Inside Story: ‘How safe is your lid?’

SHARP have been helping answer that question since 2007. We look inside their labs to discover how they plan to push safety to the next level

By Emma Franklin DEPUTY EDITOR Pics Jason Critchell

For the past 17 years, SHARP stars have been a guiding light for motorcyclists looking to buy a new helmet. By subjecting lids to a series of tests more stringent than the minimum regulatory standards then rating them between one and five, the government-funded scheme has been providing unique insight into the relative protective performance of full-face and modular helmets, allowing us to get the best protection whatever our budget – regardless of whether that’s £100 or £800.

Plenty has changed since SHARP’s inception in 2007, including the helmet regulations themselves, which is why MCN made an exclusive pilgrimage to the SHARP testing facility at TRL (formerly the Transport Research Laboratory) in Berkshire to find out the impact of the scheme so far, and how it’s about to help to push helmet safety even further in 2025.

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Launched to save lives

SHARP was launched in 2007 by the Department for Transport (DfT) in response to a Europe-wide study into 7071 motorcycle accidents and their resultant injuries. The research found that there was a huge variation in the safety performance of motorcycle helmets – by as much as 70% – and concluded that 47 bikers’ lives per year could be saved if all had worn the best-performing lid. The DfT decided that riders should be informed about these differences, along with the importance of correct fit, to help us choose our next helmet.

For the past 17 years, that’s exactly what SHARP have done, subjecting more than 500 different helmet models to a series of additional safety tests that exceeded those required by the UN Regulation No 22 for helmets. SHARP then score each lid’s performance based on its ability to reduce the risk of rider fatality, from one star (lowest) to five stars (highest) and publish the results on their website. During the early years, some of the initial findings were exceptionally eye-opening.

“Back when we started testing in 2008 through 2009, there were some pretty well-known helmet manufacturers that were performing really poorly,” says Dr Phil Martin, Head of Transport Safety at TRL, and a specialist in head injury biomechanics.

“Those manufacturers were scoring two or three stars back then, whereas now all their lids are scoring four or five stars.”

Looking back through SHARP’s historical ratings online, an example of this is the range-topping Arai RX7 Corsair from the mid 2000s which scored three stars; the RX7 GP from towards the end of that decade scored four stars; then the RX-7V introduced in 2014 scores the maximum five stars. Three evolutions of helmet all subjected to the same SHARP tests over a period of six years.

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