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By Dexter Ford

The Snell Memorial Foundation is not pleased with our helmet standards story, "Blowing The Lid Off", that ran in our June, 2005 issue and seen above.

It has posted a rambling response on its website. It's a classic case of shooting the messenger—or, in this case, discrediting and insulting the messenger—when you don't want to hear the message.

Our intention in doing the tests, and writing the story, was not to attack the Snell Foundation. And a fair reading of the story would show we didn't. We simply devised our own tests, designed to represent the vast majority of actual crashes, based on the very best information we could get. We tested the helmets, fairly and objectively, and let the chips fall where they fell.

The scientists we quoted, Dr. Jim Newman, Professor Harry Hurt and Dave Thom, did not pledge allegiance to the Snell Foundation, it's true. Where were the scientists who support the Snell Standard? Why didn't we quote them? Good question. The answer is simple. In all our research, in the U.S., England and Europe, over most of a year, we haven't found one.

Snell showed, in the substance and tone of its response, that it is not interested in learning from our—or anybody else's—research. Or changing its approach in any way, no matter how many sincere scientists criticize it and its results. It simply want to stick is fingers in its ears and hum, while the rest of the world gets on with the work of making safer helmets.

The Elusive Edge

If the Snell folks wanted to criticize our story in a credible fashion, one would have assumed they would read the story first. But unlike the many actual readers who told us how they appreciated the piece, the spirited discussion it has stimulated and our courage in running it, Snell was apparently too anxious to cover its institutional ass to actually read the whole thing.

This quote from its response reveals its selective reading comprehension. "They (Motorcyclist) based their comparison on flat impact performance..."

That established, it then goes on to attack our tests because we used flat impacts exclusively.

Gosh. It somehow must have missed the 32 individual tests we made, not on a flat surface, but on an edge anvil, a nasty-looking piece of upright stainless steel bar. We calculated these edge-anvil tests into the average peak g graphs. We wrote about how helmets handled these edge-anvil tests in the story. They are clearly indicated in the key to the comparison graph. There's a picture of one of these edge-anvil tests on the second spread—complete with a caption, to help the Snell folks recognize an edge-anvil test when they see one. Why did Snell choose to ignore all 32 of our edge-anvil tests—and bluster on as if we hadn't done them? Because it would get in the way of their attack on our testing, which they say was all done on flat surfaces. Which it wasn't.

So. Who's interested in truth here—and who isn't?

The Dead Zone

Snell also trots out its laughable position that taking violent impacts to the brain is the key to good mental health, so long as you take less than their apparently magic 300g limit. Well, the list of scientific papers, accident studies and head-injury scientists the world over who disagree with Snell on this would fill a year's worth of magazines. Which, if they want to keep pushing the issue, it just might.

Dr. Jim Newman, a highly respected head-injury scientist—and a former Director of the Snell Memorial Foundation—has stated that a 200g impact to the head can be fatal, that a 200-250g impact corresponds to an AIS 4, or severe, head injury, that 250g-300gs relate to an AIS 5, or critical head injury, and that a blow over 300g corresponds to AIS 6. What's AIS 6? That would be dead.

Chopper Pilots

Here's another suspicious group that says it's not good to take 300gs to the head. It's a bunch of wimpy, namby-pamby, hand-wringing—oh, wait. It's the U.S. Army.

The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) has created a g-tolerance standard for helicopter crew helmets. Remember, helicopter crewpersons—pilots and others—are young, healthy, physically fit young men and women. For a two-meter drop height, the same drop height we used in 3/4 of our testing, the Army allows no more than 150 gs to the ear cup areas of the head, which they have determined are especially vulnerable, and no more than 175 gs on other areas. Should we motorcyclists—who are often older, not as fit, and not quite so willing to die or sustain severe head injuries as eager young soldiers—accept tolerance levels of 300gs for the same hits?

Flat Earth Society

In its response, Snell cherry-picks a paragraph from the UN/European COST 327 study—the most recent serious motorcycle-accident and head-injury study done on the planet. The paragraph says that helmeted riders struck a "round object" 79% of the time. And Snell is using it to justify its controversial hemispherical anvil testing, the tests that make Snell-rated helmets so stiff and unyielding.

We have no idea what COST 327 is referring to here, unless they are counting the surface of the earth as round. Which in a large sense it is—it's just amazing to us that the Snell guys should know this.

The "round object" figure directly contradicts the findings of at least 6 important motorcycle accident studies, done all over the world over the last 30 years, that have shown that between 75% and 87% of helmet impacts happen on the (substantially) flat road surface. Which makes sense. Because a huge majority of the time, the road is what you're riding on when you fall. And when you fall you fall, well, down. It's that darned gravity thing.

If the COST 327 people really thought 79% of victims hit their helmets on "round objects", one would think they would have slipped a "round object" hemi anvil into their proposed helmet standard. They did not. On what do the COST people propose to hit helmets? A flat anvil and a curb anvil—no roundness, nowhere.

Here's what Dr. Bryan Chinn, the Editor-In-Chief of the COST 327 Final Report, says about the hemispherical anvils the Snell guys get so emotional about: "From our research, the (hemispherical anvil test) is a particularly severe test and can result in a very stiff liner that possibly detracts from performance in other types of impact, particularly on the flat."

