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New ECE Standards to Increase Helmet Safety (And Price)

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While every element of your riding gear is important for comfort and safety, there’s no question your helmet is the most consequential. It’s also the most complex, needing to meet multiple behind-the-scenes reliability standards that are continually evolving. 

The most universal motorcycle helmet testing standards are those imposed by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), a branch of the United Nations. After not seeing a change in the last 20 years, updated ECE standards will require new levels of safety from helmet manufacturers, and will likely increase costs as well. 

In the U.S. we’re familiar with our own very basic Department of Transportation’s (DOT) standards for helmet integrity, as well as the Snell seal of approval, which satisfies safety parameters developed for racing. The ECE testing standards, currently denoted as 22.05 and soon to be version six (22.06), are the most comprehensive testing requirements, measuring everything from the polystyrene’s reaction to different temperatures, to the prismatic effect of the visors. If your helmet meets ECE standards you’ll find a requisite stamp on the shell or a white tag sewn into your helmet’s liner. 


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The upcoming amendments to current ECE standards will include additional trials, as well as construction requirements, such as added reflectivity. The new regulations will also expand to visors, sun-shades and helmet-specific accessories. In the testing department, new helmets – currently rated by how well they hold up when propelled onto an anvil – will be subjected to “drops” at a wider range of speeds, including low speed tests to determine how helmets perform in minor or secondary impacts.

Rotational tests will also be introduced for the new ECE standard approval. Studying the new impact data that results from prescribed hits at specified anvil angles will address important new research on the dangerous effect of glancing blows. In this scenario, sensors will measure the twisting motion of a head inside the helmet, which is significant since rotational force can cause significant damage to brain tissue without any obvious external trauma.

ECE 22.06 regulations helmetsCurrently, modular helmets can be certified without testing with the chin bar raised. This will no longer be allowed, and all modular lids must meet or exceed the regulations in their closed as well as their open positions.

New testing procedures will also address modular helmets and how their integrity might be altered when the chin bar is raised. As it stands, a modular helmet can be tested and certified as a locked and closed full-face. The new 22.06 standard will require all modular lids meet or exceed the regulations in their closed and locked, as well as their open positions.

Flip-down sun shades, tested in their working position, will be assessed to make sure they don’t restrain or prevent the movement of the visor. 

Any official accessory communicators and/or cameras specific to a helmet (think Sena’s “smart” road-riding helmets) will also be examined to determine their influence on shells and visors in the case of impacts from various angles. Use of any other accessory not tested during ECE approval will render the standard certification invalid.

ECE 22.06 regulations helmetsUse of any other accessory not tested during ECE approval will render the standard certification invalid.

Visors will undergo more vigorous testing than ever, only passing if they don’t deform, fracture or detach when shot with a steel ball at 60 m/s (134mph) to simulate the visor being struck by road-borne debris. 

While the United Nations Economic and Social Council isn’t scheduled to vote these measures through until June, helmet manufacturers around the globe are gearing up to make sure their products will pass muster, an undertaking speculated to result in a 5% increase in price at the consumer end. 

What this also means for buyers is there should be some good deals down the line on all the ECE 22.05 standard helmets still in production today. Manufacturers and dealers will have 36 months from the commencement date of the new standards to clear the outdated inventory before it becomes illegal to sell. 

If you’re feeling bored during this weird season of Coronavirus quarantines you can read all 127 pages of the official proposal here. It’s super brainy —pun intended. 

Photos by Spencer Hill and Stephen Gregory

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Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

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