Motorcycle Helmet Safety Ratings Explained

Motorcycle Helmet Safety Ratings Explained

The first step to staying safe on a motorcycle is protecting your noggin! In the event of a crash, one of the most important pieces of gear that can save your life is a motorcycle helmet. When shopping for a new lid it's almost impossible to browse around for one without running into the safety rating. For most helmets, those safety rating can make a big difference in the price and can even effect just how popular a helmet can be. While there are plenty of safety ratings out there, the most popular ones seen are DOT, ECE and SNELL. But what exactly do each of those mean and what are the requirements needed to get that rating? Let's dig a little deeper.


Ah, the helmet standard for the USA. DOT stands for Department of Transportation. To be sold in the US, all helmets must carry this sticker on the back. Helmets that get tested get a head form inside to see just how much they protect, the following tests are involved to get that DOT safety rating:

  • Impact Absorption - this test is done to see if helmets do their job in protecting while dropped from a specific height onto an anvil. A few head form shapes are used during testing.
  • Penetration Resistance - the helmet in question is hit with a piercing striker from a fixed height. If the striker is able to penetrate the helmet
  • Retention System Effectiveness - for this test the helmet's retention straps are put under a specific amount of tension to see if they hold up. 

DOT helmets also require a certain form and order in which manufactures have to label them as well. Any label that is not following the standard get rejected. DOT helmets also require a minimum of 105 degrees of peripheral vision. DOT helmets are good for street riding.


The Economic Commission for Europe, or better know as ECE is the safety rating required in 47 countries. Much like the DOT rating, in order to get that ECE rating on the back of the lid - helmets must meet a minimum of 105 degrees of peripheral vision. Testing for ECE include the following:

  • Impact Absorption - much like the DOT testing, helmets are dropped from a fixed height onto an anvil. For ECE testing, helmets are also tested for impact absorption on parts that project from the helmet. Eight head forms are used during testing.
  • Retention System - this tests the helmet's retention system is tested after free falling with a certain amount of weight attached to fastened chin straps.
  • Chin Strap Buckle - ECE tests the helmet's buckle system and looks for any slippage during testing. The chin straps also get tested for abrasion resistance and tension failure.
  • Overall Abrasion Resistance - The surface of the helmet also gets tested for abrasion resistance.
  • Shell Rigidity - helmet's also get tested under weight to see if any deformations occur.

So it's easy to see why a lot of riders look for not just DOT safety ratings on their helmet's. ECE rated helmets go through some more torture in order to gain that sticker! ECE helmets do well on the streets. 


Unlike DOT and ECE, SNELL is a privately owned company and not a federal requirement. Manufacturers seeking that SNELL rating normally intend said helmets for race tracks or any other competition segments. The following is tests are done during a helmet's quest to getting SNELL certified:

  • Impact Absorbtion - like both DOT and ECE, helmets with a head form inside are dropped from a fixed height onto an anvil. However, five different types of anvils are used during testing to see just how well a helmet will hold up. The dropping heights will also very and change during testing.
  • Penetration Test - a pointed striker is dropped onto the helmet from a fixed height to test if any damage is done to the head form.
  • Chin Bar Strength - full face helmets' chin bars get a weight dropped on them to test the deflection that the impact causes.
  • Positional Stability - helmets get a weight attached to the rear edge and get rotated to see if the correct position of the helmet will either shift or stay put on the head form. 
  • Retention System - the retention system is test simultaneously at timed intervals while adding and removing weight. 
  • Face Shield Testing - face shields are in three spots along the center line with an air rifle. Any penetration or bumps found will fail the shield for racing helmets.
  • Flame resistance - this test is only done on some racing helmets.

SNELL helmets are best for track use which is why they go through some tests that DOT and ECE do not. 

So there you have it! A quick breakdown on each of the most popular helmet safety ratings you'll come across when you go to buy a new helmet. No matter what rating you choose...never a bad idea to check what Motoradds mounts will go with your new lid ;).

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