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Which Helmet Standard Is the Best? Snell, DOT, ECE, SHARP, or FIM? We Rate All 5

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In the fast-paced world of motorcycling, where safety is paramount, the quest for the best helmet standard becomes an epic tale of choices: SNELL, ECE, FIM, SHARP, and DOT. Each acronym carries its weight in promises and specifications, leaving you in a maze of considerations. But fret not; leveraging my extensive 50+ years of motorcycling experience, allow me to embark on a journey to decipher the intricacies of these standards, aiming to unveil the ultimate answer to your every burning questions:

Which Is Best? Snell, ECE, FIM, and DOT — Which Helmet Standard Is Best for Motorcyclists? 

  • DOT: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), established in 1973, sets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218 (FMVSS 218) for motorcycle helmets used on public roads and property in the United States. The DOT does not “approve” helmets; instead, it mandates helmet manufacturers to certify that each model sold in the U.S. meets the DOT standard. The enforcement of this standard falls under the jurisdiction of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA ensures compliance by obtaining random samples from helmet manufacturers for testing and can impose fines of up to $5,000 for each non-compliant helmet. The DOT standard in effect now is the FMVSS 218, last updated on May 13, 2013 to include improvements in retention system, penetration resistance, and impact attenuation criteria.
  • ECE: The standard is mandated by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and is valid in over 50 countries, mostly in Europe. The current ECE standard is ECE 22.06, the 6th amendment revised in June 2020, which has been in force since January 2022, replacing the outgoing 5th amendment ECE 22.05 implemented in March 2005. Unlike ECE 22.05, ECE 22.06 mandates rigorous impact tests at various speeds, angles, and helmet parts, ensuring comprehensive evaluation, including angled impacts and safety testing for accessories.
  • SNELL: The SNELL standard is established by the Snell Memorial Foundation, located near Sacramento, California. It is a private non-profit organization founded after the death of race car driver Pete Snell, aiming to promote and advance helmet safety. SNELL testing and certification are voluntary, but some racing-sanctioning organizations require SNELL-certified helmets for competition. The current SNELL standard for motorcycle helmets is the M2020, introduced on April 1, 2019, and first implemented on October 1, 2019, remaining valid until 2032. SNELL standards typically update every 5 years, with the last four date codes being 2020, 2015, 2010, and 2005.
  • FIM: Introduced in 2016 for professional motorcycle racing, the FIM standard, overseen by Fédération Internationale De Motocyclisme (FIM), to create the safest helmets for professional motorcycle racing, but, today, FIM-certified helmets are also available for consumers. Phase one, FRHPhe-01, was introduced in June 2019, becoming mandatory in all circuit racing disciplines by January 2020. The present FIM standard is FRHPhe-01, but a new release, FRHPhe-02, was introduced in November 2022. Highly recommended from 2025 and mandatory from 2026, FRHPhe-02 also sets criteria for off-road helmets in cross-country, enduro, speedway, and motocross disciplines, covering rotational, penetration, impact testing for a comprehensive safety approach.
  • SHARP: Short for Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, SHARP is a helmet standard established by the United Kingdom government in 2007. Its objective is to enhance motorcycle safety on public roads in Britain by implementing a performance rating system for motorcycle helmets. Helmets tested under the SHARP program are sourced directly from retail dealers to ensure they match those bought and used by the public. The testing procedures comply with British Regulation BS: 6658 and UN R22 (ECE 22.06) standards. SHARP utilizes a 5-star rating system, where 5 represents the highest quality and 1 indicates the lowest.

Understanding motorcycle helmet certifications can be perplexing due to the various standards in common use. A helmet that meets one certification may fail the tests for another. And in the process, you might find yourself wondering: which of the several commonly used certification systems is the strictest? Does a helmet need to pass the hardest tests, or are the more lenient tests strict enough? Is it essential to buy a helmet produced by a reputable manufacturer with quality materials, or are all common materials good enough?

With these questions in mind and drawing on insights from my firsthand experience as a rider, a leader in leading motorcycle helmet companies, and a consultant in more than 25 countries worldwide, I will provide comprehensive information on how motorcycle helmets function, their composition, the testing methodologies employed by safety standard bodies, and the specific criteria for each certification. The more you know about helmets, the easier it is to make a good purchase, as wearing a quality helmet significantly reduces the risk of head, brain, and severe brain injury by 63%-88% for all ages in the event of a crash or a fall.

Top 10 Best Motorcycle Helmets Available Today

The current helmet certification standards — SNELL M2020, DOT FMVSS-218, ECE 22.06, SHARP 5-Star Rating and FIM FRHPhe-01 — are quite different. Yet, these disparities truly matter only if you know your riding style and helmet size. The right certified helmet should fit snuggly, feeling like a second skin; it shouldn’t burden you with excess noise or weight, nor should it add to your fatigue.

Scroll right to explore buying options, compare prices, and possibly seize exclusive discounts from sellers.

