Safety Standards of Motorcycle Helmets

Motorcycle helmets are types of masks used by motorbike riders to protect them from harm in case of an accident. These riders are prone to many types of accidents including collisions with each other, and it is these helmets that protect their heads from injury (Da, 2010). The helmets are also designed in a way that they protect the riders’ face, ears and also intercoms. These helmets if used correctly have proven to reduce the risks of injury in the event of an accident taking place by almost 70 % and the risk of death to up to 40 % (WHO, 2016). Rufus (2013) says that putting on a helmet when riding a motorcycle significantly reduces the possibility of getting injured in the event of a fatal accident. Every state has specific requirements for helmet production with many of them requiring helmets to have a retroreflective material (Motorcycle Safety Foundation, 2016). It means that motorcycle helmet users must read manufacture’s details before making a purchase of helmets to ensure that they are buying products that meet the state safety standards. The U.S law requires those riding motorcycles to ensure that they wear a helmet that meets the U.S safety standards, if not that an individual will be moped in the road (Ilminen, 2013). Therefore, safety standards have been placed to ensure that motorcycle helmets are produced in a manner that will ensure safety for people. In the U.S, the government has placed the department of transportation to be responsible for monitoring the production of motorcycle helmets. To this end, this research paper aims at discussing the various safety standards available in the U.S. for ensuring motorcycle helmets that are being produced can keep people safe. Specifically, the paper will describe particular codes that street legal motorcycle helmet manufactures must meet when producing those products. The safety standards for motorcycle helmets discussed in this paper include the ECE 22.05, DOT (FMVSS 218) and the Snell Certification. The discussion will also entail the various testing procedures that go into making sure that the helmets qualify for the standards.

Department of Transportation (DOT) Certification

All helmets for motorcycles in the U.S must be manufactured as per the safety standards of the DOT Certification. All helmets with the DOT Certification mean that they meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218 (Rufus, 2013). In the U.S, all non-novelty helmets manufactured and sold must meet the DOT standards. The testing of the helmets is usually done randomly by the government for the purpose of ensuring that they meet these specified standards.  Purchasing a helmet can make a person wonder what safety certifications are available for these head gears. DOT provides three latest motorcycle helmet safety standards with the last one revised in the year 2013 (Ilminen, 2013). Therefore, the most common motorcycle helmet safety standards by DOT in the U.S. include the FMVSS, ECE, 22.05 as well as the Snell Certification. They all apply differently but none is better to the other while certification of some of the manufactured are based on different standards. The following sections provide a discussion of the various motorcycle helmet safety standards as provided by DOT.


The DOT (FMMVSS) standard is based on a system that is self-regulated. Therefore, helmet manufacturing companies normally design their helmets as per the FMVSS safety standard and provide themselves with the certification (Rufus, 2013). This is why many of the times motorcycle helmet users do not look for a single DOT certification when making their purchase but also seek for others such as the Snell certification.

FMVSS 218 standard for motorcycle helmets applies to all helmets that are sold in the United States for use of the road. It is a certification that was enforced under the authority of the “National Highway Safety Administration” (NHTSA) for use on the road as applied to motorcycle helmets. According to the NHTSA, all manufactures of motorcycle helmets should test them before marketing and introducing into the market for selling them to road users. To show compliance with the FMVSS 218 standard, after testing the helmets, manufactures must certify the samples ready for selling in the market and make a permanent affix of the “DOT” symbol on them (Ilminen, 2013).

To test that manufactures have complied with the FMVSS 218, the NHTSA enforces this standard through the acquisition of helmet samples randomly produced and then sends them to a selected laboratory for testing (Ilminen, 2013). It is the sure way of verifying compliance. When manufactures do not comply with the FMVSS 218 standard and markets non-compliance products, the NHTSA charges a penalty of up to five thousand dollars for every helmet.

There are three areas with which the FMVSS 218 presents motorcycle helmet standards for the performance of helmets. They include impact attenuation such as energy absorption and penetration resistance; the effectiveness of the retention system and the new requirements for product labeling. The FMVSS 218 also has requirements for peripheral vision that should be at a minimum of 1050 from the middle of the helmet. Protrusions from the helmet surface including the rivets and snaps cannot be more than 5mm (Ilminen, 2013).

Testing the impact is useful in measuring the headform acceleration on the inside of the helmet after dropping it from a predetermined height to a flat as well as spherical anvil on the surface. The FNVSS 218 safety standard provides for a peak energy acceleration of about 400 G (gravity constant). Testing the penetration requires falling a test striker to pierce the helmet for a particular height (Ilminen, 2013). Here, it is not a must for the striker to make a deep penetration when contacting the headform.

