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I know you almost feel like you have just entered into a physics class. Worry not, I won’t use all the complicated lingo here.

As a rider, you need to know what the helmet safety standards mean so you can make an informed decision when picking one. Being in the motorcycle import industry has taught me a thing or two about helmets.

Currently, traffic rules are strict on anyone who rides on a motorcycle without a helmet. It’s fatal not to wear one and we don’t need to get into the stats of thousands of casualties. A poorly made helmet can send you to brain damage. Any part of your body can get injured yet you survive. But a slight head concussion is alarming.

If a helmet isn’t functional, then you are endangering your life.

Helmet safety ratings

There are a bunch of stickers at the back of your helmet that show different certifications.

DOT: The U.S. Department of Transportation determines this standard. Any helmet should meet the federal standard FMVSS 218 which is the effective DOT standard. Manufacturers are expected to test their helmets for field vision, penetration resistance, and impact negation among others.

ECE: The Economic Commission for Europe sets these standards. Helmets must meet the current ECE 22.05 standard. It is used by over 50 countries in Europe. Manufactures carry out impact testing, optics quality, designs to improve survival during crushes, etc.

SNELL: These are the standards set by the Snell Memorial Foundation. It’s a voluntary test carried out by some racing bodies for their riders. For street purposes, SNELL M2015 should be maintained while SA2015 for races. It is the most aggressive impact testing as it involved edge anvils. It features ease of removal, face shield rigidity against shattering, and helmet stability.

SHARP: It’s a very recent testing body that doesn’t really provide certifications but gives star-ratings to European-based helmets.

The first three standards are very important. A helmet can have one, two, or all of them. If your helmet lacks all then you are wearing a salad bowl and you need to upgrade. ASAP. Novelty helmets don’t have the DOT or ECE stickers and they are illegal in places that helmets are a legal requirement.

Bottom line

I know you are probably asking, “What’s the best helmet?”

In the motorbike business, there is an old saying, “Tell me how you are going to crash, and I’ll tell you what protection you need.” If you want to get into an L.A.’s 405 freeway crush, go for a SNELL certification. If it’s a slow bender in London the DOT certification will do. You get the gist.

But, fitness is key. A $1000 SNELL helmet won’t be any good if it’s large. A $100 DOT would serve you better if it’s fitting. Consider that too.