Standards and Testing

This section contains articles and research related to helmet standards and testing.

Standards for motorcycle helmets commonly require helmets to be tested by placing an instrumented headform into the helmet, dropping the helmeted headform onto a rigid surface of a specified shape at a specified velocity, and then measuring the shock transmitted through the helmet into the headform in terms of the headform deceleration.

Historically, two helmet standards have predominated in the United States: the Snell Memorial Foundation’s standard (Snell) and the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218 (DOT). The Snell Memorial Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1957 and in 1959 the Foundation published the first American standard for protective helmets.  In 1972, the United States Government announced a draft motorcycle helmet standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (FMVSS 218) which would come to be known as the DOT standard. The DOT standard took effect in 1974.

An excellent overview of the historical development of helmets is provided in Helmet Development and Standards.  For a recent and comprehensive overview of the work carried out by the scientific community regarding helmets with a special insight into brain injury, helmet design and standards see Motorcycle Helmets – A State of the Art Review. 

It is important to note that any conclusions of the research or author claims related to helmet testing and standards are as of the date of the article publication and that current standards are likely to different.  For example the current Snell standard is not the same as the Snell standard that was in existence during the 2005 – 2006 period when the intense debate began about how strong and how stiff a helmet should be to provide the best possible protection.

Standards and Testing Research Studies

2022 – “Motorcycle Helmet Standards Summary and Update, Part II

This is the March/April 2022 SMARTER Riding Smart Newsletter Special Edition Part II. It is a continuation of the summary of motorcycle helmet standards presented in Part I.  Part II focuses on oblique impacts/rotational forces.  

2022 – “ Motorcycle Helmet Standards Summary and Update”

This is the January/February 2022 SMARTER Riding Smart Newsletter - Special Edition Part I.  It provides a summary of motorcycle helmet standards as of the date of publication and serves as an excellent starting point for understanding helmet standards and related issues.

2021 – “Research on Rotational Forces during Oblique Impacts”

This is a PDF of the slides and notes of the Snell Foundation presentation at the International Council of Motorsport Sciences (ICMS) virtual event held December 8-10 2021. Initial slides present history and background information regarding the Snell Foundation.  Slide 12 and slides 15 - 25 present Snell’s research regarding oblique impact testing. The slide notes contain significant information.

2021 – “Snell M2020D & M2020R Standards Explained”

This document provides an explanation of and the reasons for the Snell M2020 D & R standards. The document was written by Mr. Ed Becker, who served Snell as the Chief Engineer and Executive Director of Snell Foundation and oversaw the operation of all the Foundation's helmet certification programs.  

2017 – “Biomechanical Evaluation of Motorcycle Helmets – Protection against Head and Brain Injuries”

This study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of current motorcycle helmets at reducing the risk of traumatic brain injuries. Results indicate that none of the standard helmet models tested provide adequate protection against concussion and severe traumatic brain injuries at moderate impact speeds. Only one of the standard motorcycle helmet models tested provided adequate protection against skull fracture. A new motorcycle helmet prototype, incorporating a liner constructed from a composite matrix of rate-dependent materials was tested, with comparison to standard motorcycle helmet designs, with very promising results. Knowledge learned from this study will facilitate the development of a new generation of advanced motorcycle helmets that offer improved protection against both head and brain injuries.

2015 – “Motorcycle Helmet Standards – Harmonization and Specialization?”

With international trade agreements, on-line purchasing, and motorcycling growth there is a need to assess whether there is scope for harmonizing motorcycle helmet standards as well as specializing standards for specific environments. This paper will compare and contrast standards requirements and consider opportunities for improvements and international harmonization.

2015 – “Motorcycle Helmet Impact Response at Various Levels of Severity for Different Standard Certifications”

This conference report reviews the results of a study comparing the Snell and DOT standards for helmet protective performance in impacts at varying levels of severity.

2014 – “A New Helmet Testing Method to Assess Potential Damages in the Brain and the Head Due to Rotational Energy”

This thesis contains an evaluation for a different developed method for testing oblique impacts. In consequence a new test rig was constructed with basis on a guided free fall of a helmeted dummy head striking an oblique (angled) anvil which will induce rotation.  The results obtained  are intended to be subjected to a comparison with another oblique test rig that performs experiments utilizing a movable sliding plate which when impacted induces the rotation of a dropped helmeted dummy head.  The outcome will solidify the presence of rotational forces at head-anvil impact and offer an alternative testing method.

2013 – “Motorcycle Helmet Standards – Harmonisation and Specialisation?”

This paper compares and contrasts standards requirements and considers opportunities for improvements and international harmonisation. A desktop review of standards, motorcycle helmet and relevant biomechanical literature was undertaken. The results of impact performance tests on 31 helmets that met at least AS/NZS 1698 and combinations of other standards were assessed by standard certification.

2013 – “Motorcycle Helmets – A State of the Art Review”

Truly a state of the art review.  Over 220 references. Motorcycle helmets are widely used, required in most countries and are the most effective means of protection available for a motorcyclist to protect his head during an accident.  It is possible to conclude from this paper that there is nowadays a global acceptance of what is thought to be the cause of each injury. However, the criteria and associated thresholds are still being studied because there is no agreement in this matter. This represents a problem for the global community, because the current standards are outdated and there is no agreement about which is the best update. Nevertheless, rotational acceleration is generally accepted among the researcher community as the main mechanism of brain injury and none of the current standards access this type of injury in their helmet impact testing.