Helmet ModelCategorySafety CertificationShell SizesGet Yours
AGV K3Best OverallDOT, ECE, SHARP2: XS-MS, ML-XXLRevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon
Shoei RF-1400Best Sport-TouringDOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP5: XS/S, M, L, XL/2XL, 3XLRevZilla | J&P Cycles | Amazon
AGV K6Lightest RoadDOT, ECE, SHARP4: XS-SM, MS, ML-LG, XL-2XLRevZilla | CycleGear | Amazon
Icon AirfliteMost VersatileDOT, ECE, SHARP3: XS-SM, MD-LG, XL-3XLRevZilla | MotoSport | J&P Cycles
Schuberth C5Best TouringDOT, ECE2: XS-LG, XL-3XLRevZilla | CycleGear | J&P Cycles
Arai Regent-XBest Mid-High RaceDOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP5: XS, S, M-L, XL, 2XL-3XLRevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon
Scorpion EXO R420Best Urban/StreetDOT, ECE, SNELL2: XS-MD, LG-3XLRevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon
Bell MX-9 MipsBest Dual SportDOT, ECE3: XS-SM, MD-LG, XL-2XL RevZilla | BTO Sports | Amazon
HJC i10Best Budget-FriendlyDOT, ECE, SNELL2: XS-M, L-3XLRevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon
Sedici Strada IIBest Bluetooth-ReadyDOT, ECE, SNELL3: XS-SM, MD-LG, XL-3XLRevZilla | CycleGear | J&P Cycles
Josh Herrin, the 2022 MotoAmerica Supersport Champion and rider number 46 (a number familiar to MotoGP fans as Valentino Rossi’s), experiences a highside collision, resulting in a near-total fall onto his FIM-homologated helmet. Remarkably, he manages to get back on his feet and walk away, his life miraculously spared. And he is not alone...
Josh Herrin, the 2022 MotoAmerica Supersport Champion and rider number 46 (a number familiar to MotoGP fans as Valentino Rossi’s), experiences a highside collision, resulting in a near-total fall onto his FIM-homologated helmet. Remarkably, he manages to get back on his feet and walk away, his life miraculously spared. And he is not alone…

Impact of Motorcycle Helmet Usage: Lives Saved from 2010 to 2021

Year Helmet Use Lives Saved
2010 54.3% 1,556
2011 66.5% 1,622
2012 60.4% 1,699
2013 59.5% 1,640
2014 64.3% 1,673
2015 60.7% 1,800
2016 65.3% 1,885
2017 65.2% 1,872
2018 71.0% 1945
2019 70.8% 1987
2020 69.0% 1994
2021 64.9% 2013

The data illustrates a significant trend in helmet use among motorcyclists between 2010 and 2021, showing an overall increase of 10.6% in helmet usage rates. However, there was a slight decline of 4.1% in helmet use from 2020 (69.0%) to 2021 (64.9%). Despite this dip, helmets played a crucial role in reducing the prevalence of head injuries by 63.8% and the number of fatalities by 36.2% in 2021 for both riders and pillions – a reality that has heightened people’s awareness and willingness to invest in certified helmets.

The unpredictable nature of the road means you never know what might happen. Even if you are vigilant, drunk and distracted drivers often share the road. Avoid assuming that you could never make a serious mistake, and always remember that accidents can occur without any fault of your own due to others not paying adequate attention. And so, always wear a helmet; dress for the slide, not the ride. Better yet, adhere to the golden rule I swear by: All The Gear, All The Time (ATTGAT)!

And with a variety of helmets on the market today, like the stylish AGV graphics helmets showcased in this image I captured during my visit to the vibrant AGV store in Bangkok, Thailand, you can effortlessly discover a certified helmet that aligns with your style—one you not only want to wear but also consistently wear every time you hit the road. Photo by Michael Parrotte
And with a variety of helmets on the market today, like the stylish AGV graphics helmets showcased in this image I captured during my visit to the vibrant AGV store in Bangkok, Thailand, you can effortlessly discover a certified helmet that aligns with your style—one you not only want to wear but also consistently wear every time you hit the road. Photo by Michael Parrotte.

In particular, high-visibility (Hi-Viz) motorcycle helmets make a striking fashion statement and significantly enhance road visibility. A fact supported by a thorough 1981 NHTSA investigation at the University of Southern California Traffic Safety Center, which revealed that motorcycles involved in accidents had a median speed of 29.8 mph, with poor visibility cited as a contributing factor by other road users.

In addition to visibility, the type of helmet matters. Full-face helmets, dominating the market with a 60.1% share, provide superior safety thanks to a face shield and chin bar, both of which offer a comprehensive 65% protective effect for the upper, lower, and mid facial regions against injuries. In contrast, open-face helmets, despite offering maximum airflow and a sense of freedom, leave the face exposed, accounting for a concerning 55% of severe chin blows during accidents. It’s a trade-off between comfort and safety. Even so, wearing a half helmet is undoubtedly better than wearing no helmet at all!

Showcasing AGV open face (left), modular (middle), and full face (right) helmets. Modular helmets, a subset of full-face designs, provide the convenience of an open face with a rounded flip-up chin guard that remains attached.
Showcasing AGV open-face (left), modular (middle), and full-face (right) helmets. Modular helmets, a subset of full-face designs, provide the convenience of an open face with a rounded flip-up chin guard that remains attached. Photo by Michael Parrotte.

Yes, full-face motorcycle helmets come in two distinct chin bar styles: rounded for road riding and elongated for off-road and dual-sport use. The rounded shape reduces drag, minimizes negative air pockets inside the helmet, and enhances acceleration. Road helmets are optimized for head-on collisions and facilitate easier sliding on pavement in case of a fall. On the other hand, the elongated design in off-road (dirt bike, motocross, supercross) and dual-sport (ADV, crossover, hybrid, enduro) helmets provides greater ground clearance and protects against jaw-twisting injuries during falls in challenging terrain.

