The Science Behind Snell SA2020 Helmet Testing and Certification

The Snell SA2020 certification represents the pinnacle of safety standards for racing helmets, embodying a rigorous process that ensures each helmet offers optimal protection for motorsport enthusiasts. This article delves into the meticulous science and methodology behind the Snell SA2020 helmet testing and certification process, providing insights into how these standards contribute to the advancement of helmet safety.

The Snell Foundation: A Beacon of Safety

The Snell Memorial Foundation, established in 1957 in memory of racing enthusiast William “Pete” Snell, has been at the forefront of helmet safety. Its mission is to research, test, and set safety standards for helmets in various sports, with a particular focus on motorsports. The SA2020 standard, released in 2020, is the latest iteration, updating the requirements for helmet manufacturers to meet the evolving needs of racers and technology.

SA2020 Standards: Raising the Bar

The SA2020 standards are designed to ensure helmets provide the highest level of protection against impacts, fire, and other race-related hazards. These standards are based on years of accident data, medical research, and technological advancements, setting a benchmark that goes beyond governmental and industry norms.

Impact Testing

The cornerstone of Snell certification is its rigorous impact testing, which simulates a variety of impact scenarios a driver might encounter. Helmets are subjected to controlled impacts against different surfaces, including flat anvils, hemispherical anvils, and edge anvils, to mimic collisions with various objects. The key metric assessed is the helmet’s ability to reduce the force transmitted to the head, measured using sophisticated instrumentation within the helmeted head form.

Penetration Testing

To ensure that a helmet can withstand penetration from sharp objects during an accident, the Snell Foundation conducts penetration testing. This involves dropping a pointed striker from a predetermined height onto the helmet. The helmet passes the test if the striker does not penetrate the helmet shell and into the head form.

Fire Resistance

Given the risk of fire in motorsport accidents, race car helmet undergo stringent fire resistance testing. Materials used in the construction of the helmet, including the shell, interior lining, and retention systems, are exposed to flames to ensure they do not melt or ignite within a specified time frame.

Retention System Strength

The helmet’s retention system, or chin strap, is tested for strength to ensure it can withstand significant force without breaking or stretching excessively. This test involves applying a force to the retention system for a specified duration, simulating the forces experienced in a crash.

Shell Rigidity

To minimize the risk of the helmet deforming upon impact, which could lead to brain injuries, the shell rigidity is tested. This involves applying a gradually increasing force to the helmet shell and measuring the deformation. The helmet must not deform beyond a specified limit, ensuring it maintains its shape and protective capabilities during an impact.

The Testing Process: A Blend of Science and Rigor

The testing process for SA2020 certification is exhaustive and requires a blend of advanced engineering, precise instrumentation, and meticulous methodology. Helmets are tested in state-of-the-art facilities using calibrated equipment to ensure consistent and accurate results. The process involves both dynamic and static testing, assessing the helmet’s performance under impact, compression, and extreme conditions.

Use of Anthropomorphic Test Devices (ATDs)

Snell uses advanced ATDs, or crash test dummies, equipped with sensors to measure the forces transmitted to the head during impact testing. These devices provide critical data on how well the helmet protects against brain injuries.

Environmental Conditioning

Helmets undergo environmental conditioning before testing, exposing them to extreme temperatures, humidity, and ultraviolet light. This process ensures that the helmet’s performance is consistent under various racing conditions.

Certification and Beyond

Helmets that meet or exceed all the SA2020 standard requirements receive the Snell certification sticker, a mark of excellence in safety. However, the Snell Foundation’s commitment to helmet safety does not end with certification. The organization continues to conduct random testing of certified helmets in the market, ensuring ongoing compliance with its standards.

The Impact of SA2020 Certification on Motorsports Safety

The SA2020 certification has set a new standard in motorsports safety, pushing manufacturers to innovate and incorporate the latest materials and technologies into their designs. For racers, wearing an SA2020-certified helmet means not just compliance with safety regulations but also the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are protected by the highest safety standards.


The science behind Snell SA2020 helmet testing and certification is a testament to the relentless pursuit of safety in motorsports. Through a combination of advanced testing methodologies, rigorous standards, and a commitment to ongoing research and development, the Snell Memorial Foundation continues to enhance the protective capabilities of racing helmets. As technology and our understanding of head injuries evolve, so too will the standards for helmet safety, ensuring that drivers can continue to pursue their passion with confidence in their protection.