Snell Memorial Foundation

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Snell Memorial Foundation
Nonprofit organization
HeadquartersNorth Highlands, California
Key people
Executive Director Edward B. Becker, General Manager Stephen Johnson
ServicesHelmet safety research, testing, certification, and education

The Snell Memorial Foundation is a nonprofit organization created to provide a high quality standard of safety for helmets. Founded in 1957, the foundation is named after William "Pete" Snell, a popular sports car racer who died in 1956 of head injuries he received when the racing helmet he wore failed to protect his head. A group of friends, scientists, physicians, and others joined together to create a group that would promote research and education as well as test and develop standards to improve the effectiveness of helmets.


PDF files of current and past Snell standards are available on the Snell Web site.[1]


To qualify for Snell certification, the helmet must pass a series of tests. The tests are determined depending on the application and the requirements of the standard.


Snell Standards significantly surpass those set by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), ASTM International (ASTM) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's 16 CFR Part 1203.[citation needed]

Snell Standards are updated about every five years. These updates are based on new scientific research and improved, available manufacturing technologies. As such, and in addition to other factors such as typical use wear and tear, Snell recommends that helmets be replaced approximately every five years to ensure good safety.


In 2005, Motorcyclist magazine wrote an in-depth article discussing helmet testing and safety.[2] The article included criticism of Snell Memorial Foundation standards by prominent head injury and helmet design experts, including Dr. Harry Hurt, author of the Hurt Report, who described the Snell standards as "a little bit excessive," and Dr. Jim Newman, former head of Snell Memorial Foundation, who characterized the then-current Snell Memorial Foundation standard as a "marketing gimmick." The article reported that a softer absorption material would transfer less g-force to the head in the most common motorcycle accidents than the stiffer absorption material required in Snell-certified helmets.[3] Snell Memorial Foundation released a technical critique and rebuttal to the article, available at their Web site, which asserts that there are no viable data to indicate that a softer liner or a softer shell could result in less severe head injuries.[4] In September 2009, New York Times published a follow-up article which cited the 2005 Motorcyclist article; SMF rebutted it as well.[5] Snell Memorial Foundation's 2010 standard for motorcycle helmets now conforms to one of the magazine's criticisms, that a larger head will also be a heavier head.[6]


  1. ^ Snell Helmet Safety Standards, Snell Memorial Foundation, retrieved 2009-10-08
  2. ^ Ford, Dexter; (photog) Jim Brown (June 2005), "Motorcycle Helmet Performance: Blowing the Lid Off: Searching for the truth behind motorcycle helmet design, helmet standards and actual head protection", Motorcyclist
  3. ^ Moon, Wendy (February 2005), "Harry Hurt Speaks Out; Helmets, The Brain, Safety Studies & Rider Training" (PDF), Motorcycle Consumer News, Bowtie, pp. 23–27
  4. ^ The Snell Memorial Foundation (September 9, 2005), Technical Response to Motorcyclist Magazine "Blowing The Lid Off Article" (PDF)
  5. ^ The Snell Memorial Foundation (September 24, 2009), Snell's response to New York Times Article "Sorting Out Differences in Helmet Standards"
  6. ^ SMF M2010 Release Schedule (PDF), Snell Memorial Foundation


External links[edit]