Notice how helmets vary for different types of riding? Some offer better safety and quality. And understanding this helps in making the right choice. Let’s delve into the next aspect: helmet construction.

The Shell – The First Line of Defense

A modular helmet undergoing testing using the Helmet Lateral Force Measurement Assembly Testing Machine at a speed rate of 100N/2 minutes, following the guidelines of the ECE 22.05 standard.
A modular helmet undergoing testing using the Helmet Lateral Force Measurement Assembly Testing Machine at a speed rate of 100N/2 minutes, following the guidelines of the ECE 22.05 standard.

The helmet’s shell plays a vital role as the outer structure protecting your head. Made from a variety of materials, each with distinct strengths and weaknesses, comprehending these aspects is essential for ensuring your safety.

Shell MaterialStrengthsConsiderations
Carbon Fiber (Carbon Composite, Carbon-Kevlar etc.)Incredibly strong, lightweight, excellent compression and tensile strength.More expensive due to a complicated manufacturing process.
Fiberglass (Woven, Single Continuous Strand, Laminate, Random Weave, etc.)Lightweight, durable, easy to mold and manufacture.Less expensive than carbon fiber. More flexible, disperses impact force well.
Polycarbonates (Plastics)Affordable, easy to form and manufacture.Not as strong as fiberglass or carbon fiber. Heavier and larger, may be less comfortable. Suitable for short rides or slower speeds.
Kevlar (Organic Fibers, Synthetics, etc.)Strong, flexible, often used in combination with carbon fiber.More expensive and harder to repair than fiberglass. Used to reinforce carbon fiber helmets.
CompositesCombination of materials (e.g., fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber) with epoxy resin for strength.Offers varying characteristics based on input materials. Cheaper than individual materials, stronger than some.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is hard to beat as a helmet shell material because of its extremely high tensile strength, up to 1,500,000 psi, at least 25 times stronger than fiberglass. Surprisingly, a full carbon fiber shell helmet still weighs roughly 12 ounces lighter than a standard fiberglass one of the same size.

And while this may seem marginal, the effect of a slight weight addition is amplified many times over when slicing through the air at 100 mph and with the wind keen on ripping your head off.

But that’s not all; the true magic of carbon fiber lies in its inherent ability to dissipate impacts by distributing the energy throughout the length of a single strand and onto the adjacent strand until the entire weave, by which time the force of a crash is mostly diluted.

Kevlar

Kevlar is an expensive para-aramid fiber that can reach tensile strengths of up to 500,000 psi and has very high cut and abrasion resistance, making it a wonderful addition to motorcycle jackets, jeans, gloves, and boots, as well as helmet shells. It is much stronger than fiberglass and can be used to reinforce fiberglass helmet shells.

Additionally, the material has high heat, abrasion, and cut resistance, offering better sliding protection in a helmet. However, it is never used as a standalone shell material because of its exorbitant cost.

Fiberglass

On display at the AGV store in Bangkok, during my visit, a captivating side view of the AGV X3000 "Ago 1" Limited Edition helmet showcases its iconic heritage and modern technology, featuring a tricolor ACF (Advanced Composite Fiber) fiberglass shell.
On display at the AGV store in Bangkok during my visit, a captivating side view of the AGV X3000 “Ago 1” Limited Edition helmet showcases its iconic heritage and modern technology, featuring a tricolor ACF (Advanced Composite Fiber) fiberglass shell by Michael Parrotte. 

Fiberglass is a composite material containing glass fibers held together by a polymer matrix, typically epoxy or polyester. While not as strong (20,000 to 60,000 psi) as carbon fiber or Kevlar, it is more elastic than both, flexing to absorb impacts without breaking apart. Easier to process than carbon fiber and more protective than polycarbonates, it is the go-to material for affordable mid-priced helmets.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate, a high-tech thermoplastic, provides impressive impact resistance. While it guards against penetration, its shock-absorbing ability doesn’t match laminated shells, such as your head naturally does. Furthermore, it lacks the durability of fiberglass shells and can weaken over time when exposed to water.

The AGV Pista GP R Carbon Valentino Rossi Helmet, one of the best helmets ever made

The motorcycle helmets I recommend provide a perfect balance of affordability and unwavering quality, ensuring the utmost value for your investment. These are items I've become well-acquainted with during my more than 50 years of motorcycling experience, where I've led and consulted for reputable companies in over 25 countries, in addition to being an avid rider. They are the very same helmets that have earned my trust and served me exceptionally well during countless adventures.

Laminate Vs. More Rigid Thermoplastic Materials: Which Is Better?

Laminate-vs-more-rigid-thermoplastic-materials-agv-sport

Arguably, a more rigid material is not the right way to go for motorcycle helmets. While a rigid material is exceptionally strong and offers high penetration resistance, laminate materials excel at absorbing impact and shielding your head from shock after a collision. The choice between the two depends on the specific type of accident and impact you experience.

The EPS Foam Liner – The Second Line of Defense, And In Most Cases, The Most Important

The interior view of the AGV K6 helmet reveals the comfort liner and EPS liner, highlighting its design for optimum comfort and safety.
The interior view of the AGV K6 helmet reveals the comfort liner and EPS liner, highlighting its design for optimum comfort and safety.

A strong helmet shell with no padding underneath would not be enough to save you from serious injury. Motorcycle helmets use Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) to shield your head from impact. A hard impact will crush the foam – most of the impact’s energy will go throughout the foam liner and as little as possible to your head.

