Thursday, July 03, 2008

Will SHARP lead to better, safer helmets for motorcyclists?

Regardless of how 'cool' it looks, a motorcycle helmet is so utterly useless if it can't save your life in the event of a crash. Yes, bikers need super-strict helmet safety standards...
Pics: Killboy

Many motorcyclists don't really know much about how safe their helmets may or may not be. There is the Snell certification for helmets in the US, and ECE 22.05 in Europe, but not too many riders probably know what these mean or imply, or which is better.

The UK government-backed Safety Helmet Assessment Ratings Program (SHARP), which comes into effect from this year, is trying to change things. Under this program, helmets will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the best rating) so that buyers will have a clear idea of just how good a helmet is when it comes to its crash protection abilities.

With some top brand name helmets from companies like AGV, Arai and Shoei scoring lower SHARP ratings than some cheaper helmets from ‘budget brands’ like Nitro and Lazer, SHARP ratings indicate that more expensive helmets may not necessarily be better than some of the cheaper ones.

‘The new tests do not go far enough. SHARP do not look at the methods of construction and manufacturers’ track record in racing accidents. Nor do they use repeated or random impacts,’ says Ferry Brouwer, who’s worked on developing Arai helmets for more than 25 years.

SHARP tests are designed to log the effects of a specific impact of between 6.5 and 8.5 metres per second on specially selected points of the helmet's outer shell – both head-on, and a simulated glancing blow. The impact speed is slightly higher than the existing ECE 22.05 regulations, but SHARP doesn’t test impacts on the chinbar section of the lid, or do repeated impacts on one area, like Arai do in their own factory tests for example.

‘In the US, the Snell Foundation do random impact point testing, and by not telling manufacturers which points will be tested, it prevents makers from strengthening particular areas on the helmet shell. Arai also believe that a penetration test of the shell is crucial, as no two motorcycle accidents are the same and such incidents can happen sadly,’ says Brouwer.

According to Arai, here are some things which you should look at, when buying a helmet:

1. Check the fit carefully. It should be snug, but not uncomfortably tight, with little up and down, or side-to-side movement when worn.

2. The `D ring' type chinstrap fastening offers the most accurate adjustment to an individual head, rather than the ‘seat belt’ type catches some manufacturers use. A helmet has to stay on your head in an accident to save your life.

3. Because of the gradual reduction of performance in any helmet's inner EPS lining, motorcycle helmets should be replaced at least once every five years.

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