Moto-Journalist Bashes Snell M2005 in NYT

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Journalist Dexter Ford first attacked the Snell M2005 standard in a June 2005 Motorcyclist article titled "Blowing the Lid Off." Now he’s written for the New York Times an article not only criticizing the five-year-old standard, but addressing the new M2010 standard.

The article, "Sorting Out Differences in Helmet Standards," is posted on the newspaper’s website. A version of it appeared in print this past Sunday on page AU2 of the New York edition.

Ford says helmet shoppers concerned with buying “ideal protection” may be confused by the multiple standards (principally DOT, Snell M2005, ECE 22-05 and, starting next month, Snell M2010). He points out that many shoppers may assume that M2005-approved helmets are safer, even though some experts believe the opposite.

What’s allegedly wrong with M2005? According to Ford, many scientists, accident researchers and helmet makers have argued for decades that M2005-rated helmets are “too rigid and unyielding to properly absorb impact energy in the great majority of motorcycle crashes, subjecting riders to preventable brain injuries.”

The excessive rigidity, Ford says, is the result of the M2005 testing procedure, which requires each helmet to withstand two successive impacts in the same spot; allows helmets to transfer 300 g’s of force; and, in impact testing, uses headforms of the same weight regardless of helmet size. These headforms, Ford argues, have resulted in smaller-sized helmets that are especially too rigid.

The Snell Memorial Foundation’s M2010 standard drops the maximum allowable force to 275 g’s, and uses graduated headforms of different weights. Helmets approved by the new standard go on sell in October, but as Ford notes, Snell will concurrently certify helmets under the M2005 standard until March 31, 2012. “There are now hundreds of thousands of pre-M2010 Snell helmets on riders’ heads, in garages and on retailers’ shelves,” he writes, “and hundreds of thousands more that will be made in coming years.”

Ford says the label on the outside of most Snell-approved helmets say only Snell. Customers will have to check inside the helmets to identify the exact standard.

“Of course,” Ford concludes, “a rider can also do what some outspoken scientists have recommended for years: simply choose a non-Snell-rated helmet.”

The Snell Memorial Foundation has not yet issued a response to the article, as it did with the 2005 Motorcyclist article. In that rebuttal, the foundation defended the M2005 standard and criticized the magazine’s own procedure for assessing helmet safety.