Not All EPS Foam Liners Are the Same

Motorcycle helmet EPS foam often varies in density, with some being denser and others less so. Denser foam isn’t necessarily superior. Some helmets, like, say, AGV K6, incorporate multi-density EPS foam liners, featuring up to five different densities, which is the most I have seen in a helmet so far.

Less dense foam collapses easily, dissipating energy quickly upon impact. However, it can collapse too swiftly, leaving insufficient protection. In low-impact scenarios, less dense foam absorbs more energy.

For high-impact situations, denser foam resists rapid collapse, offering better protection. Yet, it might not collapse much, resulting in a harder impact during low-speed crashes. The ideal choice falls in between, but determining the exact density for optimal protection is challenging due to unpredictable accidents.

Premium helmets often combine denser foam with more collapsible foam, allowing the best of both worlds in various impact scenarios.

The Chin Strap Matters and Must Fit Properly

Adjusting a helmet's chin strap

In many motorcycle accidents, helmets can be dislodged from riders’ heads due to a weak or improperly fitted retention mechanism, particularly the chin strap. There are two common types of mechanisms: the Double D-ring and the micrometric closure. Among these, the Double D-ring is widely acknowledged as the safest for securing helmets.

In fact, FIM mandates that helmets must not only be full-face and certified by ECE 22.06, Snell, or JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) but also feature the D-ring closure for enhanced retention. Above all, riding with the chin strap open is not only unsafe but also illegal.

A Proper Fitting Motorcycle Helmet Is Necessary for Maximum Protection

Wearing a loose-fitting helmet puts your head at risk during a crash, as it can lead to severe injuries when your head collides with the helmet’s inner sides. A properly fitting helmet restrains your head’s movement in the event of a crash, providing both comfort and safety.

It’s essential for the interior liner to be of the right thickness, preventing unnecessary movement inside the helmet. A well-fitting helmet significantly reduces the risk of serious injury and ensures the helmet stays securely in place during an accident, preventing it from coming off.

A Quality Face Shield Is Necessary

On display is the new AGV K1 helmet, showcasing its aerodynamic shape and ventilation scheme. Notably, it features a spoiler at the back, developed through wind tunnel testing for the Corsa R and Pista GP R models. Photo by Michael Parrotte.
The new AGV K1 helmet showcasing its aerodynamic shape and ventilation scheme. Notably, it features a spoiler at the back, developed through wind tunnel testing for the Corsa R and Pista GP R models. Photo by Michael Parrotte.

A face shield is to protect the rider from wind, rain, insects, rocks, and road debris. During a crash, the front of the helmet is commonly impacted, making a face shield essential for additional protection. Polycarbonate is a superior material for face shields compared to acrylic.

Acrylic, while strong enough to protect your face, has drawbacks. It distorts vision to some extent and is more susceptible to scratches than polycarbonate. In contrast, polycarbonate face shields offer better clarity, durability, and scratch resistance. Additionally, both materials, when used for visors, provide sufficient strength to safeguard your face, and some variants even offer UV protection.

Motorcycle Helmet Standards: A Comparative Analysis of DOT, ECE, SNELL, FIM, and SHARP Ratings

Helmet StandardPrevious Standard RatingCurrent Standard Rating (and Future)Key Tests
DOTFMVSS-218FMVSS-218Impact attenuation, penetration, retention mechanism, peripheral vision
ECEECE 22.05ECE 22.06Impact, angled impacts, accessories, visor, chinbar
SNELLM2015M2020: M2020D/M2020RImpact, continuous water spray, penetration, visor ballistics, random angle impact.
FIMFRHPhe-01FRHPhe-01 (FRHPhe-02 from 2026)Higher-speed impact, rigorous oblique collision impact
SHARP5-Star Rating5-Star RatingImpact on flat and inclined surfaces, oblique impact, evaluations based on real-world injury statistics.

Safety standards can indeed be confusing due to the multitude of certifying bodies for motorcycle helmets worldwide. While they may share similarities, there are significant differences. For example, a helmet meeting Snell’s M2020 criteria might not satisfy the new United Nations Economic Commission for Europe standard ECE 22.06 and vice versa. In this exploration, I examine the specifics of each test criteria to grasp their distinctiveness and understand their protective qualities for motorcyclists.

Department of Transportation (FMVSS-218)

DOT certification label mandated by the Department of Transportation on all helmets sold in the U.S. market.
DOT and ECE certification labels are mandated by the Department of Transportation on all helmets sold in the U.S. market.

The FMVSS-218 certification, better known as DOT certification, is the legal minimum standard that helmets must pass in the United States. As of its last update on May 13, 2013, the standard now mandates a specific certification decal displaying the phrase ‘FMVSS No. 218,’ the helmet manufacturer or brand name, and the term ‘certified.’ In the past, a basic label featuring the letters ‘DOT’ within the specified size range was considered sufficient.

Theoretically, it is illegal to sell helmets that do not pass DOT tests in the US. However, certain manufacturers circumvent this by marketing helmets not classified as real motorcycle helmets but as novelty helmets instead. The existing laws are lenient, allowing companies to sell helmets that do not meet DOT standards. Despite this, these systems manage to prevent some subpar helmets from reaching US riders. Perhaps it’s time for the DOT to reconsider and strengthen their strategies!

