With all the focus these days on concussions and TBI – Traumatic Brain Syndrome, helmet safety was a timely topic of discussion at the 2012 Annual Congress held by the International Council of Motorsports Sciences. This year, as in the past five years, ICMS has held its Congress in conjunction with the annual Performance Racing Industry trade show – three years in Indianapolis, and now in Orlando Florida. ICMS hosts the yearly meeting, some of which have been co-hosted overseas with FIA- Federation de L’Automobile.

ICMS was founded in 1988 by JACQUES BOUCHARD, M.D.; JACQUES DALLAIRE, Ph.D and his business partner, the late DAN MARISI; JOHN GORSLINE; SAM ODLE; STEVE OLVEY, M.D.; and TERRY TRAMMELL, M.D. It started out as World Council of Motorsport Sciences. In 1990, FIA requested a name change to International Council of Motorsport Sciences.

ICMS, a non-profit, aims “To promote, conduct and correlate research associated with the human aspect of motor racing and to disseminate information and technology related to performance and safety in motor sport.” Members include many medical, safety and emergency people involved with professional racing series and circuits, scientists and educators, as well as other interested people.

The opening session of the 2012 Congress discussed helmet safety, with presenters JAMES NEWMAN, Ph.D, author of “Modern Sports Helmets;” ED BECKER, Executive Director/Chief Engineer of the Snell Memorial Foundation; and AMY McINTOSH, M.D. Mayo Clinic and board member of National Motocross Medics Association.

Ed Becker
Ed Becker

The Snell Foundation is the organization which tests and certifies helmets for auto racing for adults and children, motorcycling, bicycling, equestrians, etc.

When Becker joined Snell in 1985, the policy was and continues to this day, for Snell to have a five-year revision policy. The latest Snell certification is 2010, and the next will be in 2015. That revision will be a mild, upward gradient mainly because the impact requirements can’t be increased too much more without increasing the helmet weight.

The current Snell certifications are SA2010 and SAH2010, the latter being the helmets which are certified with the HANS device. While the HANS device is required and used worldwide by the majority of all professional racing series, there still are those who don’t require it – such as hill climbers, vintage racers, and amateurs, although the largest amateur racing group in the United States, SCCA-Sports Car Club of America, now mandates HANS.

The HANS device could be required in the next Snell certification due 1 October, 2015. That would mean the helmet would have to come with the holes already cut and the attachment points in place for the HANS device. This would be good for the driver, but could cause unhappiness from manufacturers.

Snell certifications are world-wide. FIA requires FIA 8858, which is based on the Snell 2010 rating. The FIA F1 Super Standard Helmet is FIA 8860 and is part of Tech List 25.

Amy McIntosh, M.D.
Amy McIntosh, M.D.

Adult auto racing helmets are heavier than those designed for children. Children’s helmets are lighter and sleeker and are built differently, and as such, aren’t designed to be as impact-worthy as an adult helmet. Children’s necks are shorter and they have a different head to body size ratio. Children’s necks fatigue easier, as their neck muscles aren’t fully developed. Some adults try to wear the children’s helmets due to the lighter weight.

The Snell standards for children’s helmets were developed as a joint venture with the FIA. More children overseas wear helmets than in the United States. In America helmets with HANS are worn in karting and quarter midget racing, but not moto-cross as there is capacity for vehicle attachment. Children and motorcycle riders can and do use rigid neck braces. Motorcycle versions of head and neck restraints have been designed, but aren’t yet in wide-spread usage.

The key to maximizing the benefits of children’s helmets, with or without a HANS device, is the actual fitting. Proper professional helmet fitting, which can take 90 minutes, decreases the child’s risk in developing concussive symptoms. Having a helmet designed for a specific use is important.