Lets talk a little bit about helmets.
When I started autocrossing I made a lot of friends with other competitors. And although we were competing against each other, we always helped each other out. If they needed something I had, I would give it to them even if I knew it would mean they would take a win away from me. That’s just the way it worked.
But there were 2 things I NEVER would loan to anyone else. One was air (unless I was done for the day). We autocrossed on big parking lots at shopping centers and we had to carry an air bottle in order to set air pressures in our tires. If someone else who didn’t prepare well used up my air, I may not be able to set my pressures when I needed it most. So unless I was done for the day I never allowed anyone else to use my air bottle. They could use my hand pump if I had one, but never my air bottle.
The other thing I never loaned was my helmet. First you have to remember we were autocrossing in the summer time on a big sea of asphalt. It was HOT! The last thing I wanted to do was climb in my car, and pull my helmet on after someone else had their sweaty stinky head in it!
My helmet was my most important piece of safety equipment and I knew no one else would give it the same type of care I did. So I never allowed anyone else to use it. If it got dropped, bumped or abused,by someone else, it’s effectiveness when I needed it most could have been compromised. So by always keeping my helmet under my control, I knew what had happened to it and if it got dropped or tested, I knew it was time to replace it.
These days it really grates on me when I see soapbox racers take their helmet off and drop it into their seat, or allow it to fall off the car when they are pushing the cars around, or putting it on the ground and letting it roll around, or using it to sit on.
Your helmet is your most recognizable piece of safety equipment and most sane people would never think of going down the hill without one. But just how good is that brain bucket on your head?
There is a very old saying in racing circles: ‘GOT A $10 HEAD?, WEAR A $10 HELMET.”
The point is most people value their head, so why try to protect it with the cheapest thing you can find?
In motor sports when you watch NASCAR, F1, or other professional series, you NEVER see a driver with an old, or dirty helmet. Most folks think this is because of the importance of sponsorship dollars and looking good for the fans. But the reality is that many of those guys seldom ever use the same helmet twice!
This is because they know the importance of that helmet being able to perform it’s task to the best of it’s ability. And they want the newest, best thing they can find in order to protect themselves.
And they protect that helmet better then they do their own head! They don’t allow it to get bumped or scratched, or dropped. And if it does, it gets taken out of rotation IMMEDIATELY and replaced.
But for many of us on a soapbox budget, we can’t afford to do that. We don’t have enough sponsor money to pop a new $600 helmet on our head each race weekend. So many of us are running outdated, stuff we found at yard sales, or on e-bay.
And that can be a DEADLY decision. So I wanted to try to point out a few things about helmets so you know what to look for and how to treat your helmet in order to receive the most protection from it.
Lets start with the SNELL FOUNDATION.
Since its founding in 1957, the Snell Memorial Foundation has independently tested manufacturer's helmets. Its first safety standards for protective headgear were issued for auto racing in 1959. Subsequently, other specific helmet standards for motorcycling, equestrian sports, bicycling,rollerblading and skateboarding, snowboarding and skiing, and karting have been issued. These standards address performance, not specific materials or design. Periodically, utilizing specially designed test equipment, the Foundation upgrades its specifications on performance characteristics of helmets to keep pace with advances in materials, helmet technology and design.
What does all that mean? It’s simple. They test helmets and only certain ones pass their standards.
Now, a helmet is much more then just something to pull on your head and think you are safe. Just like shoes, helmets are designed for SPECIFIC purposes! Most people don’t wear construction boots when playing basketball, so why would you use a bicycle helmet to race in the Indy 500? It’s really no different – you need a helmet that was specifically designed for the type of sport you are participating in.
Why? Because each sport and each activity present a different set of challenges to the designers of the helmet. And in order to present the MOST protection in one sport, they have to design that helmet to the needs of that particular sport or activity.
It may surprise a lot of people to know that a motorcycle helmet is NOT a helmet to be used in competitive automotive sports. If you show up for Tech Inspection with a motorcycle helmet at an SCCA race, you ain;t racing!