The DOT Self Certification Caveat

The NHTSA, the official enforcing body for the FMVSS-218, does not test helmets before allowing them to slap on the DOT-certified sticker. Rather, the honor system applies where each manufacturer is supposed to test their own helmets and ensure compliance before bringing them to market.

The enforcer then acquires helmets from shelves just as you would and tests them independently to verify compliance, failure to which manufacturers suffer up to $5,000 penalty per every faulty helmet found.

The DOT Test Criteria

The FMVSS 218 specifies four separate tests that a helmet must pass to qualify for DOT certification. A helmet must pass an impact test, a penetration test, a retention strap test, and a peripheral vision test. While these tests are not easy to pass, the standards are more lenient than for some other motorcycle helmet certificates.

The impact test involves striking the helmet against an anvil to see how hard of a crash it could take. Both a flat anvil and a rounded anvil are used.

It is not enough for the helmet to be able to resist impacts and absorb shock in ideal conditions. The helmet must work in humidity, in hot or cold weather, and if the helmet is wet. Safety tests simulate these adverse conditions to make sure the helmet will work regardless of the situation.

The penetration test is rigorous. A typical test requires a helmet to be able to withstand a six-pound pointed object dropping from a height of 10 feet 10 inches onto the helmet. The helmet must also pass the penetration test even if it is wet, hot, or cold.

Weights are also used to test the strap. If the strap does not break but does stretch by more than is allowed, the helmet fails the retention strap test. There is only a limited amount of tolerance for the strap lengthening when pulled on.

Finally, any helmet that interferes with the wearer’s vision will not pass. Generally, a helmet must allow for at least 105 degrees of peripheral vision from the center to as far as you can see right or left.

Other tests are not vastly different from the standard Department of Transportation test. A helmet must be able to stand up to impact and pointed objects and must work despite moisture, wetness, heat, and cold. Standards are sometimes stricter, and testers may put helmets through other tests that are not necessary for DOT certification.

Snell Memorial Foundation Certification

Snell-Memorial-Foundation-Certification-agv-sport

The Snell standard tests are more rigorous than the DOT tests. Although Snell tests do not influence what is legally permissible to sell across the United States, a Snell (M-95/M2000) certification signifies that a helmet surpasses the typical standard, providing exceptional protection. Snell subjects helmets to a more extensive battery of tests compared to the DOT.

  • Impact Testing:

The Snell Foundation tests helmets by striking them against various surfaces to simulate crashes. If they detect that a rider’s brain would accelerate too rapidly during an impact, the helmet does not pass the test.

  • Roll-Off Test:

The test determines whether a helmet will stay on a rider’s head in the event of a crash. Motorcycle helmet testers employ head forms, including the Snell Foundation’s roll-off test or positional stability test, to conduct these assessments. Using lifelike human head forms makes the tests highly accurate.

During the test, the helmet is positioned upside down at a 135-degree angle, with a head form inside it. Testers utilize a mechanism with weights and a wire rope to flip the helmet over. While the helmet can move to some extent, it must stay securely on the head form to pass the test.

  • Dynamic Retention Test:

This rigorous test evaluates the chin strap, assessing its ability to hold a weight for an extended period without breaking or stretching significantly. Initially, the strap must support a 23-kilogram weight for 30 seconds, followed by withstanding a falling 38-kilogram weight. If the strap stretches more than three centimeters, it does not pass the test.

  • Chin Bar Impact Test:

Helmet safety standards mandate a robust and shock-absorbent chin bar capable of withstanding the impact of a dropped weight. Numerous tests involve dropping a five-kilogram weight on the chin bar, which must resist deflection within specified limits; otherwise, the helmet fails the test.

  • Two Separate Penetration Tests:

Helmets must pass at least one penetration test for the shell and another for the face shield. The shell penetration test, similar to the DOT test, involves dropping a three-kilogram striker on the helmet.

Face shield penetration tests can vary significantly. For instance, in Snell certification, a pellet is fired from an air rifle at the face shield to test its penetration resistance. The shield must be capable of stopping a lead pellet traveling at five hundred kilometers per hour.

Because the Snell Foundation subjects helmets to more rigorous tests than the DOT, meeting their standards is more challenging. A helmet with both Snell and DOT certifications is one you can rely on.

Did Snell Create A Double Standard?

Since 2020, Snell has faced significant criticism for dividing their latest M2020 rating standard into two parts: M2020D, following their traditional double-drop test, and M2020R, aligning with the softer shell requirements of ECE and FIM standards. The American-based non-profit certifying body had been diverging from their European and global counterparts, who favored hard shells.

Meeting both factions’ requirements was once deemed impossible, but helmets like the Shoei X-Fifteen have achieved this feat, marking a notable advancement in helmet safety standards.

European Standard (ECE 22.05 and ECE 22.06)

European-Standard-22.05-ECE-agv-sport

European ECE motorcycle helmet standards are like American DOT standards and do not involve as many different tests as the Snell Foundation uses. An advantage of the ECE test is that they test for more real-life environmental factors than the DOT test.

Unlike the DOT, the ECE tests to see if the helmet works despite exposure to ultraviolet light. The ECE also exposes helmets to solvents that may weaken the helmet and make it fail its tests. As helmets come in varied sizes, the ECE always tests the size of each helmet that is most likely to fail.

The ECE also tests more than one helmet in each production run. This is to make sure that the helmets’ quality remains the same instead of decreasing after the first batch. The ECE is thorough enough that even safety stickers are tested to see if they reflect enough light.

