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Past Issues Index
Roadfly Magazine
Chef Alton Brown: BMWs, Books, Good Eats & Iron Chef America
Issue Fourteen
November 8, 2004
Alton Brown:
Talks Bikes, Books, & Good Eats
Helmet Guide:
What to Look For
2004 BMW X3 2.5i Sport
2005 Chrysler 300C Hemi
iPod FM Transmitter Review
Coming Next Issue
Chip Foose
BMW 760Li
VW Phaeton W12
Prepare for Winter

How To Choose A Helmet:
Head Games (continued)

Bell Open Face Model Helmet

Arai Open Face Helmet

Snell Test for flame resitance

Official Web sites:
Snell Web Site
Arai Americas
Bell Racing
While there are many different types of helmets on the marketplace, we'll focus on the type of helmets that are intended for motorsports use, specifically referred to as "Special Application" or "Motorsports" helmets. These types of helmets offer protection from impact, flying debris and (limited) flame or fire. While often similar in appearance to a motorcycle helmet, they're quite different (motorcycle helmets tend to have a larger field of vision, no fire/flame retardant and different ventilation systems).

Although helmets look similar, it's often very difficult to tell a good helmet from a bad one, and that's where certifications can help. The Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) offers a certification standard, but the DOT standards are somewhat dated (many are based on 1972 ANSI standards), and the certification is voluntary. In other words, the onus is on the manufacturer to ensure their helmets meet DOT standards - the DOT does not conduct tests of helmets.

The Snell Memorial Foundation provides a rigorous set of test criteria, and is generally regarded as "the standard" in helmet safety technology. Unlike the DOT, Snell offers its testing and certification services to manufacturers in exchange for a testing fee and a licensing fee.

Snell, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1957 after William "Pete" Snell died during a racing event when his helmet failed to protect him. The foundation released its first set of standards in 1959, and has been working to improve helmet quality and safety ever since.

Before any helmet can earn a Snell certification, the manufacturer must pay a testing fee of about $1200 and submit five samples to Snell for testing. Snell destroys four of the helmets during its tests and saves the fifth for future reference. After a helmet receives its Snell certification, Snell randomly purchases samples from retailers to ensure quality and integrity of the certification.

The first helmet sample is destroyed as technicians cut the helmet open to inspect material thickness and quality, design and manufacturing quality, and inner lining inspection.

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