Helmet Certifications: Decoded


Ever wondered what certification(s) should a helmet carry to ensure your grey matter is safe beneath the lid? Do you think more number of certifications translates into better safety? Read on to know the answers.

The most common certifications over the globe are DOT, ECE 22.05, Snell certifications and these are the most relevant and reliable ones. Let us look at each of them:

DOT certification:

DOT stands for “Department of Transportation” and the standard is FMVSS 218, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218, which is specifically for motorcycle helmets sold in USA.

National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the enforcement authority for DOT certification.

One important thing to note is that: The NHTSA do not test helmets against the DOT standards before the manufacturer can claim DOT certification. Instead, each helmet manufacturer must test and self-certify the models they want to sell and then affix the “DOT” emblem signifying compliance with FMVSS 218. There are various styles in which the “DOT” logo is being affixed over the years, but going ahead, each new model shall have the DOT logo affixed at the back of the helmet, with the word “FMVSS 218″ and “certified” below that.

The NHTSA enforces the DOT standard by acquiring random samples of that particular helmet model and sends them to an independent testing lab to verify compliance. Penalties to manufacturers for affixing the DOT emblem on non-compliant helmets are really high, so a renowned helmet manufacturer will not risk faking the certification. To be on the safer side, while buying a helmet, you may ask for certification documents, which should be provided to you.

The FMVSS 218 standard tests helmets in three areas: impact attenuation (energy absorption on impact), penetration resistance, and the effectiveness of the retention system.

Impact Attenuation: When an impact attenuation test is conducted under specific test conditions, the following conditions must be met:

  • Peak acceleration must not exceed 400g.
  • Accelerations in excess of 200g shall not exceed a cumulative duration of 2 milliseconds.
  • Accelerations in excess of 150g shall not exceed a cumulative duration of 4 milliseconds.

Penetration Resistance: The penetration test is conducted by dropping a penetration test striker in guided free fall, with its axis aligned vertically, onto the outer surface of the helmet. If the striker does not come in contact with the test headform inside the helmet, then it is said to meet the safety standards of penetration resistance.

Retention System:

  • The retention system or its components should attain the loads specified without separation.
  • The adjustable portion of the retention system test device shall not move more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) measured between preliminary and test load positions.

There are various other aspects that are looked at, such as peripheral vision clearance which should be atleast 105 deg to each side. There should be no projections on the inside of the helmet and the projections on the outside such as vent openings must not exceed 0.2 inch (5mm).

The DOT standard does not specify any rules vis-a-vis helmet visors, but there is a separate VESC 8 (Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission) for it.

For a detailed explanation of the DOT standard specifications and test procedures, click here.

DOT and SNELL certified helmet

DOT and SNELL certified helmet

ECE 22.05 certification:

ECE stands for “Economic Commission for Europe”. The 22.05 part refers to the specific regulation that the standards for helmet testing are described in.

The ECE standard, which is accepted in more than 50 countries, is similar to the DOT standard in most ways, with similar test procedures and similar requirements to pass the tests.

One major difference between DOT and ECE 22.05 certification is: the ECE standard requires batch sampling when production begins, with submission of helmets/visors to a designated laboratory working for the government that uses the ECE standards. Thus, the ECE standard ensures that the specific helmet model is tested before it actually goes on sale to the public, which is not the case with DOT certification, where random tests are performed after the helmet reaches end customers.

Click here to download the PDF that contains detailed information about the ECE 22.05 standard.

DOT and ECE certified

DOT and ECE certified helmet

SNELL certification:

The Snell Memorial Foundation is a private not-for-profit organization that sets voluntary standards for motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets and auto racing helmets, as well as other kinds of protective headgear. Testing standards and procedures for the helmets and visors are similar to both DOT and ECE. As with ECE, in order to be SNELL certified (currently M2015 specifications), the manufacturer needs to send sample helmets to SNELL before actually going on sale. If the helmets pass the test, a certification will be received, after which, the design cannot be altered in production. Post-production random testing is also performed to ensure continued compliance with the standard. Snell certification is not mandated by the regulatory authorities, but is sometimes needed by some competition sanctioning bodies.

For a detailed explanation of the SNELL standard specifications and test procedures, click here.



Now to the most important question: which certification(s) must a helmet have: If a helmet has just DOT certification, note that it may or may not have been tested by third party testing laboratories. That being said, renowned helmet manufacturers shall surely not fake a DOT certification. They shall ensure their helmets comply with the standards. Beware of helmets bearing fake DOT emblems though. Purchase your lid from an authorized reseller and ask for relevant certification documentation.

Coming to helmets having just the ECE certification, well, you can rest assured that that particular model has been certified prior to going on sale. Again, beware of fake and counterfeits.

Those with DOT/ECE certification, DOT/SNELL certification or DOT/ECE/SNELL certification pass the standards mentioned by all three regulatory bodies. Now since the testing procedures are almost similar, even a single certification is enough to ensure your helmet meets the safety standards. So do not fret over your helmet having just one of these certifications. But what you must surely fret about is ensuring you buy genuine stuff. This is paramount, as fakes or duplicates are readily available in the market, which could prove fatal.

Another standard applicable in India is the ISI standard, which also specifies a few tests and procedures to ensure safety. I would however recommend going in for helmets with the much stricter DOT/ECE/SNELL norms.

To know about Armor certification, click here.

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Suraj Patil

Founder/Editor-in-Chief at Moto Gear Advisor
A techie on weekdays, Suraj makes a Ninja-shift to being a hardcore rider on weekends and administrator of Moto Gear Advisor at night.

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  • RAV

    Where Does ISI stand in comparison to these certifications. can you also provide a comparison of all 4.

    • http://motogearadvisor.com/ Suraj Patil

      ISI is the very bare minimum certification your helmet should have. DOT=ECE. Both of them > ISI

      • RAV

        yeah, but do u have a conclusive proof of this claim ? can we have numbers please, instead of D > E I < D, we expect much more from an engineer . This part will improve this article as well. God Job BTW. cheers .