2015 is just around the corner. In the world of motorsports safety, that number holds a lot of significance, because it’s when all hell breaks loose, our warehouse starts to burst at the seams with inventory, and we find Rob (our warehouse manager) crying in the corner of the high-value room. And before we can even deal with 2015, we first have to get through 2014 and survive our single most frequently asked question: When will the Snell SA2015 rated helmets be available?
Every 5 years, like clockwork, this time comes. A quick bit of background information for those who are new to this game. The Snell foundation releases a new SA-rating every 5 years. The SA-rating (SA stands for Special Applications) is specific to auto racing helmets; however, it is often used in any type of racing that typically occurs in a closed-door vehicle where you’re strapped in and in danger of burning to death (auto-racing, boat racing, truck-racing, even some karting). The basic idea behind an auto racing helmet, making them unique from other full-face helmets out there (such as Motorcycle helmets) are that SA-rated helmets are designed to protect from:
- High-speed projectiles (like the lug nut from your competitor’s car that he forgot to tighten)
- Multiple low-speed broad impacts (Rolling over and over in your car, as your helmet smacks the roll-bar again and again)
- Fire (because you’re stuck in a burning vehicle which is never fun)
Snell creates a new standard every 5-years. This is loosely based on their recommendation that a racing helmet should be retired after 5 years of use. They also use the opportunity to introduce new facets to the standard that will better protect the wearer. That’s right – it’s not a matter of Snell’s engineers needing to make the next payment on their new Porsche. They are actually designing things to help protect you from things like injury and death – because we all hate being injured and/or dying. Some years only have minor changes – for instance, there were not huge changes between the SA2000 rating and the SA2005. SA2010 brought significant changes in how the helmets were impact tested based on medical research (yes, actual science) that helped show different sized heads and their accompanying masses are affected by impacts in different ways. It also took into account the broader uses of Head and Neck Restraint devices (per the SAH-2010 rating that has since been absorbed by the more comprehensive FIA rating). You can read all of the details here (Warning: Big words, charts, and data are in the following link.)
The upcoming SA2015 rating has been released and indicates that changes will once again be minimal. Some major improvements are that helmets must now be compatible and ready for Head and Neck Restraint hardware (this should make pre-drilling of helmets from the manufacturer mandatory). Testing has also been added for “Low-lateral” impacts (ie, secondary side-impacts with roll-bars, window frames, etc.)
Technical info aside, now is about the time that everyone tries to get the most for their money and purchase the helmet that will last the longest. Even though Snell recommends replacing your helmet every 5 years, most of the racing groups allow the use of a helmet for an approximate 10 year period. That means that an SA2010 helmet will be allowed for use though at least 2015 with the main sanctioning bodies in the U.S. I say at-least, because in the past, some groups have allowed up to a 2-year buffer period (depending on how many of their members complain about being forced to buy a new helmet) so that racers have time to replace their equipment. Many racers even get further exceptions to use past that 12 year period – it’s all a matter of what kind of day your tech-inspector is having and how big your smile is!
But lets go back to that 5-year recommendation. I’ll be the first to admit – if you attend a couple of events a year, have really good personal hygiene, and take good care of your helmet (no bounce testing, let it air out after you use it, don’t run over it with your car, etc.), it is fully within reality to get at least 10 years out of a helmet. HOWEVER, and this is coming from someone who has been working with all of you for a very long time, I’m going to one-up Snell and say that the average club-racer’s helmet should be replaced every couple of years. There’s a simple reason behind this, and it happens to be the same reason that I put on surgical gloves when installing Hans Device anchors on a used helmet – Your helmet is Disgusting! It smells, the fabric is falling apart, and a gritty, oily substance that is a combination of sweat, dirt, hair-gel, beard conditioner, and gasoline rubs off on my fingers when I touch it. All of that crap is degrading the protective foam and plastic that your helmet is made out of. And when you degrade that stuff, the helmet absolutely will NOT function in the way you want it to when it needs to be used. I’ll give a quick example – How long will that t-shirt you’re wearing last if you wear it every other weekend and never wash it? If you need further examples, just let me know – I have a bunch!
Again, not all helmets are like this – but your clean, rose-smelling helmet is definitely the exception to the rule. In the end, what I think doesn’t really matter, rules are rules, and your friendly tech inspector will let you wear whatever you bring that has that SA-sticker on the inside. But for safety’s sake (and your personal health), when your wife/husband/son/daughter/friend/safety-equipment-guy won’t touch your helmet, it’s probably time to get a new one.
And speaking of new, now the news you’ve all patiently been waiting for. When will SA2015 helmets be available?
October 1st, 2015. That is the date that SA-2015 helmets will officially be allowed for sale. However, this does not mean that this is the date that these helmets will magically appear on our shelves. Depending on the manufacturer, and based on what we’ve seen in the past 25 years, we’ll see delivery of these helmets anywhere between October 1st and the following Spring (2016).
If you’re hanging onto your SA2005 helmet, chances are you’ll be able to use it until 2016 or so (again, based on what I’ve historically seen from the racing groups). However, if this is your first helmet, and you’ve decided to wait for the newest rating, think about all that I’ve typed above. How well do you take care of your equipment? How many events per year do you plan on attending? Do you have a dog or cat and does it tend to pee in round objects? And finally, how long do you think you can make your helmet safely last?
Update 6/25/2014: We just received the following e-mail from Kyle @ Bell Helmets regarding SA2015 helmets:
We have received a number of questions regarding when the next Snell homologation standard will be implemented. The changeover to SA2015 Snell standard will take effect on October 1, 2015. For the balance of the 2014 race season and the majority of the 2015 selling season, the Snell SA2010 standard is and will be the most current standard . No manufacturer is allowed to label or sell a Snell SA2015 homologated helmet prior to October 1, 2015 per the Snell Memorial Foundation.