Big helmet changes coming: new ECE standard could make lids safer but pricier too

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A big shake up of safety standards is coming that will see more protective helmets on the market within two years. The new regulations, dubbed ECE 22.06, take over from ECE 22.05, which was introduced over 20 years ago and will force many manufacturers to make big changes to their lids.

Oh, and before you mention it, ECE regs are actually set by the United Nations not the EU, so Brexit has nothing to do with it.

So, what’s happening? There are effectively two big sets of changes: one is to the impact tests and how they take place, the other is to helmet technology itself. Current impact tests involve placing a headform inside a helmet, then dropping it at a set speed on to an anvil.

Sensors inside the headform measure the forces transmitted through the helmet, with a simple pass or fail the result based on the results. In the 22.06 tests, the drops will take place at a wider range of speeds – both higher and lower than the current test – and with impacts at multiple points across the helmet.

Angled abrasion test rig

This makes the new test a little closer to the UK Government’s SHARP tests, which awards helmets a score of 1 to 5. Higher speed tests seem logical but why low speed? Well, it’s thought that making a helmet in a certain way to survive high speed impacts might reduce its ability to absorb lower energy impacts, resulting in a helmet that is just too stiff.

Testing at different angles and speeds should help ensure that the helmet will protect your noggin in more types of accident. And, for the first time, the test will also look at what impact this has on the brain.

The existing ECE 22.05 test involves impacts on to a flat anvil, which does a good job of testing force and building helmets that prevent skull fractures.

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However, recent research has suggested the twisting motion of a glancing impact can cause significant damage to brain tissue without any obvious external trauma. To test for this, helmets will now be dropped onto an anvil at a 45-degree angle, while new sensors will measure the rotational acceleration taking place inside the helmet.

In theory, rounder helmets could do better here, as well as those fitted with ‘slip planes’ that help to reduce rotational motion being transferred to the brain. The rest of the updates are specific to the style of helmet and items fitted to them.

Slip planes like this from MIPS could become more common

Since 2000 there have been a lot of changes to the accessories fitted to helmets, so, for 22.06, tests on flip-up lids will take place with the chin bars in different positions as well as accessories such sun visors deployed. If there’s an intercom system available for the helmet which could add extra weight, that, too, will be tested. But ECE can’t test everything, so only official accessories will be tested.

As well as accessory tests there are changes coming for visors, too, with the high velocity impact test for the visor increasing in power. Road-legal dark visors will be getting darker, too, with the 50% minimum transmission rating changing to 35%.

The ECE 22.06 documents have now been ratified and just need to go through the voting process at the UN. It’s considered a done deal, though, so assuming the schedules remain the same then it will come into force around June 2020.

Retailers will then have a maximum of three years to sell any ECE 22.05 products before they become illegal, however we predict that most helmet manufacturers will want to get their new 22.06 lids on the shelves as soon as possible. The only downside to these changes could be cost, with a 5% rise in prices at the till being the most likely outcome.