The ECE penetration test is rigorous as the ECE tests many different parts of the helmet to see how well it stands up to impact in different places on the shell. The chin guard is tested against impact as part of the penetration tests.

The ECE tests also involve testing the chin strap by using a testing machine to jerk the helmet backward, with the helmet passing if the strap does not break or fall off. The ECE also tests the face shield for durability and whether it interferes with vision.

The ECE 22.06 Standard Is Here

You might have heard about the relatively new ECE 22.06 standard, implemented since January 2022, and wondered what it means for you. Do you replace your ECE 22.05 Bell Carbon race helmet with a $90 polycarbonate shell helmet just because of the updated sticker? Probably not!

ECE is gradually moving towards the latest rating standard, aiming to have only ECE 22.06-certified helmets in European motorcycle gear shops by 2024. So, there’s no need to feel pressured to change your helmet before its due date based on a specific calendar deadline.

What’s New With ECE 22.06?

Several detailed improvements make the new ECE 22.06 standard more comprehensive than its predecessor, ECE 22.05:

  • Increased Number of Test Helmets: Under ECE 22.06, the required number of test helmets has doubled from 17 to 33 for models available in two shell sizes. This change ensures a more thorough evaluation, meeting stringent safety standards effectively.
  • Expanded Chin Coverage: The ECE 22.06 standard has broadened its scope to include open-face, modular, and flip-up helmets with rimmed chin components. This extension ensures safety even when the chinbar is open, a feature not previously assessed in ECE 22.05. Unlike its predecessor, which focused solely on a closed chinbar, this updated standard comprehensively evaluates both scenarios—when the chinbar is open and closed.
  • Sun Visor Accuracy: Emphasizes sun visor quality, ensuring precise color accuracy and independent movement from the face shield. This enhances visibility, simplifies recognition of traffic light colors, and offers better protection from debris. The standard enforces strict requirements: visors must withstand impact from a steel test bullet at 60 m/s without bursting, ensuring enhanced durability and safety for riders.
  • Accessories Testing: Any OEM accessories intended for use with the helmet must now be provided with the test helmets. This includes sun visors and even Bluetooth communication systems.
  • Enhanced Fit: Improved retention system for a snug fit; helmets must “sit” better on the wearer.
  • Resilience in Harsh Conditions: Helmets must prove durability in extreme weather, with testing conducted at temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius. This requirement guarantees helmets remain effective regardless of challenging weather circumstances.
  • Angled Impact Testing: Recognizing the importance of protecting against angled impacts, helmets undergo rotational acceleration testing at a 45-degree angle. This step addresses the risk of severe brain injuries due to twisting, even with low-impact velocity. For certain tests, the new ECE 22.06 standard specifies test points such as lateral right, rear, lateral left, and rear lateral right, etc.
  • Improved Impact Testing Technique: Freefall style testing from a height of 15 feet, 5 feet higher than ECE 22.05. Varying impact speeds and angles tested to cover different collision scenarios on different parts of the helmet.
  • New Rigidity Test: Damaged helmets are not evaluated for residual mechanical characteristics by adding a constraint.

ECE 22.06 classifies helmet configurations using specific letters: NP for helmets with a lower face cover that doesn’t provide sufficient protection, P for helmets with a protective lower face cover, and J for helmets without a lower face cover (chin bar) — (ECE 22.06NP, ECE 22.06P, or ECE 22.06J).

British Standard Institute (BSI) Tests

European-BSI-tests-agv-sport

The BSI 6658-85 is a distinct British certification, lesser-known but still significant. It shares similarities with the Snell Foundation standard rather than the ECE standard. Certain measurements considered minimum requirements for a helmet to pass in BSI align with the criteria utilized by the Snell Foundation.

UK SHARP Motorcycle Helmet Certification

UK-SHARP-Motorcycle-Helmet-Certification-agv-sport

Prior to undergoing SHARP tests, a motorcycle helmet must have already cleared the European ECE tests. The SHARP tests are funded by the UK government, covering additional tests that surpass the standards set by the ECE.

The notable advantage of SHARP tests lies in their comprehensive rating system, ranging from 1 to 5 stars, as opposed to a mere pass or fail status. This nuanced approach allows customers to distinguish between the best helmets and those that merely meet basic standards. While SHARP tests are specific to helmets sold in the UK, individuals worldwide can access SHARP ratings online to compare helmets.

SHARP impact tests are conducted at three different speeds and involve both pointed and flat surfaces. Additionally, rotational tests assess the amount of rotational energy transmitted to a rider’s head during a crash.

Due to the thoroughness of these tests and the detailed star rating system, the SHARP system stands out. It provides consumers with more information than a simple pass/fail grade, enabling them to differentiate between two helmets that both meet other testing criteria.

Decoding SHARP’s Helmet Safety Ratings

SHARP employs a color-coded system alongside star ratings to denote the impact resistance of helmet components. Green signifies the best impact resistance, followed by yellow, orange, brown, red, and black.

Focusing on side impact protection is crucial due to the vulnerability of the head’s lateral area. Optimal safety results from choosing a helmet with high star ratings across all zones.

It’s worth noting that American-made helmets lack SHARP ratings. Instead, helmets typically carry British standards, ECE 22.06 labels, and possibly DOT and SNELL certifications. The absence of SHARP ratings in the U.S. market is due to regulatory differences.