2012 – “Voluntary and Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Standards”

A paper by Edward Becker, Snell Memorial Foundation in which he explores what he asserts are the inadequacies of DOT and ECE 22-05 and compares their demands for protective capability to voluntary standards for motorcycle helmets. He concludes that much more protective capability can be demanded of motorcycle helmets with no appreciable differences in cost, comfort and utility.

2012 – “Head Injury and Effective Motorcycle Helmets”

Most motorcycle helmet standard requirements have remained substantially the same for 40 years, while over the same period our understanding of causes of injury to the brain has been rapidly improving. This study defines some areas where motorcycle helmet effectiveness in preventing brain injury can be improved.

2012 – “Assessing the Effectiveness of a Natural Cellular Material Used as Safety Padding Material in Motorcycle Helmets”

This work studied the efficiency of cork as a material dedicated to energy absorption under impact loading.

2011 – “Laboratory Test Procedure for FMVSS No. 218 Motorcycle Helmets”

This document is provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) for the purpose of presenting procedures for uniform testing and providing suggestions for the use of specific equipment for contracted testing laboratories.

2010 – “Analysis of Helmet Impact Velocity Experimental Data and Statistical Tolerance Design”

Helmet impact velocity experimental data is analyzed and various factors that influence the impact velocity are studied. One of the main goals of this report is to verify whether a tolerance of +/- 3 percent of mean velocity is feasible and will allow at least 95 percent of impacts to fall within the proposed impact velocity range.

2008 – “Comparison of Safety Helmet Testing Standards”

This document compares several safety helmet standards in force in different parts of the world with the EU standards ECE 22_05. Initially the parts of the ECE 22_05 concerning mechanical testing are summarized, then BS 6658:1985 (UK), FMVSS 218 (USA), Snell M2005 and AS/NZS 1698 are examined and the main differences with respect to the ECE 22_05 are highlighted.

2006 – “Comparison Tests of Motorcycle Helmets Qualified to International Standards”

This is the helmet testing commissioned by Motorcyclist Magazine editors Mitch Boehm and Dexter Ford and used for the basis of "Blowing the Lid Off," the groundbreaking article revealing the claimed flaws of Snell M2005 helmet safety standard.  These tests were designed to compare the helmets’ relative performance under identical, realistic test conditions rather than to determine compliance with any particular standard.  Note: the current standards are not the same as the standards tested in this report. 

2005 – “Technical Response – Blowing the Lid Off”

This is a response from the Snell Memorial Foundation to the contention put forth in the magazine article that Snell helmets are too hard and transmit too high a G loading to the head.  Note: the current standards are not the same as the standards reported in this article.

2005 – “Motorcycle Helmet Performance: Blowing the Lid Off”

This is the magazine article by Dexter Ford that examined the debate about how strong and how stiff a helmet should be to provide the best possible protection. Why the debate? Because if a helmet is too stiff it can be less able to prevent brain injury in the kinds of crashes you're most likely to have. And if it's too soft, it might not protect you in a violent, high-energy crash.  The testing reported in this article is published in Comparison Tests of Motorcycle Helmets Qualified to International Standards (2006). Note: the current standards are not the same as the standards reported in this article.

2001 – “COST 327 – Motorcycle Safety Helmets, Final Report”

COST 327 was formed to investigate, in detail, motorcyclists’ head and neck injuries with findings to be used to propose a specification for the future testing of motorcycle helmets in Europe.  This final report is extensive – 327 pages and is extensively referenced.

2001 – “Head Injury Mechanisms in Helmet-Protected Motorcyclists: Prospective Multi-center Study”

Three research groups collected data from motorcycle crashes between July 1996 and July 1998 to investigate head injury mechanisms in helmet-protected motorcyclists. The authors conclude a modification of the design of the helmet shell may have a preventative effect on DFE lesions, which are caused by a high amount of direct force transfer. Acceleration or deceleration forces induce IFE lesions, particularly rotation, which is an important and underestimated factor. The reduction of the effecting forces and the kinetic consequences should be a goal for future motorcycle helmet generations.

1998 – “Motorcycle Helmet Test Head-form and Test Apparatus Comparison”

This is an extensive comparison in which the authors conclude the test headforms and test apparatus show, there is little harmony in international motorcycle helmet standards. Comparisons of equipment or performance criteria must be carefully scrutinized in order to distinguish those few items that can be directly compared.

1998 – “Helmet Development and Standards”

An article by Edward Becker of the Snell Memorial foundation that provides an excellent historical overview of motorcycle helmet development and the introduction and development of motorcycle helmet standards.

1957 – “Skull Busting for Safety”

The impetus for the development of helmet standards arose as a result of the death of William Snell in 1956 in an amateur auto racing accident.  His crash helmet had failed to protect him. George Snively, a medical doctor and race course physician at the time of Snell’s death, had already begun an investigation of crash helmet performance. He initiated a survey of auto racing headgear and published his findings in an article titled “Skull Busting for Safety", which was published in the July 1957 issue of Sports Cars Illustrated.  Snively found fault with almost every auto racing helmet then available but, remarkably, the crash helmet industry was receptive to the criticism.