U.K. Starts Giving Helmets Safety Ratings

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A motorcycle helmet can either pass a standard or fail a standard. Whether that standard is Snell, ECE22.05 or DOT, lids that barely qualify get the same designation as those that exceed the requirements. Hardly seems fair.

The United Kingdom's Department of Transport began addressing this problem when it unveiled its Safety Helmet and Assessment Rating Program (SHARP), which published its first ratings for 56 full-face helmets in June. The program rates each helmet on a scale of one to five stars. (See the full list at www.direct.gov.uk/sharp.) The government claims performance can vary by as much as 70 percent.

"Helmets from across a wide price range and from a variety of manufacturers have received four to five stars, so all riders should be able to find a high-scoring helmet in a size and style that fits them and at a price they want to pay," says the Department of Transport's Jim Fitzpatrick.

SHARP testers buy helmets from dealers and submit them to a wider range of tests than those performed for either of the U.K.'s helmet approval standards: BS 6658:1985 and ECE22.05 (a helmet need only meet one). Whereas the ECE22.05 testers use only one impact velocity, SHARP testers assess the helmet at higher and lower velocities.

The SHARP testers also consider the areas of the helmet most likely to be struck and the risk of brain injury from impacts to those areas. The testers do not look at the chin guard or chinstrap because they believe the regulatory requirements adequately assess those areas already.

The SHARP assessment also does not include a penetration test. Because a shock to the brain is much more common than a penetration, the testers concentrate on the helmet's energy management. SHARP testers say they have no evidence suggesting that helmets suffer repeated impacts at the same site during accidents, so unlike other testers, they strike each helmet only once at each impact site. But because helmets can receive multiple impacts, the testers do assess multiple impacts at different points.

Interestingly, the SHARP team points out that the most important aspect of a helmet is that it provides the right fit. That's why customers must try before they buy. Customers should pick out helmets that fit well before considering the SHARP ratings, the team says. — Arlo Redwine