DOT, ECE, and Snell Motorcycle Helmet Ratings

When you pick out a motorcycle helmet, it will have a safety sticker on the back of it labeling the helmet as safe for use according to a certain standard. The typical standards you’ll see on motorcycle helmets are DOT, ECE, and Snell. These ratings help prevent traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) during motorcycle accidents, and people who wear safety-rated helmets have a better chance of surviving after a crash. 

Many nations require safety labels, as they put helmets through testing that proves they can protect your skull in the event of an accident. However, not every rating is the same, and some are more strict than others. Here is some information about motorcycle helmet safety ratings.

What is a DOT safety rating? 

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is a national organization focused on safety for all Americans who travel. Part of the DOT is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and they are responsible for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The standard applying to helmets is FMVSS 218.

The FMVS standard for motorcycle helmets sets up testing guidelines for manufacturers in order to achieve the DOT’s seal of approval. Generally speaking, these are impact tests meant to reduce head impact during a collision. These tests include penetration tests. The standard also specifies other conditions, such as how much peripheral vision a rider must have when using the helmet. The manufacturer must specifically label the helmet with the following: 

  • Manufacturer
  • Size
  • Date of Manufacture
  •  Instructions (such as DO NOT MODIFY)
  • Separate FMVSS label of certification

There are many specifics outlined in FMVSS 218, but what is important to remember is that the NHTSA has updated regulations over the years. The original DOT stickers have been modified to reduce counterfeits. Every helmet sold in the U.S.A. must adhere to these standards. If the law requires a helmet, you must have a DOT helmet. 

What is an ECE safety rating? 

The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) has its own rating system for their continent. ECE 22.05 rating is not relevant in the U.S., but it is in Canada. Many helmets in the U.S. have both certifications, which means they can be used in most countries without any problem. Technically, if you only have an ECE certification, you could get a ticket. Despite this, most people still consider ECE better than DOT. 

What is a Snell safety rating?

When you get to the Snell safety rating for motorcycle helmets, you dive into the history of helmet safety. The name Snell comes from the last name of the man who died and inspired a helmet safety foundation. The Snell Memorial Foundation created the first helmet safety standards in 1959, three years after Snell’s death. The first standard was for a motorcycle racing helmet, but Snell is now standard for many general helmets. 

The most current Snell safety standard is SNELL M2020, and it is tougher to certify these helmets than it is DOT helmets. That is because Snell was originally designed for racing helmets. They test things like impact and penetration at a higher level than the law mandates. Snell is typically considered a safer helmet than one with only a DOT sticker. Of course, they typically have both. 

What is the law concerning motorcycle helmet safety labels? 

As stated previously, all helmets in the U.S. must have at least a DOT safety rating, but they may have more. These ratings are typically affixed to the back of the helmet. You can remove them as long as you have a label proving the safety rating on the inside of the helmet. This way, if you do get pulled over, you can avoid a ticket. 

The DOT certification does not ensure that a motorcyclist will not experience a head injury during a motor vehicle accident, but it does decrease the risk. It is still up to the rider to wear the helmet correctly, invest in a full-coverage helmet, and drive safely. 

Crazy Al Motorcycle Helmet

Even though the DOT tries to eliminate unsafe helmets, some helmets are of questionable safe quality. One of these is the Crazy Al helmet. These helmets are more the shape of a beanie than a full-coverage helmet. They are often portrayed on television worn by tough bikers in motorcycle gangs. 

Technically, riding with a low profile helmet (skid lid or half helmet) like a Crazy Al helmet is better than not wearing one, but they aren’t really safe. The rider must wear protective eye gear and is exposed to the elements when riding because there is not a face shield. There is also no neck protection, and the neck can become compressed upon impact causing spinal cord injuries. Still, these are popular options in places like Florida where there is a lot of heat. 

If you must wear a low profile helmet, make sure it is certified. At least in this way you can ensure that the material is tough enough to handle the pavement. 

Motorcycle Helmets are One-Time Use

One of the biggest things to remember about helmets is that no matter what their safety rating is, they are single use items. This doesn’t mean riders cannot wear them more than once. Rather, it means that if you are in an accident where there was an impact to the helmet, the helmet is no longer safe. You actually want to be very careful with a helmet and be careful not to drop it because every impact damages the protective foam within. 

Do I have to have a DOT-certified helmet in Florida? 

All over the nation, manufacturers are supposed to get their helmets DOT-certified. However, Florida helmet law does not apply to people who are over 21 years of age and carrying medical coverage of $10,000 or more. Technically, if you aren’t required to wear a helmet, then you aren’t required to wear a certified helmet. What is worrisome is that these helmets typically have thinner padding, so your risk of injury goes up. 

Which Safety Rating is Best for Your Motorcycle Helmet? 

Snell and ECE are considered to be higher quality safety ratings than DOT, and every helmet sold in the U.S. must be at least DOT. If you want the best, you want to have Snell included in the safety rating. This means that they have held the manufacturers to much greater safety standards than the DOT, and your helmet will likely save your life if you have to use it. 

Wear Your Motorcycle Helmet and Survive a Crash

Floridians typically remove as many articles of clothing as possible in the summer heat. Unfortunately, this causes some poor decisions regarding helmet use. Couple this with a law that only makes it illegal if you are over 21 years of age with $10,000 in medical coverage, and you end up with a lot of people out there on the road risking spilling grey matter on the roadway. 

Instead of lasting trauma from a TBI or even death, just put on your helmet. They can be cumbersome and hot, but the price you will pay for not wearing one is too great to risk. 

If you have suffered an injury or loss as a driver or a passenger in a motorcycle accident, and you want to speak to a lawyer, contact The Law Offices of Kirshner, Groff, and Diaz for a case review.

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