motorcycle helmet safety standards.
The development of the new ECE 22.06 helmet standard is driven by the goal of achieving maximum safety for riders. As technology and materials continue to advance, there is always room for improvement in helmet design. This is why the shell, visor, and other components of the helmet are constantly being updated and refined. Even small innovations can have a significant impact on safety and comfort over time.
The ECE 22.05 standard has been in use for the past 20 years and undergone regular testing. The introduction of new test parameters in the ECE 22.06 standard is a logical step forward in ensuring that motorcycle helmets continue to improve and provide a higher level of protection for riders. In short, the ECE 22.06 standard aims to make helmets even “safer” than before.
Procedure for Conducting ECE 22.06 Tests
The ECE 22.06 testing procedure involves a comprehensive evaluation of the helmet and any authorized accessories to ensure they provide adequate protection in the event of an accident. The tests include angled impacts, impact testing, and testing for various scenarios and accessories.
In angled impacts, the helmet is subjected to impact testing at a 45-degree angle to evaluate its ability to protect the head and brain from all angles of impact, including the twisting that can occur in angled impacts. Impact testing involves dropping the helmet from a height of 15 feet to test its ability to limit energy transmission to the wearer’s head.
In addition, the testing now includes various speeds and angles of impact, as well as examination of the effects on different parts of the helmet. ECE 22.06 also includes testing of official accessories, such as sun visors and intercom systems, to ensure they do not impact the performance of the helmet.
Requirements for ECE 22.06 Certification Labels
ECE 22.06 can still be considered as a new product in the market. If you are a user looking for the right helmet, your work is made easy since you can identify the following specifications, which the manufacturers have been mandated to indicate on the helmets:
- The name
- Sizing information
- Year of manufacture
- Specification of the protective part of the helmet
- Where the visor is suitable or other the relevant riding times
Several additional markings are added to the helmet once it has been approved as meeting the relevant regulations.
The E3 on a helmet indicates that the helmet has been approved for use in Italy, as the E mark is a certification mark for safety equipment, and the number 3 corresponds to Italy in the ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) regulation system. Germany is E1, the Netherlands is E4, France is E2, the UK is E11, and so on.
The adjacent digits (22.06) indicate the type of approval and the number assigned to the specific helmet model. The “/J” or “/P” at the end of the ECE code indicates the type of protection offered by the helmet, with “/J” indicating a jet or open-face helmet and “/P” indicating a full-face helmet with a protective chin bar.
Differences Between ECE 22.06 and ECE 22.05 Rating Standards
The highlight of test changes between ECE 22.05 and ECE 22.06 rating standards.
The ECE 22.06 test standard is an update to the previous ECE 22.05, and it includes more rigorous testing for a wider range of helmet types. The new standard now covers flip-up, modular, and open-face helmets with flanged chin components, which were not previously tested under ECE 22.05. This means that safety features on all types of helmets, including those without chin protection or chin sections, are now subject to stricter inspection.
Another major change in the new standard is the focus on built-in sun visors. The ECE 22.06 standard requires greater color accuracy from these visors, which must also be able to move independently from the main visor, making it easier for riders to recognize traffic light colors.
According to the Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations (FEMA), the point of impact in the testing may change compared to the previous standard. This is no longer a requirement and is left up to the discretion of the examiners. Additionally, the new standard uses a faster impact speed to evaluate the helmets.
The visor is an essential component of a motorcycle helmet, as it not only enhances visibility but also protects the rider’s face from debris. The new ECE 22.06 standard has tougher requirements for visor mechanisms, which must be able to withstand being struck by a steel test bullet traveling at 60 m/s without bursting. The standard also includes testing for rotational acceleration.
The new standard also includes more stringent requirements for the fit and stability of the helmet. Helmets must be more difficult to remove when facing either forward or backward, and they must also be tested for durability at low temperatures, such as -20 degrees Celsius.
Lastly, the ECE 22.06 test is more extensive and requires more helmets for testing. In the past, only 17 test helmets were needed for basic approval of a helmet model that was available in two shell sizes, but under the new ECE 22.06 regulation, 33 test helmets are required.
Criticisms of ECE Certification
ECE 22.06 seems to be the best option that the market can provide today. However, there are some criticisms that might need to be addressed. Have a look!
- The ECE standard does not feature penetration tests, which was initially helping motorcyclists to know how safe they are in case of a spike.
- A helmet gets tested at one point. And manufacturers can choose to do a lot of reinforcement at that point to seek approval when it is not worth approving.
- The impact of damage in case of angle impact cannot be directly related to the actual human head since the dummy used for the test is not as flexible as the human head.
Well, even with such challenges and strengths, it is clear that until full safety is guaranteed, it might not be possible to stop the innovation.
ECE certification is the most recent and widely recognized standard for motorcycle helmets, recognized by at least 50 countries primarily in Europe. The standard is regularly updated and is currently on its 6th version (ECE 22.06).
By early 2024, helmet manufacturers must fully comply with this latest version. The ultimate goal of this standard is to ensure the safety of riders. All updates and improvements made to the standard are aimed at making the riding experience safer. It is essential for riders to obtain a safer helmet, even as the industry continues to evolve and improve.
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Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative government, educational, corporate, and non-profit organizations:
- ECE Motorcycle Helmets Riders’ Guide to Protective Helmets
- ECE Regulation No.22 Revision 4
- ECE Regulation No.22 Revision 5
- Proposal for the 06 Series of Amendments of UN Regulation No. 22 (Protective Helmets)
- UNECE: The United Nations Motorcycle Helmet Study