Understanding Snell Labels and Safety Ratings

Helmets are considered the most important piece of safety gear for a driver or rider.  Over the years helmet technology has changed and so have the requirements for driving events. A Snell certification is considered the gold standard for helmet testing and is recognized by every major racing body.

Questions often arise about the certification process and what are the difference between ratings.  Don’t be caught out at tech inspection with the wrong rating of helmet so here are more details when choosing a helmet.

The Snell Foundation tests dozens of types of helmets based on their designated use and has categories such as Motorcycling, Elite Automotive Sports, Karting,  Special Application as well as Equestrian, Skiing and Cycling. Some helmets can look similar but are designed and tested for different applications.  Currently, the only acceptable helmets for use at events are rated SA2015 or SA2020.  The rating SA is for Special Application (Competitive Automotive Sports). The Snell Foundation describes the differences in this way:

The SA standard was designed for competitive auto racing while the M standard was for motorcycling and other motorsports. The K standard was released to accommodate helmets used in karting. There are three major differences between them:

  1. The SA standard requires flammability test while the M and K standards do not.
  2. The SA and K standards allow for a narrower visual field than the M standard (Some SA and K certified helmets may not be street legal).
  3. The SA and K standards include a rollbar multi-impact test while the M standard does not.

The date code (2010, 2015) refers to the expiration of the certification, which is 12 years from the date shown. For example, a SA2010 helmet is acceptable until 2022.  Helmet shoppers should look for a helmet with a 2015/2020 certification to get the longest use from their investment.

The Snell Foundation has become aware of fraudulent certification labels in headgear used for motorcycling and motorsport activities. The counterfeit labels appear to be in helmets that have not acquired Snell certification and do not have the support or approval of the Snell Foundation.

Helmet samples with bogus Snell label received by the Foundation were obtained from online sources that may originate in Malaysia. Such labels are present in helmet models that may appear on the Snell Foundation’s certified helmet lists, but are not endorsed by the licensed manufacturer or owner of these helmet brands and helmet models.

Snell certification labels are 3 ¼ inches by ¾ inches with rounded corners and have a specific color based on the Standard. Each label has a unique serial number starting with one or two alphabetic characters and a six-digit number. Since 2010, all Snell labels have had a barcode included. You can find illustrations of these labels here.

If you have any question about label authenticity or certification validity of a helmet on the Snell certified helmet lists, you can send Snell the label serial number along with the helmet brand, model name and date of manufacture to snell.label@smf.org. Helmet and label pictures are helpful in identifying labels as well.

Current Snell Ratings

SA2020 Helmets – Accepted Until 2033

The Snell SA2020 testing requirements have changed a small amount from SA2015 and have now become more in line with the FIA 8859 Helmet Standard. 

Changes include:

  • Increased velocity by 5-10% for impact testing on the 2nd hit across all shell sizes.
  • Increased velocity from 5.7 to 6.0 m/s on the 54cm to 59cm size.
  • Increased peak G threshold on the 54cm to 59cm size and 60cm-64cm size.
Shop SA2020 Helmets

SA2015 Helmets – Accepted Until 2028

The Snell Memorial Foundation, Inc. has finalized its SA2015 Standard for Protective Headgear
which applies to auto racing helmets. However, although there are several changes in test
requirements and procedures from the current SA2010 Standard, Snell certified auto racing
helmets are expected to stay very much the same as they are now.

Changes include:

  • Helmets must be ready for the addition of frontal restraint tether hardware such as used in HANS® and other systems.
  • Includes provisions for “Low Velocity” impact testing.
  • Includes “Low Lateral” impacts in case of strikes against side window frames and
    similar structures.
Shop SA2015 Helmets

Expired Snell Ratings

SA2010 Helmets – Outdated 2023

SA2005 Helmets – Outdated 2018

SA2000 Helmets – Outdated 2013