For some reason, the most revered and respected of the safety standards here in the United States is those of the Snell Memorial Foundation, called for a “harder” helmet than all of the other standards. Compared to the Economic Commission of Europe and Department of Transportation, SNELL was said to allow more “G’s” to be transmitted to the wearer’s head in lower impact situations, and therefore was more likely to cause an injury to the brain than the “softer” helmets that would not pass the rigorous SNELL testing. They also theorized that the lion’s share of motorcycle accidents involved lower impact situations, lower than the type of impacts from which Snell-rated helmets were originally designed to protect. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
The first difference that you might notice when comparing helmets of equal quality is that the ECE-rated helmets are often a good deal lighter than their Snell-rated helmet competitors. In fact, even when comparing apples to apples, a helmet from Shoei sold in Europe with the ECE rating will be 200 grams (about 7 ounces) lighter than the exact same Snell-rated model here in the United States. Although the difference between a Snell-rated helmet and a DOT-rated helmet is far greater, the Snell-rated helmets are still harder than ECE-rated helmets, and therefore still transmit more force to the wearer’s head in a lower impact situation than will an ECE-rated helmet.
WHAT IS THE THEORY BEHIND SNELL’S PREFERENCE FOR THE HARDER HELMET?
It is simple: With origins as a safety standard in higher-speed competition scenarios, they believe that their standard will protect the wearer from a much harder impact, one which could prove fatal in a softer shell. The focus is on keeping the rider alive in any magnitude of crash. They do acknowledge that the wearer may be more likely to sustain a concussion in a lower impact situation. The ECE position, in response to that belief, is this: If your head is impacted with a force that is hard enough to prove fatal, you are likely to suffer other, non-head related, fatal injuries as well. In this regard, their aim is to provide better protection in lower impact situations, since they hold true that the majority of road collisions fall under this category.
SO IS ONE HELMET NECESSARILY BETTER THAN THE OTHER?
I believe not. I believe that they are different and that the difference gives us one more criteria on which to base our choice. It’s your head, and you should be the author of its protection.