A helmet, head guard, protective hat, or head armor, whatever you call it, holds a single purpose – protecting the head from severe injuries during an accident. This lifesaving gear may come in several sizes, types, and designs but all of them are meant to serve a universal purpose of protection.
This is the reason that motorcycle riders, especially newbies, often believe that a helmet is just a helmet and they can obviously wear a motorcycle helmet for auto racing or vice versa. There have been lots of heated debates and discussions over this topic and today we are going to find the true answer to this dilemma.
In this article, we will discuss if it is really that simple to wear motorcycle helmets for car racing or if there are some major differences between the two.
Differences Between Auto Racing Helmets And Motorcycle Helmets
At first sight, both helmets might appear the same and chances are you cannot differentiate between the two. Both types arrive as full-face, open-face helmets with hybrid configurations and similar designs. But when we have a closer look, we notice that there are lots of differences like aerodynamics, design, protective measures, construction methods, etc.
Therefore, if you also believed the notion that a helmet is just a hamlet, then here are the biggest differences between auto racing helmets and motorcycle helmets –
1. Fire Rating
Motorcycle helmets are usually not designed against fire hazards because motorcycle riders usually fall away from the bike and chances of them getting burnt are quite rare.
Auto racing helmets, on the other hand, have to pass through fire testing because of obvious reasons. Car racing accidents might lead to the racer being trapped inside a burning car or getting knocked out after a major hit.
That’s why auto helmets are made fire resistant and provided with Nomex linings on the inside. It is a flame retardant material and during a fire accident, it protects the driver’s face from direct flames. Also, the lining around the helmet visor or the rubber gasket around the eye-opening instantly melt and seal the helmet to keep flames out.
2. Impact Protection
In terms of impacts, motorcycle helmets are prone to several types of major collisions like crashing, sliding, etc. Therefore, they have to go through the roughest of impact tests before they qualify for the road.
During an auto racing accident, the driver’s head may face multiple impacts and hit the roll cage, side window, steering wheel, or roof if the car goes upside down. However, there are no chances of sliding and they are made to go through some other impact tests.
3. HANS Device Protection
Car helmets have to qualify for reducing the risks of head and neck injuries before they reach the racer. That’s why all SA helmets are made compulsory to have special threaded inserts for HANS (Head and Neck Safety). These inserts keep the driver’s head in a more stable position during a crash and protect the head as well as the neck.
4. Other Differences
Other than the aforementioned protective differences, there are lots of physical distinctions between the two varieties of helmets.
Car helmets do not need many inserts in terms of ventilation, aerodynamics, or noise as the rider is already inside a closed environment. Drivers don’t have to deal with honks or look over the shoulder to see a coming motorcycle and can easily deal with a narrower visual field.
Motorcycle helmets, on the opposite, are designed in a way that makes the rider feel cooler and more comfortable in an outside environment. Hence, motorcycle helmets come with several arrangements for vents at the top for letting more air pass through them. It leads to efficient cooling of the rider’s head and faster defogging of the visor.
Also, they possess a larger visor opening and wider eye ports to help the rider with extended visibility and allow them to look over their shoulders.
Motorcycle helmets also tend to reduce extra noise coming from the road and nearby vehicles.
How are Helmets Tested?
Be it a motorcycle helmet or an auto racing helmet, both of them go through rigorous helmet testing and achieve helmet certifications before they reach you.
Each street legal helmet has to achieve a DOT rating enforced by the Department of Transportation to ensure that it fits the road safety standard. During the impact test, each helmet is dropped onto a spherical anvil from a height of 1.83m, dropped on a flat anvil from a height of 1.83m, and has to endure a pointer strike dropped on it. Plus, a weight of up to 300 pounds of force is applied to the helmet for 120 seconds. Only after it passes the given tests, it gets a DOT certification.
Snell certification is another helmet impact test conducted by the Snell Memorial Foundation. This dynamic test is considered the “gold standard” for a helmet for it is far more uncompromising than the official DOT testing. If you are an auto racer then you must be aware that the Sports Car Driving Association only allows the helmets that meet the standards of the Snell Foundation.
In a Snell testing, Helmet has to be dropped on 5 different shaped anvils from multiple heights (all of which are higher than DOTs). Snell also tests the chin bar, the dome, and the visor of the helmet (by shooting it with three lead pellets from an air rifle).
So, even if the Snell rating is optional for the helmet manufacturers, if your helmet is Snell approved, you can definitely use it for bike racing or other motorsports.
So, can you use motorcycle helmets for auto racing?
It might look like both types of helmets are just padded head hats and you can use a motorcycle helmet for a car racing event, however, it is not a recommended thing to do. Some riders occasionally use motorbike helmets as car racing helmets only if it has a Snell Foundation certification.
However, from the above-mentioned arguments, it is obvious that there are enough differences between the two and it would be unwise to use one for another purpose. Henceforth, it is better that you get a certified competitive auto racing helmet for an auto racing event and vice versa.
Wearing certified helmets designed for specific purposes will not just guard your brain during an accident but offer you far better overall protection during any sort of catastrophic situation. Also, it will improve your riding or driving experience to a whole new level.