Snell Gets With the ECE Program

You have probably encountered the news that the Snell Memorial Foundation intends to revise its helmet-safety standards, resulting in a new SNELL 2010 rating you can expect to see in stores soon. Based on reports elsewhere, the shift in standards may be seen as something of a victory for those who've claimed that Snell's criteria has had improper priorities.

In order to be certified SNELL 2005, a helmet had to withstand two successive blows to the same place on the helmet, without subjecting a simulated noggin to 300g's. Some scientists and riders argued that such an accident was highly unlikely in the real world, and that in order to meet that standard helmets were in fact being made too rigid and unyielding. It was feared that the harder helmets might actually be doing more harm than good in an accident. Snell has also taken flack for not adjusting the simulated head's weight in different sized helmets, as the U.S. Department of Transportation and the European Community of Europe do in their tests.

"I seems to me that the SNELL 2010 is coming into line with what Europe has been thinking all along," says Francois Saint Laurent at Dual Sport Touring in Maryville. "A lot of people thought the SNELL 2005s were too hard. ECE 22-05 is the standard in international racing. If an Italian racer comes in looking for a helmet, Snell's not going to mean anything to him.

"I don't think it will drive prices up. I expect most makers to just work the 2010 certification into their new models, whenever they planned to release them."

To be sold in the U.S., a helmet needs only to meet DOT's safety requirements, which many helmet-makers and -testers think are both more realistic and lead to safer helmets than the Snell tests. You may remember Motorcyclist magazine's independent test from a few years back, where an $80 DOT helmet outperformed a $400 Snell helmet. The closest thing to a universal standard is the ECE 22-05, which is recognized in more than 50 countries and required for racers in almost all international racing organizations. Adding to the confusion is the fact that SNELL 2005 helmets will be manufactured and sold in the U.S. into 2012.

So, speaking of headaches, the next time you buy a helmet, you may have four different safety ratings to think about.