If you’re a new rider it’s important that you have the basics covered: a good motorcycle to ride on, all the gear you need (and make sure you’re riding ATGATT), and a good head on your shoulders. Your helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment you have, and ensuring that you have a high quality helmet will ensure you have the best chance of survival in the event of a crash.
There are a lot of variables that will determine which helmet you purchase: price, safety rating (DOT and Snell), appearance, and comfort. The most important variable here is safety, so we’re going to focus on that. It goes without saying that your helmet is a crucial piece of your gear, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t choose a helmet that looks great.
As you’ll find when you go helmet hunting, there are two standards in place that are used to determine the effectiveness of a helmet: DOT (Department of Transportation), and Snell. These ratings were created to offer an unbiased, objective rating of certifying helmet safety. This allows consumers to make conscious, well-informed decisions by removing any bias that may have been placed on the sale by the merchants selling the helmets.
DOT Helmet Certification
The Department of Transportation conducts a very basic impact test. Using a dummy head placed inside a helmet, testers drop the helmet from a height of ten feet. During this test, no more than 400g’s of force can be applied upon impact. If the helmet exceeds 400g’s, it fails.
However, be aware that most helmets on the market are not actually tested. The DOT rating is rather ambiguous in that a manufacturer can claim a helmet to be DOT certified if they “feel” that it will pass the certification process. The Department of Transportation will randomly pull helmets in for testing, but it does this to a small sample bunch that certainly does not represent most helmets that carry the DOT rating.
Snell Helmet Certification
Unlike DOT certification, Snell certification is voluntary for the manufacturer and comes at a cost to the manufacturer as well. A helmet manufacturer will submit their helmet for Snell certification, where it will undergo much more intensive testing (covering areas from impact protection, flame resistance, shell penetration, etc.). Specifically, Snell cites the following areas as critical for helmet safety:
- Impact management – How well does the helmet protect against collisions with large objects?
- Helmet positional stability – Does the helmet stay in place?
- Retention system strength – Are the chin straps, latches, and other associated equipment strong enough to hold the helmet to the head throughout the impact?
- Extent of protection – How much area is protected by the helmet?
A helmet that is Snell certified can be seen as a much safer piece of equipment when compared to a DOT certified helmet. While both offer substantial protection, a Snell certified helmet has had extensive testing in order to ensure that fact.
The Bottom Line
When choosing a helmet, always choose the option that makes the most sense for you. Ensure that it fits correctly, is comfortable, is at least DOT certified, and that you are confident that it will protect you in the event of a crash. However, we strongly recommend that you purchase a Snell certified helmet for the best possible protection.
Remember, it’s the only thing between your head and the road.