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HEAD AND NECK SAFETY New Technologies And Accessories By Dan Sanchez Photos by Get Some Photo By far the most important safety gear for both four-wheel and moto racers are the quality and design of helmets. Over the decades, Snell standards have consistently changed to improve the prevention of injuries from various points of impact, which have dramatically reduced injuries. Currently, SCORE racing standards are that for all four-wheel vehicles, helmets must meet the current Snell SA2020 and SA2015 standards, including flame retardant padding, and must be worn with a certified head and neck restraint (HNR) setup. Moto helmets need to meet the Snell M2015, Snell M2020, or European (ECE) standards. According to SCORE Tech Director Dan Cornwell, all of the head and neck safety gear have to be in good working order and the Snell SFI, and FIA decals must be current and legible. LIGHTWEIGHT AND COMFORT It’s no news that the trend towards lighter helmets has continued to increase with four-wheel racers. This is also true for moto racers who want a lighter helmet but still have some additional protection across the face. According to Cromwell, many riders are wearing European-style helmets that are lighter but also feature a chin guard to protect the jaw and mouth. Lighter helmets have their advantages, according to safety experts and helmet manufacturers. “Lighter weight helmets made from carbon fiber have been extremely popular in other forms of racing like NASCAR,” says Kyle Kietzman, CEO at Racing Force, the company that owns Bell and OMP. “These types of helmets have made their way into off-road and are becoming the preferred type of helmet here as well. Extremely light helmets can weigh only 2.7 lbs. and have had excellent results over several years, and we have not noticed any increase in driver injuries due to their lighter weight.” Lighter-weight helmets, however, are still built to be extremely durable and absorb energy during an impact. According to Ben O’Connor, VP of Sales and Marketing at Impact Racing, there are two basic criteria to balance when designing a helmet— impact resistance (things coming through the helmet) and energy absorption of that impact. “Carbon fiber and carbon/Kevlar composites are being used in new helmets to increase impact resistance and reduce weight on the driver’s neck,” he said. “The lighter weight helps with driver fatigue during long races.” In cases of an accident, Kietzman says that on lightweight helmets, items such as air channel vents or hose attachments are designed to break away, preventing any contribution to any rotational injury. Both O’Connor and Kietzman agree that one of the most important factors in preventing head injuries with any helmet is to ensure they are sized properly for the wearer. “All brands fit differently,” adds Kietzman. “It’s not good to buy a helmet online. Racers should go to a retail store or outlet and try them on.” Retailers can help you decide if the helmet is too loose or too tight which can affect comfort over a long period of wearing it. While the fit and comfort from padding within the helmet, are important, the padding material also helps absorb the energy from a hit. Helmet manufacturers offer blends or layering of different liner foams. These are Expanded polystyrene (EPS) and expanded polypropylene (EPP), which are the most commonly used. EPS is designed for energy absorption from a single hit. EPP is designed to absorb initial hit performance, but not quite as good as EPS. Nevertheless, EPP also offers superior performance in secondary hits. This is why manufacturers use both types of liner foams in key areas where impacts are likely to occur. ACCESSORIES AND TECHNOLOGY One of the newest trends in helmets is that accessories and communication technologies are being added at the manufacturing stage. According to O’Connor, Impact Racing helmets offer many of the accessories on the market, already attached to the helmet if the racer orders it that way. “We’re offering more turn-key helmets with options such as FluidLogic hydration systems, HANS posts, skirts, communication wiring, and more,” he says. “We do this to ensure these items are installed properly and so that the end user is not worried about ordering the right part for their model helmet and other logistics.” Wireless intercom systems are a new technology that is soon to be integrated into racing helmets, according to Kietzman. “This technology is something we developed ourselves at Racing Force, and allows the driver and co-driver/navigator to speak wirelessly.” This would be a huge advantage during vehicle stops for flat tires or other repairs and can have a significant impact on safety during those situations. “We’ve tested this in Rally Racing and we plan on migrating it to the off-road market within the next 12 months,” says Kietzman. “While the system is wireless, the helmets can still be plugged into the in-vehicle system allowing for communication with the team.” HELMET CHECKS AND MAINTENANCE While helmets can be expensive, especially those made from carbon fiber or Kevlar, it’s no wonder racers and teams want them to last as long as their Snell certificate is valid. If a racer is involved in an accident, no matter how minor, helmet and neck restraint manufacturers urge to send them the equipment for inspection. “Although the inner padding seems good and the outer shell may only have a scratch on it, they should send it in for us to check,” says O’Connor. Manufacturers can check inside the helmet for any signs of liner compression. “Things like indents or impacts that go beyond the impact area, means it absorbs energy,” adds Kietzman. “To avoid any chance of injury or a concussion from a helmet that has absorbed any kind of energy, we recommend replacing it. “ While it might seem like holding on to a helmet a little longer until the Snell 2025 standard arrives, keep in mind that those helmets may not be available until the 2026 racing season, according to O’Connor. “The Snell SA2025 helmets will not be available for sale or distribution until October 1, 2025,” he says. “Each cycle there are many manufacturers who are unable to offer the newest standard by the release date. Some race sanctioning bodies allow a one-year additional grace period for racers to stay legal with their SA2020 helmet, but they will need to check with the race sanctioning body to be sure.” Although the 2026 season is still a ways away, racers are urged to make sure their helmets are in working condition and should replace them if they are compromised. Safety should always be the first consideration when competing in any form of off-road racing event. Both helmet and neck restraint manufacturers have lower-cost options that can hold you over until the next certified products are available.

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