Helmet Certifications and Safety

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There are many different certifications for helmet safety in use worldwide. Some of them have more strict requirements and are only legal in certain countries. DOT certification is for use in the United States, while ECE 22.05 is a European standard that many countries adopt, as the requirements are far more strict. There also exists the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) test. This is a comprehensive testing process that is not legally required but gives the rider a good idea of how safe the helmet is, as they are given a rating out of 5 stars.

What is ECE Certification?

Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) outlines the European standard for traffic safety. Regulation No.22 specifies the minimum requirements for motorcycle helmets to meet to gain the certification for legal use on public roads. The first iteration of this certification was released in 1982 and was called ECE 22.02. The “.02” at the end of the phrase is the revision. Almost 50 countries currently use ECE 22.05. The next revision, ECE 22.06 will become the new regulation as of June 2023.

ECE testing is far more comprehensive than DOT, its American equivalent. This is because it tests features that contribute to avoiding accidents rather than focusing on impact protection entirely. Some examples of this include shell rigidity, the optical quality of visors and field of vision. All ECE certified helmets need to be tested at an independent lab before being made for sale with a compulsory ECE sticker.

What Is ECE 22.05 Certification?

ECE 22.05 has certain fixed points where strikes are made on the helmet during the testing process. The unfortunate side to this is that certain manufacturers can gain certification by cheating the system and reinforcing the helmet in these specific regions. This certification also no longer features a penetration test. Penetration can occur when colliding with a fence post, a footpeg, or any similarly shaped or sharp objects.

Tests

Testing is performed on the helmet size that is determined to be the weakest of the batch. Chinstraps are tested by connecting the helmet to a test rig that pulls the helmet from the back, ensuring that it doesn’t break under a certain load. Visor tests include abrasion and scratch resistance, refraction, light transmission, opening angle, the field of vision, and defects. The stickers’ reflectiveness is also tested to ensure the rider is visible in all conditions, and impact resistance is tested in many key locations around the helmet.

After these tests have been passed, testing continues on large and small-sized helmets from the first production batch and continuously through the production run. Manufacturers will be given a heavy fine if helmets are being sold without these certifications in countries that fall under these regulations.

You must not fit ECE22.05 compliant helmets with any components or devices that compromise protective capabilities. They must also be in good condition, which means no damage to the outer shell, retention system or inner lining. However, minor wear and tear are okay.

Labelling

Once all testing is complete and the product has passed, the helmet is labelled in the format shown below. All ECE certified helmets will have a label indicating that it is certified. Some helmets may have an additional sticker with the certification, although it is not required.

Helmet Certifications and Safety
ECE 22.05 Label
Pictured: Explanation of ECE label

The easiest way to identify whether a helmet is ECE 22.05 certified or not is to look for the label with the letter ‘E’ on it, followed by a number. The number states which country the helmet was tested in. This does not mean that you can only wear it in that country. The following is a list of numbers correlating to the Country the test was performed in.

Pictured: ECE 22.05 Country Codes

What is DOT Certification?

The Department of Transport (DOT) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No.218 is the standard for helmet safety in the United States. Compared to ECE, this test is not as comprehensive. Plus, the certification and testing process is very different.

A DOT certification means that the helmet has met the minimum standards to absorb shock from an impact and resist impact penetration whilst including an effective retention strap. These standards are made available to all manufacturers that plan to sell helmets in the US. The big difference here compared to ECE is that manufacturers need to self-certify the products. If they pass, they must put a DOT sticker on the helmet when made for sale. This is regulated by the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance that test a certain number of helmets per year. If there are any violations, then helmets are removed from sale. The manufacturer then faces a fine of $5,000 per helmet. Vendors must also replace or repair helmets for the consumers at their own cost.

Tests

The certification process is composed of three tests. The first is called the impact attenuation test. In this test, the helmet is conditioned to numerous environmental factors, such as low, medium, and high water immersion and humidity. It is then tested for impact protection using both a rounded and flat anvil in four different areas with two impacts per section. Manufacturers can choose anywhere above the DOT test line to perform these tests, which is pictured below.

Pictured: DOT test line

Next is the penetration test. A 3kg pointed striker is dropped on the helmet from 3 metres high. The striker can be dropped on any part of the helmet, ensuring manufacturers must account for the entire helmet’s integrity. The chin strap is then tested to loads of 23kg to 136kg. This ensures that it does not stretch more than 2.5cm after being subjected to these forces. The final test ensures that the visor has a minimum peripheral vision of 105 degrees from the centre of vision. All of these tests are performed multiple times in different environmental factors including humidity, extreme weather and more.

Labelling

Once a helmet has passed all of these tests, it is then certified as DOT compliant. A sticker is placed on the outside of the helmet to allow riders to identify DOT-certified helmets. Manufacturers also need to place a label on the inside of the helmet. This shows the manufacturer’s name, model, size, materials used, and manufacture date. You can find an image below containing an example of the sticker’s formatting outside the helmet.

Helmet Certifications and Safety
DOT Label
Pictured: DOT test sticker located on the outside of helmet

What Does SHARP Test Mean?

The Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) is a quality rating scheme established in 2007 by the British Government to improve motorcyclists’ safety on the road. All helmets tested by SHARP are purchased from consumer retailers. This ensures that the helmets are the same as those worn by motorcyclists. Seven helmets from each model are subject to 32 different tests, which measure the protection against brain impact at three different speeds on flat surfaces and kerbs. The helmets are then rated from one to five stars with five stars being the highest rating. Helmets with a five star SHARP rating means that it offers good protection in all locations inside and outside the helmet.

Tests

SHARP tests at a higher impact velocity than required by ECE regulation. This equates to a total of 30% more energy input than required by ECE 22.05. Pictured below is an example of the testing procedure. Linear impact tests are performed on both flat and kerb shaped surfaces to reflect real-world road accidents. Impact anvils are to ECE 22.05 specifications.

Helmet Certifications and Safety
SHARP testing criteria
Pictured: Various SHARP test criteria

If the helmet is a Flip-front (Modular), SHARP will also include a reference to the effectiveness of the locking mechanism of the chin bar during testing. However, regulations state that it requires impact tests on the chin guard. There are no standards that test the locking mechanism itself. SHARP provides a percentile-based score to rate the locking mechanism. For instance, if the lower face cover is in place for all thirty impacts, the score will be 100%. However, if the locking mechanism opens nine times out of thirty, then the locking mechanism would be rated at 70% effectiveness.

Rating

To rate the helmet, a large sample of the worlds best motorcycle data is analysed for impact regions, impact velocity and impact surfaces. The rating process is, therefore, extremely complex and well-informed. SHARP provides information about the helmets’ performance that they test with the inclusion of an Impact Zone Diagram, located on the specific helmet’s data page on their website. The picture below is an example of this diagram and a table outlining what each colour means.

Pictured: SHARP helmet safety diagram, outlining effectiveness of protection in specific helmet regions.
Pictured: Table explaining impact mitigation for colour coded regions.

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