SHARP Helmets: put a lid on it
In the second in a two-part series, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme respond to self-confessed helmet hoarder and motorcycle instructor Andy Ward’s questions about helmet ratings. SHARP writes:
We welcome feedback and generally positive opinion of the SHARP scheme, and are happy to provide you with background information to the scheme.
The SHARP initiative was launched by the UK Government in November 2007 to provide consumers with an independent assessment of the safety performance of motorcycle helmets sold in the UK. SHARP is not intended to be a replacement for, or competitor to, the regulatory standards but a consumer information programme that provides detail about the performance of helmets that cannot be assessed at the point of sale. Together with judgements about style, build quality etc., the SHARP rating helps the consumer make a more informed choice when purchasing a helmet.
With regard to technical information about the programme, there is a document providing an overview of the rationale behind SHARP and a guide to the testing procedure. This provides an overview of how the test results are linked to real world accidents, but should you require, further detailed information can be found in a published report.
Andy refers to the maximum impact testing speed of 8.5 metres per second used by SHARP. SHARP’s evidence base is the COST 327 report, the most comprehensive study of motorcycle crashes ever conducted in Europe. COST 327 estimated that “an increase in helmet energy absorbing characteristics of some 30% would reduce 50% of the critical/unsurvivable casualties to moderate/severe outcomes.” The higher impact velocity of 8.5 metres per second used by SHARP imparts approximately 30% more energy into the helmet than that required by Regulation 22.
Measuring the level of protection at this higher speed therefore aims to drive forward improvements in protection up to at least this speed.
FIT FOR PURPOSE
We endorse the view that a helmet’s fit is of vital importance regarding the level of protection it can offer a rider. Our advice is fit, comfort, safety; we recommend the following approach is taken when buying a helmet:
1) Of the helmets in your price range, select those that fit correctly (our website includes guidance on how to do this correctly).
2) Of those that fit correctly, select those that are comfortable (by wearing around the shop for a little while to make sure there are no pressure points that will be uncomfortable).
3) Select the helmet with the highest SHARP safety rating in your price bracket that satisfies the above.
SHARP makes no judgement regarding the material that the helmet shell is constructed from. All helmets, regardless of the materials from which they have been constructed, are subjected to exactly the same impact tests in the SHARP assessment. Research shows that approximately 80% of motorcyclists killed and 70% of those with serious injuries sustain head injuries. We believe the most common injury results from a direct blow to the head that can damage the brain; SHARP seeks to identify the extent to which a helmet can reduce the shock that the brain receives in an impact.
On the subject of the lifespan and replacement of helmets, it is not possible for us to categorically state the ‘shelf life’ of any individual helmet and we always recommend following the specific advice provided by a helmet manufacturer or distributor. It is they who are best placed to offer guidance based on in-depth knowledge of their product’s materials, construction and lifespan. In the absence of manufacturer information, a rider should be thinking to replace a helmet that has been subject to regular use after between three and five years. This is because the inner comfort lining can compress and result in a looser fitting helmet. We have consulted with industry experts and they are in agreement that this is appropriate generic advice. In general, a helmet that has been stored in its packaging (unworn) in a properly controlled environment will be unlikely to have deteriorated in any way. It is common that deterioration of a helmet is caused by factors such as UV rays from sunlight, wear/perspiration and traffic fumes.
We hope that this response provides useful information for BMF members.
Kind regards, The SHARP Team
For more information about SHARP, go to: www.direct.gov.uk/sharp
Helmet picture by Mike Rowehl.