Calculating the COST

It's a bad idea for Snell to go quoting a couple out-of-context snippets from the 327-page COST Final Report. Because in its entirety, the COST Report is a comprehensive refutation of just about everything Snell stands for.

Consider this quote: "Peak linear acceleration (to the head) should be less than 250g." (COST 327 Final Report Introduction, page v)

Or this one: "Current (helmet) designs are too stiff and too resilient, and energy is absorbed efficiently only at values of HIC (Head Injury Criterion) well above those which are survivable." (COST 327 Final Report Introduction) (Our emphasis).

Or figure 7.28, page 166. This graph shows how the actual head-injury level of accident victims rises with the peak linear gs the victims' heads received in their crash. Big surprise. At 250g, accident victims had an 80% chance of an AIS 3, or serious, head injury. At 300gs, the probability of an AIS 3 injury went up to 93%. As any idiot who can read a graph can see, getting hit with 300gs is bad. And getting hit less hard is less bad.

Or the proposed COST 327 helmet standard itself—the final product of the whole study. It contradicts just about everything Snell asserts. Let's see, it dictates lower allowable peak gs for big impacts than Snell: 275g vs. 300g. It has no Snell-type hemi-anvil hits. It has no Snell-type double hits. It uses a two-tiered impact-test regimen, with lower, 180-g limits for lower-energy impacts—the ones that actually happen a huge majority of the time.

Unlike the Snell standard, the COST (and current ECE 22.05 and BSI) standards include a chin-bar test that limits peak gs to the chin. This is important, because a blow straight to the face is a relatively common accident—and one that often results in a fatality, from a basilar skull fracture.

We think the COST 327 standard, which is proposed to replace the current UN/ECE 22.05 regimen, is the smartest off-the-rack standard we've seen—the best reflection of current knowledge about human tolerance and the helmet making-and-testing state of the art. And it's about as close to the Snell M2000/M2005 standard as Michael Jackson is to becoming a Boy Scout leader.

Safety Through Intimidation

The Snell Foundation has also distinguished itself by its confrontational tone, which swings from defensive to arrogant at the drop of a magnesium headform. If they Snell folks are so right, why are they so desperate? They freely insult renowned head injury scientists, and us, for trying to uncover, and give our readers, the truth.

We expected more from a foundation that millions of us have trusted with our money, our lives, our health and the welfare of our families for decades. Frankly, we're disappointed. Apparently naive. But absolutely disappointed.

In one e-mail, to a member of the Norton Owners List, Snell's Executive Director, Ed Becker, called our article "an attack," perpetrated by "malcontents."

Malcontents of the World, Unite

Well, being labeled a "malcontent" by the Snell Foundation may now rate as high on the status scale as being on Richard Nixon's Enemys List. With company like this, I know I'm proud to be one.

Snell doesn't name most of the "malcontents." Because they happen to constitute a who's who of motorcycle-safety, helmet-design and head-injury scientists.

Here are a few of the "malcontents" who helped with our research, or who have expressed their agreement with our testing methods and our conclusions:
# Dr. Bryan Chinn, Editor in Chief, UN/ECE COST 327 Final Report.
# Dr. Jim Newman, former Snell Foundation director and highly respected head-injury scientist. Dr. Newman is an actual rocket scientist, has been inducted into the International Health and Safety Hall of Fame, and holds numerous helmet-design patents.
# Dr. Terry Smith, of Dynamic Research Incorporated, another internationally respected motorcycle- and automobile-accident researcher and head-protection scientist.
# Andrew Mellor, of the FIA Institute, a renowned helmet-design scientist and originator of the FIA Super Helmet specification for Formula 1 drivers.
# Dave Thom, of Collision and Injury Dynamics, an enthusiastic rider and eminent motorcycle-accident researcher and scientist. He's worked with us for many years trying to prevent accidents, improve helmets and save lives.
#


Malcontents, indeed.

Put Your Brain Where Your Mouth Is

In closing, we'd like to extend a warm invitation to Ed Becker, Executive Director of the Snell Foundation, or any current member of the Snell Memorial Foundation Board of Directors. If you really believe head impacts of 300g and below are "non-injurious," as you've stated repeatedly, there's no reason in the world why you wouldn't volunteer to be hit on the head with those same 300gs. All for the advancement of science, of course. So come on, Becker. Put your brain where your mouth is. Take a nice, cushy, 300g hit for the team. Then you can tell us yourself just how "non-injurious" the experience was.

If you can still talk.

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But they're all still wearing Arais in last month's issue. Seems to me they are not following through with their heads.

You can easily tell who's got the better writers, but this response is no more conclusive than their original piece, nor less snide than the one from Snell (as they insincerely claim.) :rolleyes

Anyone who's been following the recent publications can surmise that there has been a falling out between Hurt (et al) and Snell. As to Motorcyclist, I've become pretty convinced that the whole think was a circulation-building stunt. If I'm right, that makes them pretty despicable.

The good news is, if this continues, we're likely to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, my helmet still says Snell, just like the ones they actually wear at Motorcyclist.
 
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