Last time I discussed helmets, it was mostly about fit, feel and comfort such as wind noise. I was “Winter Dreaming” while surfing through all the new videos and advertisements on helmets. They have such a wide gap between prices and they all have a claim to fame.
Living in the north teaches you a couple of things, one thing in particular that can be applied to the purchase of helmets. Up here it can get very cold and often we are outside to enjoy such sports as snow shoeing, walking and more. So when we go shopping for winter boots, the primary criteria is WARMTH! Of course style and comfort are important but when put in priority, it is:
To be perfectly honest, the boot MUST be warm and comfortable while style is preferable. Like helmets, there are a vast variety of boots of many wonderful styles when yet only a few have a certified temperature rating such as good to –45 degrees Celsius. Name brands such as Baffin of Sorel have such ratings on most of their boots and they can be trusted because of their company history and reputations up here in the north.
Helmets are very much the same and I believe the priority should be as follows:
- Style and features (such as blue tooth)
My career started as a Quality technician and I have had a business since 1989 that specializes in Quality Management and Quality Software. For those interested, you can visit my two websites at (www.tqms.com and www.cissoftware.com).
In my career, I have seen more bad things than one would like to see when it comes to quality and the adherence to standards. Furthermore, I also get the shivers when I see how ethics and morality are put to the way-side when fiscal concerns become a priority for an organization’s survival. If you all just stop and think about how companies faced this last economic crisis and how the crisis came to be, then you may begin to envision what actually goes on behind closed factory doors.
Knowing this, I began to read all about the three major safety standards that helmets are certified to and I wanted to highlight some interesting points to consider when choosing your next helmet.
The three major Certification Standards are as follows:
- DOT (FMVSS 218 Standard)- This was first issued in 1974 and was updated in 1980 and again in 1988.
- SNELL (Snell Memorial Foundation) – This is a private organization that issues their own standard.
- ECE (Economic Community of Europe ECE 22.05) – Mostly unheard of in the US and Canada but actually the most required standard in over 50 different countries.
So, what would make one standard better or worse than another? This question is difficult to answer and I certainly would not want to be shot by the Helmet Standard Police for picking one as the best over the other two. Therefore, how about I just point out some key differences and everyone can decide for themselves.
One of the key issues in my mind is how does a helmet become certified and how does a helmet maintain its certification during and after manufacturing?
For example, in the 1980s when a variety of quality standards became a requirement for manufacturing in Canada and the United States, I had seen many companies hire a consultant and a Quality Manager to achieve certification but only to refocus their efforts after certification was achieved. In those days, many certifications were audited only once, so the company had to have a Glorious Audit Day then they could literally fire their quality manager (which did happen often). In business there was ultimately a price to pay for such actions because these company’s customers would normally inspect the product or service to their standards and failures would result in returned parts or refunds on service.
As a helmet customer I can not test the helmet. In fact, they say that if you even drop a helmet, it should be replaced because it may not be safe as the fall may have affected the ability of the helmet to absorb the next impact’s energy.
So certification and the approval process is in my opinion the most important part of the equation. For example, I could promise the world but without a reputable certification and audit process that guarantees that I will meet these promises, then they are simply hot air.
So, without looking at the specific specification requirements because I really believe that all three focus on specifying a safe helmet in their opinion based on their research. And the research will be different since the types of roads, drivers and the use of motorcycles differ greatly between countries.
DOT requires the manufacturer to self certify themselves. The manufacturer is responsible to execute the required testing in their lab using their equipment until they can show that a helmet passes the tests. Once a helmet passes, that helmet and the manufacturing process is suppose to be frozen. DOT/NHTSA does not require any further information and would only question the certification if it receives complaints that may result in a recall.
Just a comment, I would not want to have to be the guy who files a safety complaint about a helmet after an accident. Therefore, one would really have to have trust and faith in the manufacturer and their processes to accept such a certification. For example, my brother-in-law really trusts and loves Arai helmets. He has met the people who manufacturer the helmet and that is the only helmet he would use. I am certain that everyone has a similar favourite, but read on! I think that when it comes to keeping your brain from imploding or exploding in a possible accident, the more knowledge is the best approach.
The following is a link to the DOT Database of Tested Helmets: http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/problems/comply/index.cfm
The ECE standard requires an independent audit of each helmet batch produced by the manufacturer. This approach would be familiar to those working in aerospace or military fields because this is a common inspection technique called source inspection. What this means is that a manufacturer must first define a batch. Normally a batch would include one specific batch of material produced on a single manufacturing run. A manufacturing run could be a shift or a combination of back-to-back shifts using the same materials.
