Motorcycle helmets standards, plain and simple...

In the United States, there have generally been two well known motorcycle helmets standards that are relevant for  bike helmets.  The FMVSS 218 or as everyone knows it, the DOT standard is the mandatory U.S.  government standard that all motorcycle helmets must meet to be legal for sale and for road use .  

DOT standard was first issued in 1974 and was updated in 1980 and again in 1988. There is currently a great deal of  work being carried out by the DOT in preparation for another update in the near future. 

The second standard is issued by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a private organization that issues its own motorcycle helmet standard. The Snell certification has a great reputation, and is supported by many of the top motorcycle helmet manufacturers. Snell testing is more stringent than the DOT tests, but is purely voluntary on the part of the manufacturers.

A third helmet standard is in existence from the Economic Community of Europe (ECE), and this standard  is actually the most commonly used internationally. The ECE 22.05  is required by over 50 countries worldwide.  While helmet standards all have one thing in common, (that is making sure your helmet does what it is supposed to!), some performance requirements can conflict between different country standards.  A major benefit for all you  riders in the US is that the ECE 22.05 standard does not  conflict with the DOT standard.  Testing shows that ECE qualified helmets will also meet the demands of the DOT standard.  Actually, because the ECE standard asks for impact testing at higher velocities than the DOT standard, not all DOT certified motorcycle helmets will pass the ECE standards! So you could say that the ECE certified helmets are in fact safer in some ways than the DOT motorcycle helmets.

In fact, studies have shown that something like 95% of all accidents involving motorcycles occur at speeds below the velocities for impact testing in the ECE and the DOT standards. So both standards are very good and an ECE or DOT approved helmets will give you some excellent protection.

 One advantage that the ECE 22.05 standard has is the  mandatory batch testing of helmets before they are released to the riding public.  This means that quality of the motorcycle helmets that meet the ECE 22.05 standard is assured by a mandatory sample testing of every production of helmets before they leave the factory.

When testing is performed, the motorcycle helmet manaufacturer and a representative from an authorised audit company (such as TUV in Germany) will be present to witness the testing. This is called  "witness testing".   If the motorcycle helmet fails the tests , its back to the drawing board !

The  DOT standard is basically manufacturer self-certification.  The manufacturer will conduct the required tests in his lab and if the motorcycle helmets  pass, they are considered compliant,  until the DOT/NHTSA receives information (usually complaints) which result in the motorcycle helmets being recalled from the market. 

It is impossible to design one motorcycle helmet that can provide the maximum protection in all types of crashes. No motorcycle helmet is going to  protect the wearer against all foreseeable (and sometimes unforseeable) impacts.  However,   by choosing a helmet that meets a high performance standard such as ECE 22.05, DOT or Snell,  you can at least give yourself the maximum level of protection 

  Helmets certified to the ECE 22.05 standard are approved for competition events by AMA, CCS, FIM, Formula-USA and WERA and are chosen by nearly every professional motorcycle racers competing in world championship road racing, motocross and off road events, including the ultimate sport of Moto GP.  Helmets that are certified to both DOT and ECE 22.05 offer the highest level of realistic protection . 

If you want more information on the ECE standard, the U.N. ECE website has a full copy of the ECE 22.05 standard in .pdf format. 

Dont forget; it has been proven through many hours of rigorous testing on mostly unwilling volunteers that HELMETS DON'T WORK UNLESS YOU WEAR THEM!

Enough said.

Here are my top two choices for buying motorcycle elmets online. The standard that the helmets meet are clearly marked, so you dont have to be concerned about getting something you weren't expecting from these online stores. icon ,Number two (but only just!)

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Copyright Motorcycle parts accessories and more, Michael Holmes 2004