101 Critical Days:
Helmet Safety

Master Sgt. Christopher Daniels
USAFE mishap prevention manager

***image1***It’s a taste of heaven – the sun is out. There’s a gentle breeze. The road is calling you to an absolutely perfect day to ride your motorcycle. Your bike is all shined up. Your gas tank is full. You’re ready. Call up your riding buddy and away you go. But wait – don’t forget your helmet. That’s the most important part of your riding gear. 

Did you know that your U.S. Department of Transportation-approved motorcycle helmet may not be in compliance with the Economic Commission for Europe standards of your host country? In fact, with exception of Germany and Turkey, U.S. personnel wearing helmets which only meet DOT standards are not in compliance with the laws of most of the countries in Europe. Motorcycle operators are subject to fines in those countries for non-compliance.

The disparity between U.S. and European motorcycle helmet safety standards was recently identified by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe legal review of the Status of Forces Agreement. 

“U.S. military personnel, members of the civilian component, and the dependents of both are generally fully subject to host nation laws where they are stationed (including motor vehicle laws) …” said Randy Harshman, (USAFE) special assistant for NATO legal affairs and International Law chief. 
So how does this ruling affect motorcycle riders with U.S. DOT approved or Snell Memorial Foundation certified helmets or individuals PCSing to Europe? Simply put, the NATO SOFA does not provide exceptions (other than Germany or Turkey) for the wear of motorcycle helmets, therefore, members who ride without an ECE 22.05 certified helmet are in non-compliance with the rules of the road in most European countries. 

The good news is that some U.S. DOT approved helmets are “dual” DOT and ECE certified. Although many Web sites offer information on DOT, Snell and ECE certification it is recommended that you contact your helmet manufacturer for definitive certification. 

Arrangement of approval marks for protective helmets are as such: The above approval mark affixed to a protective helmet shows that the helmet type concerned was granted approval by the Netherlands (E4) under approval number 051406/J for use throughout Europe. Approval mark and distinguishing number “E4” indicates that the helmet meets minimum requirements for use throughout Europe. (See ECE 22.05 or contact your wing safety office for more information.)

Know before you buy.  Learn all the facts.  Don’t buy a motorcycle helmet based simply on perceived image or marketing hype.  Remember, helmets are the single most effective means of preventing these injuries.

Q: How available are ECE helmets?
A: ECE certification is the most common certification in the world – it is mandatory or recognized in more than 50 countries world-wide.  It is the standard in Europe; therefore they are readily available in a broad range of models, sizes and colors. 

Q: How can I tell if my helmet is ECE certified?
A: The helmet will have a label on the inside or stamped markings on the chin strap indicating it is ECE 22.05 certified.  
 Q: What if my helmet is ECE certified, but there is no label on the helmet to prove it?  How do I prove my helmet is certified to the person writing me a ticket?
A:  Withstanding half-helmets, there is no external visible means for law enforcement that would indicate a helmet is or is not ECE certified.  Therefore a citation – barring a stop and a visual inspection – is highly unlikely.  However, it is your responsibility to ensure you comply with the law.  As indicated, you should consult your helmet manufacture and get a proof of certification from them.