When you buy a motorcycle helmet, you usually look for the big DOT sticker on the back, since most states with helmet laws require the helmet to be certified by the US Department of Transportation. But of you’re really serious about trying to keep your noggin in one piece, you look for the sticker from Snell, or as its formal name is, the Snell Memorial Safety Foundation.
But, for a while now, there’s been a conflict between Snell and the DOT–and the international ECE 22-05–safety standards. Both DOT and ECE use a variety of different dummy head sizes and weights for different helmets in promulgating their approval. Snell on the other hand, uses the same 11-pound dummy head weight, irrespective of the size, and they’ve repeatedly said that there’s no indication that different head sizes have significantly different weights. So, they’ve said graduated head weight standards don’t provide adequate protection to an 11-pound head.
Now, this is kind of an important argument. You see, if you have an 8-pound head, and your helmet is designed to cushion an 11-pound head, then the helmet may be too rigid to properly protect your head. Sure, it’s great for the melon-heads, but the pinheads might get their skull scrambled, because the lower weight of your pinhead is too small to make the cushioning give enough. The reverse is also true. If you’re a melon-head, then a pinhead’s helmet will be too soft to protect you, and the helmet will come apart like an old shoe, and you’ll bump your skull on the pavement.
Either way, the end result is a Bad Thing if the helmet size and your head’s weight don’t match.
Well, now, after years of argument against the DOT and ECE standard, Snell is saying, “Never mind.” In the brand new M2010 standard, Snell has looked at actual studies of the head weights of actual dead people, and decided that DOT was right after all. Different sized heads do have significant weight differences.
So, as of the M2010 standard, Snell has adopted pretty much the same head profiles as ECE. In addition, Snell has also lowered the number of gravities the helmet is allowed to transmit to your skull from 300 g’s to 275 g’s. Both moves offer greater head protection, although, unfortunately, that also means that if you’re a pinhead with a Snell M2005 sticker, you’re helmet fails the M2010 standard. You might as well just whack your skull with a hammer right now for all the good that helmet will do you.
So, important helmet buying tip: The new M2010-standard helmets will be hitting store shelves on October 1st, 2009. But, manufacturers can make M2005-standard helmets for another couple of years, and sell them for…ever. So, you have to be sure that you look for the Snell M2010 sticker on the helmet if that’s what you really want.
On the bright side, this now means that a Snell-certified helmet will also meet DOT and ECE standards right across the board, no matter what size of melon you’re sporting.
Unless, of course, you’re buying a modular helmet, which, as far as I know, don’t exist in Snell-certified form.