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SHARP is the Safety Helmet and Assessment Rating Programme - an UK scheme for testing helmets, especially helmets for use when riding a scooter, moped, or motorcycle.

Spring 2008, the UK government launched a standardised test for motorcycle helmets, known as SHARP. When it showed off its first results, it caused a furore among motorcyclists in the UK, as some of the highest-rated helmets were budget-brand skid-lids, while some of the really expensive helmets from the likes of Arai and Shoei walked away with less-than-favourable results.

The fresh ratings, while causing debate, rapidly found a strong following in the UK motorcycle community; many motorcyclists had long suspected that expensive brands weren't necessarily all that much better than the cheaper brands, but were unwilling to compromise on safety by choosing a perceived inferior brand. The extended testing done under the SHARP scheme, in theory, means that anyone purchasing a motorcycle helmet which offers the best possible protection in real-life road traffic incidents, even if they are on a limited budget.

What is it?

From the press release announcing the scheme:

SHARP is the Safety Helmet and Assessment Rating Programme - it's the new helmet safety scheme for motorcyclists.

SHARP will enable riders to more easily select a helmet which matches their needs. It will provide consumers with an independent assessment of the safety performance of helmets sold in the UK. The SHARP RATING reflects the performance of each helmet model following a series of advanced tests in our lab and will rate helmets from 1-5 stars.

Laboratory tests show there are real differences in the safety performance of motorcycle helmets available in the market. While they all satisfy the minimum legal requirements, providing objective advice concerning the level of protection a safety helmet provides will assist riders when making this very important buying decision.

We have begun testing motorcycle helmets to our advanced assessments and from Spring 2008, SHARP will offer you a single, easy to understand rating for helmet models available within the UK.

We believe that a helmet that performs well when assessed against our new procedures will offer users a significantly increased level of protection. Our research has shown that up to 50 motorcyclists' lives could be saved every year if everyone wore a helmet that scores highly in the SHARP testing system.

SHARP FAQ

Why is the rating system being introduced?

Our research shows that there are real differences in the safety performance of motorcycle helmets available in the market. We believe that providing objective advice concerning the level of protection a motorcycle helmet provides will assist riders when making this very important purchasing decision.

What are the current standards a helmet has to meet, and are these not enough?

In the UK there are two helmet approval standards in use - BS 6658:1985 and UN ECE Regulation 22.05. Both of these standards ensure that all helmets on sale in the UK offer at least a minimum level of protection to the wearer in the event of an accident. However, there will always be some products that exceed these minimum requirements. SHARP will keep motorcyclists' informed of these differences in performance so you can make a more informed choice when buying your next helmet.

So what is different about the SHARP assessment?

SHARP has brought together some of the best aspects from the available standards and defined more rigorous tests and assessments than are currently used for the minimum approval standard.

We'll be testing protection at a much wider range of impact speeds - just like those found in actual accidents in the real world. We have not just looked at 'impact energy management', but also considered the areas of the helmet most likely to be struck and the risk of brain injury from that impact. We have developed a suite of enhanced test procedures and assessment criteria for helmets, so that a helmet performing well when assessed against it would offer real and significant increases in head protection in the real world.

UN ECE Regulation 22.05 has only one impact velocity whereas SHARP assesses the helmet performance at both a higher and a lower velocity to establish its effectiveness over a greater range of scenarios.

Why change things anyway?

As motorcycles have advanced, so has the kit you have to wear to be safe on them. However, in the past the testing of motorcycle helmets - probably the most important piece of biking kit that you will own - has only really had a 'minimum' standard. SHARP will give you the helmet buyer more information with which to make your purchase.

Is the safety rating the only thing to consider when I buy a new helmet?

No. It is important that the helmet fits correctly and is comfortable. An uncomfortable/poor fitting helmet can distract you when riding and may offer reduced protection in an accident.

What's the research behind the testing?

In-depth real world accident studies have allowed us to link specific laboratory impacts with real world injury so that our tests address specific risk of head injury.

What's the most common form of head injury that SHARP is trying to protect against with these tests?

We believe that 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 the helmet can reduce the shock that the brain receives.

How does the SHARP assessment differ from Regulation 22.05?

The main difference is in the impacts that the helmet is exposed to. Regulation 22.05 has only one impact velocity whereas SHARP assesses the helmet performance at both a higher and a lower velocity to establish its effectiveness over a greater range of scenarios.

Does the SHARP assessment include a penetration test?

No, while some standards do assess the helmet's ability to withstand this type of impact we have concentrated on the helmet's energy management as severe shock to the brain is a more common cause of injury.

Why are you only striking the helmet once in each impact site when some standards strike the same site twice?

We do not have any evidence to suggest that in a motorcycle accident helmets suffer repeated impacts on the same site. We do see that helmets can receive multiple impacts and that is why the SHARP assessment does involve more than one impact on helmet but at a different point.

To learn more about SHARP or to see the results of the tests, visit www.direct.gov.uk/sharp .

(Portions of this write-up are from the SHARP website, which is part of the Department for Transportation, falls under Crown Copyright, and may be reproduced here on E2, as it is deemed to be "reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading context")

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