Regarding testing of the system of retenstion one places the retention straps of the helmet under the load in strain. This test takes a particular procedure that is progressive. The first application is made using a load weighing 22.7 kilograms for about 30 seconds. The second application is made using a weight of 136 kilograms for about 20 seconds. The stretch is measured or displaced from an unchanging point of preservation belt for the helmet apex. To avoid confusion on the impact attenuation as well as test procedures for the retention system, there are new ones in place under the FMVSS 218 that requires the use of apparatus to test the helmet retention system. The label “DOT” on the helmet is not enough and requires inclusion of the name of the manufacture,  model name and number, the symbol ‘DOT’ below the name of the manufacture, ‘FMVSS 218’ at the center and below the ‘DOT’ and the word ‘Certified’ below the FMVSS 218. These are effective measures to avoid counterfeit labeling of motorcycle helmets that do not comply with the FMVSS 218 (Ilminen, 2013).

Snell Certification

It is set by the Smell Memorial Foundation (the Snell) established in the year 1957 after the death of Pete William Snell (Rufus, 2013). The Snell Foundation is dedicated to improving the safety of motorcycle helmets. It helps manufactures in developing helmets through the provision of prototype testing. The Snell certification has been at the core of helmet safety in the U.S and other parts of the world since it was introduced. It is a motorcycle helmet safety standard that is completely independent. Meaning that, Snell certification/standards entails the manufactures of helmets present several helmets to the Foundation after production (Ilminen, 2013). In the Snell Foundation, these helmets go through various standardized tests for the purpose of determining their performance as well as the capability of staying on the head when exposed to different environmental conditions including cold, heat and wet weather. After a helmet goes through every test, it receives certification under the Snell M2010 Standard. The manufacture is then allowed to label the certified helmets as Snell certified (Ilminen, 2013). After certifying a particular model of helmet, a manufacture cannot alter it during production.

Snell certification requires post-marketing testing that is done randomly. This is performed by the Snell Foundation for the verification of sustained compliance. When a failure is realized during the random tests, it can result to de-certifying the particular helmet. The Snell standard is intentional and does not necessarily require a compulsory certification by the authorities (Ilminen, 2013). However, it may be needed by some sanctioning bodies due to competition.

When testing motorcycle helmets, there are four areas that the Snell Foundation assesses in every model of helmet. The qualifications for testing the environmental adaptation condition before releasing the helmet are also used. Like in the FMVSS, the two systems should have a peripheral vision of not less than 1050 from the middle of the helmet (Ilminen, 2013). Testin the impact of absorption is also necessary for Snell Certification and it is done similar to that of FMVSS 218. Here, a free falling drop testing is performed from height that is fixed and inserting the head form insider the helmet for the purpose of measuring the impact energy moved to the helmet inner part after dropping it to an anvil that is fixed.

There are five anvil shapes that are used when testing for Snell Certification. There is also a peak energy acceleration of 300G allowed depending on the type of test. The height of dropping the helmet usually varies while the speed for reaching the point of impact is specified when making specifications of the tests. This ranges from 5 to 8 meters for every second of the certification tests (Snell Memorial Foundation, 2016).

Testing of the protection of the shell of the helmet from penetrating is done by tumbling a 3 kilogram striker that is pointed on top of the helmet, 3 meters height. The penetration of the striker to the shell on the helmet and touching the headform means that the helmet has failed the test and does not meet the Snell Certification Standard. Helmets with full face are usually tested for chin bar strength whereby the chin of the helmet is mounted inside a jig facing up and dropping at 5 kilograms weight on the middle of the bar of the chin from a height that is fixed as well as measuring the deflection amount caused by the impact (Snell Memorial Foundation, 2016). Sixty millimeters deflection or more indicates a chin bar failure showing that it will result into an injury when one wears it and an accident occurs.

Position stability is also tested in Snell Certification using 4 kilograms of weight attaching it to the initial back of the helmet edge using a cord while positioning and strapping the helmet appropriately on the headform as it faces down at an angle of 1350 (Ilminen, 2013). This ensures that the weight dislodges the helmet when released from its right location on the headform. After that, rotating the helmet at an angle of 1800 is done while attaching the weight to the helmet edge opening edge front. The entire test is repeated for confirmation of the results. When the helmet spins past the headform, it is an indication of failure. There helmet does not meet the Snell Certification Standard.