After each batch is completed, a sample is removed for testing and the testing is witnessed by an authorized third-party (independent of the manufacturer) auditor who must sign-off approval. If any such test fails, the manufacturer would be required to stop the processes and determine the root cause and an effective corrective action before production can re-start.
In this approach, a third-party auditor is actually doing the testing on our behalf ( the customer) and there are strict procedures in place to ensure the independence of the auditor and the auditing certification company. The manufacturer has no decision to make about stopping their production if a helmet fails.
Please understand at this point, that a company manufacturing DOT certified helmets could i fact be adhering to the same testing approach whereby they test every batch and that the tests are performed properly using currently calibrated equipment. The Million Dollar Question however is what happens to the testing if the key quality person (people) leave or if the company is suffering from economic challenges and there is a failure? Will they shut down their own manufacturing line when a helmet fails any of the safety tests or only when it has a major failure that is obvious to all? Consider this, if a company shuts down their manufacturing during tough economic times and in the middle of riding season, their helmets would soon not be available on the shelves. Not only do they lose the immediate economic loss from not having helmets for sale but they would lose market share and confidence. So this would be a major decision for a company to make.
Manufacturers may submit helmets to the SSNELL certification program for prototype certification. However, the official pre-market certification happens when the manufacturer submits a number of helmets to the SNELL testing laboratory where SNELL technicians perform the tests. Any failure is cause for rejection.
Full Certification is achieved by RST (Random Sample Testing) whereby SNELL actually purchases a number of helmets that were meant for sale to the public for testing. If one helmet fails, they test another three and if any of the other three fail, they require the manufacturer to stop manufacturing or to stop and recall the SNELL Certified Stickers. Once certified the manufacturer is required to keep the process frozen (No design Changes).
The following is from the Snell Testing Document:
production may continue uninterrupted and all will be considered well until the next round of RST. However, if any of the three samples fails, the matter is referred to a board member, the Director for Standards Enforcement for action under the standard Licensing Agreement.”
Again, this approach seems better than relying on just the manufacturer to perform the testing. However, it also assumes that once approved “Always Approve”.
As a quality professional, I can clearly state that is impossible. Everything in life does in fact change over time including processes. People leave and join the company, training is not always passed down 100 %, climate changes throughout the seasons changing humidity and temperature, supplier’s materials vary from batch to batch and so on. So the million dollar question has to be asked yet another time. What does a company do if they know about a change, a batch failure or having to modify something because of material or product availability? Will the company make a decision that the change is not really a change but an equivalent process or product? Will they advise the SNELL organization?
The specifications are complicated and are based on how the organization perceives impacts during an accident. Of course every accident is slightly different and could be outside the normal perceived impacts. Also, it is good to note at this time that NO HELMET = NO PROTECTION!
The following are just a few statements to consider:
An ECE certified helmet would ALWAYS meet the DOT certification Standard;
A DOT certified Helmet may or may not meet the ECE Certification Standard;
ECE Helmets are approved for events such as AMA, CCS, FIM, Formula-USA and WERA.
SNELL has an old and new standard. The new old standard is generally considered too hard and the new standard is favoured. The new standard M2010 favours more impact-absorbent helmets that would most likely pass both DOT and ECE standards.
Some helmet manufacturers say that it is easier to pass the ECE by reinforcing certain specific areas on the helmet versus building an all around safe helmet (probably written by manufacturers that are not ECE certified).
SNELL is known for testing multiple impacts in the same area intended to protect you throughout an accident whereby you hit your head multiple times.
ECE does require impact tests at designated sites on the helmet.
SNELL demands the technician choose the testing spot above the test line that may produce a failure.
I found this on a forum entered by Rick Federmann from Cedar Park, TX
“I try to stay away from Snell-certified helmets. It’s all about the deceleration rate of your head when you hit something, because brain damage results from your brain impacting the inside of your skull when your head suddenly stops, such as when you hit the ground.
The Snell standard includes the ability to protect against more than one impact. For example, if your head hits the ground, then runs into the curb. Sounds good, except that it means that for a specific thickness of Styrofoam, all of the deceleration must occur within half the Styrofoam thickness so that half the thickness remains for the second impact. Thus more energy is transferred to your head than if you have the full thickness of the Styrofoam absorbing the impact. As mentioned in the previous message, this is accomplished using harder Styrofoam in Snell-certified helmets.
Studies have shown that most motorcycle accidents result in a single head impact. Actually, your head may hit a couple of times, but it’s the first impact that typically involves severe energy. So, in playing the what-if odds, the probability is weighted towards protecting against a single hard impact, versus multiple hard impacts. In a single impact, the DOT non-Snell helmet will provide greater protection.”
What the details? Do Your own Homework….