Your helmet MUST have a Snell Foundation SA sticker inside that helmet and that sticker must include the right (current) date.
If you have a Snell approved helmet, and you carefully pullback the padding inside, you will find the Snell sticker. That sticker will have a date – a year. In an automotive helmet, you may find the sticker says SA2000, or SA2005, or SA2010. In Motorcycle helmets the sticker will sayM2000, or M2005, or M2010. Helmets designed for karting will have a K2000, or K2005, or K2010 sticker.
They also have standards for children’s motorsports CMR/CMS,Mopeds L, Bicycles B, Horseback riding E, Horse harness racing H, non-motorized activities such as skate boarding N, recreational skiing and snowboarding RS,as well as competitive skiing S.
So they make it pretty easy to help you select a helmet for the task at hand.
Every 5 years Snell Foundation updates their testing standards and new helmets receive the newest sticker. So, for competitive automotive sports, the most current helmets are going to now have a sticker that says SA2010. (today is May 2014) The last standards were set in 2010, so the newest helmets will have that 2010 sticker.
Most automotive groups allow you to use the previous helmets, but no farther back. So you could show up at a race and use a helmet with a SA2005 sticker. But if you have a SA2000 sticker, that helmet is out of date and expired and they will not allow you to use it.
So, if you want the best helmet you can buy, that meets the current testing standards and offers the best protection, then at least for the rest of this year, you want a helmet with a SA2010 sticker. Next year that sticker will change to meet the new standards and helmets will receive the SA2015 sticker.
But one of the most important things here is to chose the right helmet! For what we are doing, we want a helmet designed for Competitive Automotive Sports.
So why so many different helmets and standards? Well, all activities are not created equal. You may think that activities like bicycling and skateboarding are pretty much the same, wheeled, non-motorized vehicles that are used on paved surfaces. In some ways they are alike but, they also differ in some important aspects. Studies have demonstrated that the head impacts that cyclists receive are more frequently located on the front third of the helmet down near the lower edge. This is likely a result of the dynamics of how people ride and the design of bicycles. A rider who is about to be involved in an incident is also likely to be using their hands and arms to try to maneuver the bike rather than for the natural act of protecting their head and face.
Skateboarders generally have less maneuvering capability and thus less active control, except for perhaps those who have an expertise in the activity. Unlike bicyclists, skateboarders and those who rollerblade, rollerskate and the like are more likely to fall backwards making impacts to the back of the head more common. Their arms and hands are usually free to naturally react and cover at least the front and sides of the head helping to diffuse the impact. It becomes more important that a person on a skateboard, rollerblades or skates have a helmet that offers more protection for the back of the head.
The other problem is, how much helmet you will wear. A good motorcycle helmet will generally provide more protection than just about any other helmet,but they are heavier and do not provide as much venting. This is OK for riding a motorcycle because you are not exerting as much physical energy as you would be on a non-motorized vehicle.
Choose a helmet that is designed and tested for the activity you are involved in. If you are bothering to wear one, wear one that will give you the most suitable protection, and the best chance to avoid a serious head injury.
You also want to make sure the helmet fits you correctly. If it's too big, it may not stay on your head when you need it most. If it's too small, it won't offer the protection you need and it may also give you headaches.
Not knowing how a helmet fits your head, or what it's past history is becomes a very BIG reason NOT to buy a used helmet on e-bay without first seeing it and trying it on. And even then you still don't know what it's real history is.
Don't let this become a matter of spending money on helmet or spending money in the Emergency Room. Your head and your brain are a pretty important part of most of us (even if we don't use them wisely) so you really do want to give them the most protection you can afford.
Saving a few dollars on your most important piece of safety equipment isn't worth the risk of spending the rest of your years in the corner drooling into a cup!
A lot more information can be found on the Snell Memorial Foundation web site: http://www.smf.org/home