In June 2020, the ECE 22.06 homologation standard for motorcycle helmets was approved almost silently in Geneva. What exactly does that mean? And should we now massively trade in our ‘old faithful’ ECE 22.05-approved helmets? We went to investigate.
The ECE 22.05 standard is one of the most widely used safety standards in the motorcycle helmet market. In the 05 version, it is tested how the helmet copes with shock absorption, abrasion resistance and the influence of environmental factors. For example, each helmet is exposed to very high and low temperatures, and it is checked how the helmet handles chemical solvents. Subsequently, the visor is also subjected to optical tests, the closure undergoes a strength test, and an impact test is provided. The test labs drop a head dummy with accelerometers in a helmet onto a flat anvil to check whether the energy transfer is absorbed enough by the helmet to label it ‘safe’.
New helmets must comply with the ECE 22.06 standard from January 2024 – so we are now in a transition period where manufacturers can model their range fully in accordance with the new ECE 22.06 standards. From January 2024, new helmets sold from then on must comply with the ECE 22.06 standard. To be clear: a 22.05 may no longer be sold from January 2024, but it is not illegal to wear it.
The new homologation standard should provide greater clarity by addressing the weaknesses of its predecessor. In order to pass ECE 22.06, a helmet will not only have to pass a series of impact tests at multiple impact points, but also any accessories or bulges will be tested, and the standard visor must pass a hefty impact test. For example, a steel ball will be shot at 60 m/s (216 km/h), whereby the visor may not shatter, break or deform. The sun visor must also be tested separately from ECE 22.06. And yes, you understood that correctly: actually the impact test of ECE 22.05 fell short. ECE 22.06-standard helmets must be able to withstand impact tests at multiple speeds (6 and 8.2 m/s) and impact angles, in order to better grade the safety at different impact forces. The difference in fall rates is important because, for example, helmets that are only built to absorb impacts at high speeds may be too rigid in construction for impacts at lower speeds, thus endangering the user’s safety.
A second major change is the rotational crash tests (8 m/s): these will better show how the helmet performs when hitting an obstacle at a certain angle. Rotational impact causes very serious head and brain injuries. Similar to the 22.05 tests, the helmet will be aimed at an anvil, but on one with an angled surface (to mimic a curb, for example), in order to monitor the impact to the head. In the new test, the magnesium head of the crash test dummy will have a kind of ‘grip layer’ that should imitate human skin, and there will also be nine accelerometers in the helmet, as well as a pack of sensors.
A last major step forward is the specific test for flip-up helmets and helmets on which standard Bluetooth modules and/or sun visors are mounted. For example, the helmet will have to undergo an impact test on the various parts, with the accessory in question mounted. With flip-up helmets, the test will also be tested in both wearing modes for the first time: if this was previously only in the closed position, the helmet must now also be tested with the peak open. Helmets that are equipped with a mask or removable chin guard (think of the Shark Raw and the Bell Broozer, for example) will also be tested ‘separately’ to see whether the loose pieces offer sufficient protection in the event of an impact.
During our quest we were assisted by the Vias Institute, the former Belgian Institute for Road Safety. This is now an independent knowledge institute that strives to improve road safety, mobility and social safety. What Vias also does is certify and approve motorcycle helmets for the European market. That happens in the Lab Helmets, which is led by Rob Mannaerts. We asked the man a few questions.
MotoKicX: Why is UNECE just now going for a new ECE standard?
Rob Mannaerts: “The old standard, ECE R22.05, has been in existence since 2000 and has therefore not been adapted for 20 years. However, a lot has changed in that period – think of the sun visor, for example. The applicable ECE standards do not state anything about the choice of material or color of such screens, which made it difficult for the inspection centers. At the end of 2018, the foundation of R22.06 was laid, on the one hand under the impulse of test laboratories, on the other hand by helmet manufacturers themselves, who notice that materials and therefore also the possibilities are changing. Without a legal framework, they do not know what they can or may not invest in.”
MotoKicX: In your opinion, are there any downsides to the ECE 22.06 tests?
Rob Mannaerts: “As far as I’m concerned, the rotational tests are a very valuable addition to the current linear test setup. Again, the helmet is unloaded from a height with the test head and aimed at an anvil, but that is now at an angle of 45 degrees and is provided with an abrasive layer. By aiming the helmet at different angles, you not only get the collision or impact, but also twist both helmet and (test) head. This gives a more realistic picture of the average motorcycle accident. Although there is a caveat to this: on the one hand, registration is more difficult and it is more difficult to objectively judge whether the result actually increases safety or not. Opinions are divided on this in various test labs and universities; some believe that the test is not strict enough, for others it is sufficient. In that regard, there is a chance that the new 22.06 limits and parameters will soon be adjusted, for a 22.07 version that is. So I don’t expect the new homologation standards to last long because the tests will be further refined.”
MotoKicX: Doesn’t that seem to cause double, or at least overlapping, work for helmet manufacturers?
Rob Mannaerts: “That’s right, but look at it this way: even if the 22.07 standard were to follow soon – I’m guessing within a few years – then there is again at least a transition period of three years before an obligation follows. There is therefore sufficient time to adjust again where necessary. And consumers can benefit from quicker adjustment of safety standards.”
MotoKicX: Speaking of that consumer; should we now buy a new helmet en masse?
Rob Mannaerts: “No. Think of it like what happens with old-timer cars these days: you can still take them on the road, because they were approved in their time. Regardless of how those testing standards compare to today’s technologies. The following applies to a motorcycle helmet: if your homologation was in order at the time you bought it, you can in principle wear it indefinitely. Don’t panic for anyone who has an ECE 22.05, because nothing will change for them for the time being. Although we do recommend that you remain sensible: in theory, a motorcycle helmet needs to be replaced after five years due to aging and wear of the materials. So although the first ECE 22.06s are now on the market, you can still buy a new ECE 22.05 until December 2023.”
Finally, an overview of the other standards. The American brother of the ECE standard is the DOT standard (Department of Transport FMVSS 218). That standard is only relevant in the US, and will not be affected by the amendment to the ECE standard. There are also consumer tests that can provide the motorcycle public with slightly more concrete advice. So is the British SHARP test (Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme) aimed at providing ECE approved helmets with a star rating. Striking: SHARP addresses its shortcomings (so far) by, among other things, testing at different speeds and even implementing an oblique impact zone. But: SHARP tests helmets under conditions other than R22-05/22-06; the helmets are not designed to pass the test in question (there is no legal validity whatsoever). It is therefore difficult to interpret the results of SHARP unambiguously as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ helmet. That test also has an American counterpart: the FAST Memorial Foundation test, after the popular auto racer William ‘Pete’ Snell who died in 1956 after a serious head injury during a race. Already had Fortnine’s competitors recently made some interesting thoughts about the SNELL screening. Finally, there is also the very recent FIM homologation, which judges a lot more severely than the above standards and builds on the UNECE test rigs, but which only counts for racing helmets.
Photography Vias Institute