Controversy arises due to differences in testing methodologies. While SHARP focuses on overall impact absorption, SNELL and DOT include penetration tests. Helmets designed for the latter tests often feature rigid shells, leading to differing performance results when evaluated by SHARP.

What Is the FIM Helmet Standard?

What-is-the-FIM-helmet-standard-agv-sport

FIM is a new European safety certification for motorcycle racing that is harder to pass than the usual ECE tests. It poses a greater challenge than the standard ECE tests. FIM focuses exclusively on full-face helmets, prioritizing their ability to resist rotational forces, often the cause of most injuries. Helmets used in world championship-level races must receive approval from FIM.

FRHPhe-02 Update

The first leg of the FIM homologation programme, FRHPhe-01, currently stands as the existing standard, but there’s a new release on the horizon: the FRHPhe-02. This updated standard will expand its reach to include off-road helmets used in cross-country, enduro, speedway, and motocross disciplines. It introduces rigorous testing methods for rotational, penetration, and impact scenarios, offering a more comprehensive approach to safety.

Scheduled for implementation in 2026, the FRHPhe-02 won’t be the focus of FIM until that year. At present, FIM ‘strongly encourages’ helmet usage in trials, racing events, pedelecs, SSV, and LSWR competitions. While you don’t need to dwell on these changes unless you’re a professional racer, it’s important that I keep you informed about the latest developments:

  • Anvil Types: The testing now includes hemispherical and oblique anvils (at 45 degrees) in addition to the traditional flat steel anvil for impact testing.
  • Number of Test Helmets: The new standard mandates testing with only 6 helmets, a reduction from the previous requirement of 10, despite the increase in test variations.
  • Skull Fracture Criterion (SFC): The acceptance criteria now use the Skull Fracture Criterion (SFC) instead of the Head Injury Criterion (HIC), with the condition that SFC should be less than 212 for a helmet to pass.
  • Reduction of Peak Resultant Acceleration: The allowable peak rotational acceleration in oblique/rotational impact rotation (PRA) has been reduced from 10400 to a more survivable 10000 [rad/s2].

Notably, Peak Linear Acceleration (PLA< 275G) and Brain Injury Criterion (BrIC<0.78) have remained the same for the new round of testing.

Which Certification Systems Cover the Most Helmets?

In the United States, helmets commonly feature DOT stickers, while in Europe, ECE stickers are more prevalent.

Although Snell, BSM, and FIM certifications offer advantages, they cover fewer helmets compared to DOT and ECE tests. These certifications represent optional, higher-end testing standards. In the United States, Snell certification is preferred for high-end and racing helmets. For most helmets sold to the public, standard testing includes DOT or ECE certification.

Most helmet manufacturers also produce slightly different helmets for the European and North American markets. Helmets sometimes require adjustments to meet diverse testing standards. The two standards are not interchangeable – at least in theory, it is not legal to sell a helmet that is certified by the ECE, but not by the DOT, in the United States.

Are Different Standards Better for Different Situations?

Since riders cannot be expected to wear absurdly thick and bulky or unreasonably expensive helmets, stricter standards are not always better. The FIM has much stricter requirements for racing than DOT or ECE does for street motorcycle use. The typical rider would not be willing to pay the price of an FIM-certified helmet.

One could argue that the standard American DOT standards are too lenient and should be made stricter. Before the FIM looks at a helmet, it must have already passed ECE, Japanese JIS, or Snell certification. The FIM will not test a helmet that has only passed DOT, implying that DOT is too lenient.

A significant flaw in the DOT certification is that manufacturers can test their own helmets themselves and state they meet the standard. This is not true for Snell Foundation tests, which are never done by manufacturers. Manufacturers being allowed to test their own helmets could create the risk of less than objective results.

On another level, it is not necessarily true that DOT standards are too lenient. If a company tests their helmets honestly, a bad helmet will fail a DOT test.

How Hard Is It to Survive a Motorcycle Crash?

Motorcycles are almost always more dangerous than cars, even if there are many ways to reduce the risks. Riders die in a much higher percentage of accidents than in automobile crashes.

While people can recover from broken bones, a brain injury can be permanent. A helmet can save your life – it will not always save you, but hopefully, it can turn a fatal blow into a temporary injury.

An impact of 200 to 250 g’s to the head is likely to seriously injure but not kill a rider. An impact of 250 to 300 g’s will cause a critical injury that the rider might not survive. Sometimes, a relatively weak impact can cause a lasting injury; brain injury is an extraordinarily complex subject.

There are many types of head injuries that you might suffer if you get in an accident. You might suffer from a concussion (usually something you fully recover from, but not always) or a contusion (bleeding and bruising inside the brain, which sounds severe but can be fully recovered from much of the time).

Another type of brain injury is a Diffuse Axonal Injury. If your head moves faster than your brain during an impact, nerves may tear. When nerve tissue tears inside your brain, chemicals can be released, which may do further harm.

These injuries can lead to permanent disability, but many people manage to recover partly or mostly. Many people can gradually learn to live with the problems their brain injury causes.

There are also often fatal penetration injuries, where an object pierces the skull and enters the brain. As is the case for other types of injuries, some people are luckier than others and can mostly or fully recover.

Penetration injuries are not common in motorcycle crashes; injuries from blunt impact are more commonplace. All the different motorcycle helmet certification tests take resistance to impact seriously.

ECE vs. Snell vs. DOT Helmets. Do You Care?

