Understanding Snell or ECE Safety Ratings for Helmets

by Phume Mdluli

As you likely know, your helmet is the most important piece of protective riding gear. It can make the difference between a bad crash and a fatal one. Before you check out the next motorcycle helmet sale, it is important to understand the different levels of protection offered. Two common safety ratings are Snell and ECE. Below is some information to help you understand what these mean for your safety.

Helmet Safety Ratings

Not all helmets are made the same. Some offer more protection than others. Several bodies around the world set testing standards to ensure that helmet designs will offer sufficient protection for riders. The three most common are DOT, Snell and ECE. The former, which is the Department of Transportation’s rating, is the most basic and the easiest to understand.

However, many people have very little idea of what Snell and ECE ratings mean. They may not even pay attention to them, which could be a serious mistake.


Of the three common ratings, Snell is the most stringent. It is also the only non-government rating body of the group. The Snell foundation was founded in 2957 to help prevent fatal head injuries in crashes. It was created in response to Pete Snell’s fatal race car accident. Today the organization is most associated with motorcycles since most people aren’t driving race cars.

This testing procedure is voluntary for street-use products. Only a small number of race bodies require this rating.

Part of the reason Snell is voluntary is that the testing process is so rigorous. Snell M2015, the current street helmet standard, involves a thorough test by technicians. They base their process on the speeds and energy of the racetrack. They also target weak points. In short, they work hard to make sure that your motorcycle protective riding gear won’t quit even in the worst circumstances.


The Economic Commission for Europe has its own standard. Like the DOT, the ECE is a government body. However, its testing process is a little more thorough than the American organization.

It is less in-depth than Snell but takes into account more factors than the DOT test. For example, field of vision, and impact tests at fixed points are considered. One weak point of the ECE rating is that only a single blow is made. This may not accurately reflect the realities of most crashes.

ECE 22.05, the current standard set by the commission, is a relatively new standard. However, it is based on European crash data, which generally involves lower speeds than the average in America. Therefore, while it is comprehensive, it may not reflect the energy levels common in American accidents.

Picking Your Helmet

The best thing you can do when choosing a helmet is to get one with multiple, ideally all three, ratings. Whether you are buying street, adventure or motorcross riding gear, getting a good helmet is a must. So, look for helmets with ratings from the DOT, ECE and Snell. While the latter is the most comprehensive, there is nothing better than a helmet rated by all three. Find the right helmet today.

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