Monday, January 21, 2008

I Don't Trust Snell

With all due respect to the late William « Pete » Snell, I’ve lost all trust in the foundation that now bears his name. For those of us who wear full-face helmets, the debate regarding Snell vs. DOT helmets can get quite heated at times, but never did it flare up as much as the weeks and months following the June 2005 edition of Motorcyclist Magazine. The article, by Dexter Ford, was titled “Blowing The Lid Off” and it raised quite a few eyebrows then, and continues to do so today. If you haven't read it, please go ahead and do so. I'll wait. No really, its worth it.

I remember admiring the editorial staff at Motorcyclist after first reading the article, because they were obviously aware that it would result in lost advertising dollars. After all, some of the more “high-end” helmets [read: expensive] like the Arai’s and HJC’s came out last, while the overall winner was the lowly Z1R, which retails for less than $100. The problem, as was concluded by Motorcyclist, is that Snell’s criteria for a helmet require it to be too stiff, in turn transmitting too much G-force to the cranium, in turn smashing your brains to a pulp… OK, maybe not to a pulp – but you get the idea.

Even Dr. Jim Newman, former director of the Snell Foundation, and Dr. Harry Hurt, author of the now infamous Hurt Report, agreed that the 300 G's allowed to be transferred to the headform by Snell in some helmet tests was way too high then what was needed for practical application on the street.

Snell’s website is, quite frankly, one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. From a purely techno-geek standpoint, the layout’s all wrong, and it’s aesthetically unpleasant – to say the least. But that’s just a question of taste, and seeing how it's a not-for-profit organization, they just might not have the budget for it – so we won’t dwell on that too much. Of course, in 2005 their operational budget was $1,875,325 of which almost half (48%) went to director/officer compensation and employee salaries. You'd think they could hire a part-time web designer with that kind of cash.

What really bothers me about the website is the information (or lack thereof) that is presented. Most professional, scientifically-driven organizations will offer their research up for peer review, and sometimes learn from their critics. But when you take a look at Snell’s response to the Motorcyclist article… well, it seems just darn childish! Rather than respond with their own facts and figures to what was claimed in the magazine article, Snell comes out with a conspiracy theory of sorts, claiming that Motorcyclist had published "thinly disguised and highly biased attacks on Snell standards and on Snell certified helmets". Then they must have caught themselves, as they did retort with a technical response where they claimed that "We have rejected these ideas [Motorcyclist’s] not because of the source or even the manner of their presentation. We have rejected them because they are unsound."

Well, it seems even Snell can make mistakes, although I’m not sure they’ll want to admit to them. In their latest Newsletter, they’ve published the final draft of their new 2010 standard (which should replace the 2005 standard that was reviewed in Motorcyclist’s article). So what’s different about the new standard? Well for starters, its not as stiff! Yup, you heard it. Snell’s proposed new standard is actually closer to DOT than the previous one was. But wait! Wasn't that an "unsound" idea? Flip-flop.

I don't claim to be an engineer or scientist with hundreds of published studies. But I am a motorcyclist and I do read. Even more importantly, I am a consumer and I buy. So when it comes time to fork out some of my dough, I try to get the best I can for my money. But on the flipside, I also like to buy from people I trust. People who'll be honest about their faults and will admit when they may have done wrong. The Snell Memorial Foundation, in my eyes, are not those kind of people.

1 comment:

Giest said...

I'm just glad that Snell isn't a mandatory standard. It's something I tended to stay away from when purchasing a new helmet. After I read that article, I couldn't believe that it was actually being used as a standard.