While both ECE and DOT standards are recognized and respected, SNELL certification stands out due to its more extensive and rigorous testing. ECE testing is stringent, yet SNELL goes a step further, covering resistance to multiple impacts in the same location. In contrast, DOT primarily focuses on general helmet robustness and performance areas.

Therefore, while all three standards have their merits, SNELL’s detailed testing procedures make it the preferred choice for many seeking the highest level of motorcycle helmet safety.

Is a Motorcycle Helmet That Is Certified to the DOT Standard Enough?

First, it is a common mistake to believe that the DOT approves helmets, they do not! The DOT sets standards, and it is up to each helmet manufacturer to certify that their helmets meet the DOT standard.

So, DOT “approved,” meaning meets DOT standards according to the manufacturer of these motorcycle helmets will be sufficient for the typical motorcyclist for the average crash if the helmet meets the DOT standard.

There are many things besides what safety standards a helmet meet that goes into having a safe helmet and protecting you in a crash. Two of the most important things are a proper fit and the amount of coverage the helmet provides. A full-face or full-coverage helmet is generally safer than an open-face “jet/¾” style helmet, and both offer more protection than ½ helmets.

Which Is Better: ECE or Snell?

Snell certification involves more rigorous and extensive testing, suggesting it is a superior motorcycle helmet standard compared to ECE, which is the most recent and globally recognized standard, particularly in Europe.

ECE testing and requirements are more rigorous than DOT standards. The Snell standard demands multiple impact resistance in the same location, a requirement some organizations find excessive as it doesn’t reflect real-world situations. They argue that during a crash, it’s unlikely for a motorcyclist to experience multiple impacts in the exact same location on the helmet. ECE tests cover additional aspects of helmet performance and robustness not considered by the DOT standard.

Which Is Better: DOT or ECE?

ECE is generally considered better than DOT due to its comprehensive testing standards, including impact, penetration, chinstrap, and chinbar, as well as accessories, and its international recognition in over 50 countries. In contrast, DOT is limited to the United States and Canada and relies on self-certification by manufacturers.

Which Is Better: DOT or ISI?

While both DOT and ISI ratings involve impact and penetration tests, labeling, and user information, the DOT standard is better than ISI. ISI certifications are granted even without a chin bar or comfort padding, whereas DOT mandates testing for essential components like the EPS liner, protective visor, and ventilation. Both certifications are country-specific: ISI for India and DOT for the United States, similar to ECE certification in Europe.

What Is the Latest Helmet Standard?

The latest helmet standard is ECE 22.06, introduced in June 2020 and effective from January 1, 2022, replacing the previous 5th amendment ECE 22.05 from March 2005. FIM also recently unveiled its second version, FRHPhe-02, in November 2022. Although not yet mandatory, it’s highly recommended from 2025 and becomes compulsory from 2026, replacing the current FRHPhe-01 rating.

At the time of writing, SHARP is in the process of improving and updating its testing and criteria to align with the industry’s push for safer helmets. But DOT/FMVSS 218 is outdated and needs a revamp in its testing methods. It would be much better if DOT actually tested helmets instead of allowing manufacturers to self-certify.

Which Is the Best Helmet Standard?

Snell is widely regarded as the best helmet standard today due to its rigorous testing procedures, particularly with its latest M2020 double standards: M2020D and M2020R. M2020D follows their traditional double-drop test, while M2020R aligns with the softer shell requirements of ECE and FIM standards.

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Michael’s Summary and Conclusion

When motorcycle helmet standards are being compared to each other people always focus on the force of the impact, the number of impacts, dwell times, the location of impact, and many other technical factors.

All these standards are based on theories, and there is a lot of debate between the different standards organizations about which standard is better than the other.

From all my years of being in the motorcycle helmet industry and working for many manufacturers. My personal feeling is the numbers are not the critical factor that a consumer should be looking at.

The scientists and technicians can’t even agree on the numbers.

Regardless of whose numbers are correct. One of the strongest points of the Snell Memorial Foundation’s certification is that they buy helmets from the marketplace and pass them in their own laboratory. There is no involvement in this process from the motorcycle helmet manufacturer, unlike many other motorcycle helmet standards.

Most motorcyclists don’t even realize that the Department of Transportation does not approve or certify helmets to the DOT S-218 standard. So even if the standard itself was the best in the world, the government leaves it up to the motorcycle helmet manufacturer to self-certify that any particular helmet model meets the standard. And they do extraordinarily little random testing some years almost none.

Having worked with AGV helmets for so many years and then with Vemar, KBC, Suomy, and others I know that unlike Snell any test coming out of the European Union has much more involvement with the manufacturer.

If a rider chooses any model helmet from a reputable company with any of the current safety standards, they will have made a good safety decision. The important thing is that it fits securely, and then make sure that when it is worn. The retention strap is very snug. If you follow these guidelines, you will do much better than trying to dissect all the technical details of these different motorcycle helmet standards.

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Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative government, educational, corporate, and non-profit organizations:

M/A

About the Author:

About the Author:

Michael Parrotte started his career in the motorcycle industry by importing AGV Helmets into the North American market. He was then appointed the Vice President of AGV Helmets America. In total, he worked with AGV Helmets for 25 years. He has also served as a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, and Sparx Helmets.

In 1985, he founded AGV Sports Group, Inc. with AGV Helmets in Valenza, Italy. For over 38 years now, the company has quietly delivered some of the best protective gear for motorcyclists in the world.

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