Testing the system of retention is also done by first making an application of 23 kilograms of pressure load towards the chin strap that is fastened for a minute. Secondly, a simultaneous removal of the load is performed by way of imparting 38 kilograms of fall load guided to the strap system that is closed (Snell Memorial Foundation, 2016). When there is a strap deflection of more than 30 millimeters, it is an indication that the helmet has failed the retention system testing. Penetration resistance testing is done on the shield of the helmet face. Here, with an air rifle, shooting is performed in three different spots at the center with the use of a lead pellet that is pointed at a speed of about 500 kilometers per hour.  When the shield penetrates, it shows that the helmet has failed the test. For those helmets use when racing, the raising of the bump more than 2.5mm high is an indication of test failure.

Snell standards also require testing of flame resistance. However, these tests are only for particular kinds of helmets for racing. The label ‘Snell’ for certification is placed in the helmet using the codes M, SA, SAH, K, CMR and CMS.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE R22-05) Certification/Standard

The 22.05 is part of the ECE referring to a particular regulation that describes the standards for testing motorcycle helmets. It is acceptable and used in forty seven countries all over the world. All helmets sold in these countries must meet the ECE 22.05 standard to ensure safety and protection of the motorcycle users. The ECE 22.05 safety standard covers protective helmets for drivers as well as passengers of motorcycles (Rufus, 2013).  The ECE 22.05 is similar to the DOT (FMVSS 218) standard in various ways. Just like the FMVSS 218, the ECE 22.05 helmet standard requires the peripheral vision not be less that 1050 from the middle of the helmet (Ilminen, 2013). The conditions of the environment required by the ECE 22.05 are also similar to those of the FMVSS 218 standard. Helmets must be tested for environmental conditioning and the application of specific labeling requirements. Impact absorption testing is necessary for helmets to meet the ECE 22.05 standard. The method of testing is similar to that of DOT (FMVSS 218), whereby the drop test is performed from a height that is fixed on a steel anvil and the headform fitted in the helmet for measuring the transmitted energy. At peak, the acceleration energy passes the test at 275G. Rotational forces as well as impact absorption testing is performed at different points whereby any of the surfaces from the helmet shell can be used (Ilminen, 2013).

Retention system testing is performed using a free fall drop of about 10 kilograms of weight dropped from a height of 75m and attached to the chin strap that is fastened. To meet the test requirements, the attachment is not allowed to displace more than 35 millimeters. The chin strap is also tested for slippage of the buckle system under the load. Testing of the strap material is done to obtain the abrasion resistance as well as the load tension failure which should not be less than 3kN (Ilminen, 2013). Tests for easing release and the level of durability of quick-release buckle systems are carried out. The ECE 20.05 requires testing the helmet for abrasion resistance by allowing the test surface to slide past the helmet. Protrusions from the helmet cannot be more than 2mm. The helmet shell is tested for rigidity by measuring its deformation after a continuous application of the load up to 630 Newtons.

When there is a visor on the helmet, a performance for the visor test is also performed to ensure it meets the ESE 22.05 helmet standard. There is no requirement for penetration resistance testing in ECE 22.05 standard.  In some countries, the ECE 22.05 standard requires testing for retroreflective materials for helmets. When starting helmet production, the ECE 22.05 standard requires batch sampling to be done (Ilminen, 2013). This would obtain a sample of about fifty helmets or visors for testing in the laboratory to enable the government monitor the quality of the products during production.

The ECE 22.05 standard gives specifications of helmet configurations before approving it as quality to be released in the market (Ilminen, 2013). The standard requires manufactures to use codes ‘J’ for helmets without a lower face cover. For those with a protective lower face cover, manufactures should code ‘P’ and ‘NP’ when the helmet does not have a protective lower face cover. The codes are given as “as ECE 22.05J, ECE 22.05P or ECE 22.05NP.


In conclusion, motorcycle helmets are important headgears that protect users from injuries in the event of an accident. Governments have seen to it that various standards are available for manufactures to adhere to when producing motorcycle helmets. This research paper has discussed three major motorcycle helmet standards applied in the U.S and other countries. The paper confirms that the FMVSS 2018, the Snell, and ECE 22.05 are important standards available for motorcycle helmet manufactures to adhere to during the production of their products. It means that before purchasing a helmet, individuals should inspect of its quality certification based on these standards as applied in various countries. Manufactures should also ensure to test the helmets as required the stated motorcycle helmet standards before releasing them for sell in the market. Some of these tests that must be applied to the helmets as required by the safety standards include penetration testing, retention system testing and impact testing. Each safety standard has specific procedures that manufactures must follow when doing these tests on the helmets. This will ensure the safety of people when using the motorcycle helmets.

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