Helmet laws in India are extremely vague and there is a lot of ambiguity around what is allowed and what is not. Heck, many places like Pune despite having helmet laws, have no real enforcement. Yes, we do know that all helmets should carry the BIS seal of approval but the cloud of uncertainty on the legality of using international helmets or helmets that weigh more than 1200 grams still hasn’t lifted and after witnessing the laxness in enforcement and the sheer unawareness with which certain officials approach the whole helmet situation, I would much rather stick to a helmet that has much safer safety regulation standards along the lines of ECE,SNELL or SHARP. And now, ECE standards are set to become even more comprehensive, making helmets that bear the ECE 22.06 stamp a whole lot safer.
ECE standards are helmet safety and regulatory standards that have been set by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. For any helmet to be considered legal to use in Europe and in many other countries in the world, it has to have an ECE stamp of approval. For the last twenty years or so, the standard being enforced was 22.05. ECE 22.05 was amongst the best ratings you could get for consumer grade helmets. And the ECE 22.05 rating was applicable for all price tiers of helmets. That being said, there are certain limitations, due to the fact that the testing was done based on a study conducted in 1996.
Enter, ECE 22.06. Approved in June 2020 and with enforcement (in Europe) beginning from June 2023, it is the latest iteration of helmet safety standards from the UN. The tests that a helmet will undergo to get ECE 22.06 certified are a lot more stringent and comprehensive than ECE 22.05. The tests now include helmet impact resistance at high and low speed crashes. The addition of low speed testing is due to studies that show that low speed impacts can also cause severe brain damage without any apparent/noticeable physical injuries. The new tests also include rotational impact tests to account for spin on impact. Other tests involve testing modular helmets with the flap open or closed and testing of helmets with official accessories (intercom systems, sun-visors, etc.)
Apart from the number of tests conducted for a helmet to get the ECE 22.06 stamp of approval, the number of helmets tested is also a lot higher than for ECE 22.05. For a helmet being tested for ECE 22.05 approval, a manufacturer would have to submit upto 50 production-spec units. But for ECE 22.06 approval, the testing is broken down further to shell sizes, retention mechanism and so on. Budget helmets usually come in a single shell size that would be used with different padding to accommodate for different head sizes. For such helmets a minimum of 55 helmets are tested. For helmets that have three different shell sizes each of which can accommodate two head sizes (for example), a minimum of 135 helmets of different shell sizes are tested. The more the variations, the more the number of helmets tested goes up. For example, if there are different fastening options in the same helmet (Double D ring or micrometric) the number of helmets tested increases. You get the picture. What this means for you and me is that a helmet that bears the ECE 22.06 stamp will be a lot safer (provided you get the right fit) than most other helmets.
Notable helmet manufacturer Arai already has an ECE 22.06 compliant helmet called the Quantic that has already hit shelves in international markets. As mentioned earlier, the standard is coming into enforcement from 2023 but expect more manufacturers to launch ECE 22.06 complaint helmets soon.