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HEAD STRONG What Racers Need To Know About Their Safety Helmets By Dan Sanchez Before the green flag raises, racers often get into a mental mode after they strap on their helmets. Blocking out noise and distractions, helmets help put competitors in “the zone” for focusing and concentration on the race ahead. But helmets are also one of the most important pieces of four-wheel and moto racer’s safety equipment. Therefore they must also be in good condition and up to current safety standards. When it comes to helmets, there are two standards in SCORE desert racing. For four-wheel vehicles, helmets must meet the current Snell SA2020 and SA2015 standards that include head and neck restraint mounting threads, and flame retardant padding. Moto helmets, however, need to meet the Snell M2015, Snell M2020, or European (ECE) standards. “There’s a big difference between Snell standards, Federal Department of Transportation standards, and ECE standards when it comes to motorcycle racing helmets,” says Hong Zhang, Director of Education for the Snell Foundation. “It’s surprising that not many SCORE moto racers are aware of this, as the differences are substantial.” Zhang had the opportunity to attend the 2022 SCORE Baja 1000 race and was there during Tech Inspection, and after the race. “I was able to help SCORE Tech Director Dan Cromwell by inspecting the helmets of racers,” says Zhang. “It was an exciting opportunity to talk to them and it was great to see that all of the helmets were in good condition. Most four-wheel racers knew the Snell certification on their helmets had to be current.” However, Zhang points out that most motorcycle riders are not aware of the benefit of premium head protection in Snell certified helmets. The SCORE Rule Book lists Snell M2015 and M2020 certified helmets for safety headgear along with ECE 22.05. Although the Federal DOT standard is the mandatory helmet standard in the U.S. DOT-only helmets are not allowed in SCORE racing events. According to Zhang, the differences in helmet protection levels are due to how the moto helmets are tested and how much helmets are able to absorb impact energy. “Those differences in technical requirements are called out in helmet standards,”’ she said. “But helmet standards are just documents. Who tests and evaluates helmets matters. A Snell certified helmet must pass initial certification testing at the Snell lab. Then, Snell lab will spot check all certified helmets by randomly buying helmets from retail stores and test them again to make sure those helmets with Snell labels sold to motorcyclists in the market continue to meet Snell standard requirements.” “For the most part, moto helmet manufacturers are somewhat reluctant to go through the testing process, as any new change they make to any model helmet requires sending Snell new helmets for testing,” she says. For comparison, Zhang explained how the testing procedures differ between each type of standard, from DOT, ECE and Snell. “Our tests [Snell] include free-fall crash testing (acceleration) onto simulated surfaces. Both DOT and Snell use flat and hemispherical anvils that represent different types of impacts. The hemispherical anvil can mimic impacts on a smaller portion of the helmet with a concentrated load.” According to Zhang, the European standard (ECE) does not require impact tests on hemispherical anvils and is a weaker standard than DOT. “The European standard (ECE) is 10 to 20 percent less protective than the DOT standard,” she added. “To put things into better perspective, the DOT standards for motorcycle helmets came out in 1974. So the level of impact protection for DOT helmets has not changed since then. Snell motorcycle helmet standards are updated every five years. Because of this, the DOT standard now only provides about 60% of protection compared to the current Snell M2020 standard.” While racing with ECE certified helmets is allowed for SCORE moto racers, Zhang points out that all moto racers need to understand this before they go racing. “A lot of helmet manufacturers make helmets that are only DOT compliant because that is the minimum government standard for helmet use on public roads and streets.” The caveat to all this, however, is that helmet manufacturers do not send their helmets to be tested. “The DOT has their helmet standard but leaves it to the manufacturers to do the testing and certify their own helmets,” says Zhang. “Manufacturers do not even submit any paperwork to the DOT in order to print their own DOT labels on helmets. The bottom line for moto helmets is that DOT certification is the law of the land and Snell is a non-profit premium helmet standard and testing organization that has been around since 1957.” Helmet manufacturers sell many more motorcycle helmets than they do racing helmets for four-wheel vehicles. Moto racers are influenced by other moto racers who they want to emulate. There are some Snell certified dirt bike moto helmets available and Zhang hopes to educate more racers and teams to be better informed on head protection. SJ

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