Road Safety News

Helmet rating scheme is important and useful

Monday 17th August 2015

The SHARP safety rating scheme for motorcycle helmets is important and useful to consumers, but there is need for more promotion and to improve levels of knowledge and awareness of the scheme. 

These are among the findings of a study into the effectiveness of SHARP, carried out by TRL on behalf of the DfT.

The SHARP safety helmet assessment and rating scheme is designed to help consumers make a more informed decision when choosing a helmet.

40% of the 573 motorcycle helmet consumers who participated in the study were not aware of the scheme. However, among those who were aware of it, almost 90% said it was either a very or quite important factor in their purchasing decision.

Good SHARP ratings are generally considered important to manufacturers, retailers and distributors, but some consumers held the view that it is not necessary to consider the SHARP rating when all helmets legally on sale in the UK meet minimum safety standards.

There is a commonly held view among the helmet industry and consumers that it takes too long for a helmet to be awarded a SHARP rating.

The report’s conclusions include: more work to improve understanding of what SHARP does; more promotion of SHARP to increase consumer awareness of the scheme; and work with manufacturers to achieve faster testing.


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I think it's time that we understood that motorcycle helmets are only tested to around the 40 mph mark after that they cannot guarantee any effectiveness or value. As most serious motorcycle accidents can occur over that speed and some with a collective speed of well over 100 mph one would be lucky if the impact didn't kill outright and the wearing of any helmet fitting or not wouldn't make much difference upon the outcome.

Some bikers don't see to be aware of this fact.

Some may argue that on the race track motorcycle racers come off at extreme speeds but then they are far less likely to suffer a head injury. Not like coming off on a main road.
Bob Craven Lancs...Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (1) | Disagree (3)

There's a body of opinion that modern helmets that stay on your head are about as good as they need to be - the idea that a helmet that 'exceeds' the existing standards being better than one that meets it doesn't mean that you're getting "more protection".

In the words of a paramedic "unless you are unlucky in the way you land, by the time you have fatal head injuries in a modern helmet, the rest of your body isn't likely to be interested anyway. The head injury just kills you first."

Weight is an issue and lighter helmets are linked with lower forces on the brain in a crash.

Personally, I used to buy the best I could afford and avoided polycarbonate. These days I look for fit and comfort first and foremost, weight second, then check the quality of the bits and pieces like cheekpads and vents to see if they are reasonably robust. Manufacturer and price are well down the list, as is the shell material.
Kevin Williams / Survival Skills Rider Training Kent

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

One of the problems with any test is that manufacturers could potentially develop a product which scores well in the test itself and does no more than that. I understand that SHARP has endeavoured to make its tests as close as possible to situations encountered in the real world.

I am considering the purchase of a new helmet and the one I would like is not wonderful in the Sharp side impact tests. However, I am buoyed by the maker's superb reputation not just for quality, but also the fact that it has developed its own tests over a number of years. I am also taking into account the fit, comfort, field of vision, weight, noise, after sales care, materials used in construction, etc. There is much more than a helmet's SHARP score to be assessed when making a purchase, as Iain Temperton rightly points out.
David, Suffolk

Agree (2) | Disagree (4)

It seems to me as a lay person motorcycle helmet technology is not an exacting science. For instance when do you replace a helmet even if for the majority of its life it remains unused in a cupboard? A correctly fitting helmet must surely be one of the most important considerations when purchasing a helmet with comfort fairly high on the list. On the whole people are happy to spend their money on a scooter or motorbike but not so happy to spend on safety gear, a condition especially inflicting the young in my opinion. At the motorcycle shows I see a lot of rubbish dressed up as safety gear from cheap motorcycle jackets to cheap helmets. Trevor's point regarding guidance is a very good one indeed especially when taking into consideration my favourite criteria "value for money" and surely SHARP demonstrates this point very well indeed?

Sadly I no longer yearn for a Donald Duck blazed over my forehead and I tend to favour light colured flip up helmets but that's a tale for another day.
Gareth, Surrey

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

Duncan, about ACU stickers on some helmets. Whilst in the main I agree with you it was discovered some 3 or 4 years or so ago that some suppliers were obtaining, buying, some ACU stickers and that those in the know could buy them I believe for 50 pence each. They were attached to some helmets that shouldn't have or need not have had them on and so they were found out. So much for the veracity of ACU badges.

As regards Trevor's comments I have been in retail outlets when this has been enquired about by customers and as yet the overall response that I have been privy to is that the expensive non polycarbonate helmets are better and safer as they go through a more rigorous test procedure by the actual manufacturer, much more stringent than the Sharp test. So another expensive helmet sold. £400 plus instead of £59, and by the by the cheaper one was 5 star rated. The more expensive, no Sharp test.
Bob Craven Lancs..... Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)

The standard 2205 is the helmet standard which is supposed to put all helmets on a level playing field. (In fact one Australian state has accepted this standard and others are following). However with regards SHARP, a manufacturer can make a helmet that passes the standard, even though it costs a fortune. A manufacturer can also make a helmet up to the standard that doesn't cost a fortune. That's the choice that motorcyclists have. Do you buy a helmet from a well known manufacturer or do you buy a less well known make? So - along comes SHARP - for the benefit of the consumer and tests helmets to its standards - which in some cases, can be an eye-opener to the consumer, in the sense that cheap doesn't necessarily mean sub-standard. On the other hand, expensive helmets don't necessarily mean that the motorcyclist is getting a product that will protect their head any better than the cheaper helmet.

While those that have commented below may be "experts", the rider on the street e.g. a lady in a motorcycle shop, accompanied by her young daughter, wanting to buy the best protection for the daughter - thankfully, has for reference the SHARP scheme - otherwise they would have nothing to give them any help in deciding. (BTW - this really happened while I was in a motorcycle dealer's shop). I also understand that the lady and her daughter had visited TWO shops to compare and were given the same advice. So that's what SHARP means - it's a means for the consumer to use to help them decide.
Trevor, ex Northern Ireland

Agree (9) | Disagree (1)

A great many helmets come with an ACU sticker as standard. This means that if it's good enough for use in the rough and tumble of motorcycle sport then it should be good enough for the road rider. If the ACU changed it's way of awarding the sticker to the method used by Sharp then that may be a good reason to buy a high rating helmet.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (3) | Disagree (5)

I think the key point is: "some consumers held the view that it is not necessary to consider the SHARP rating when all helmets legally on sale in the UK meet minimum safety standards". There is a lot more to helmet choice than safety. Style, comfort and noise levels are key issues when choosing a new one, the point that they all reach the EC standard is valid. I would suggest that SHARP means more to the industry than the customer.
Iain Temperton - Norfolk

Agree (10) | Disagree (4)

Sharp has always been seen as a problem within the manufacturers and retailers of helmets. Some helmet manufacturers and retailers show the results but many more do not. The answer is simple. If one applies Sharp as its supposed to be then why sell one helmet at say £300/400 and with a Sharp rating of only 3 when you are also selling a helmet costing only £120 and with a rating of 5. Simple economics.

Many of the helmets tested are of cheaper Polycarbonates and some argue that the more expensive helmets are not, they are fibreglass or compound and therefore the simple or rather basic tests applied to polycarbonate do not work well with other different manufacturing materials. That they react differently to bounce or absorption of impact in certain places.

Some expensive helmet manufacturers state that they have their own safety tests done in their own labs and that they conform to rigour testing and regulation. But don't publish those results for the purchasers considerations.
Bob Craven Lancs..Space is Safe Campaigner

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)