Fact Sheet about Helmets
(Updated July 2018)
Performance driving requires additional protection, helmets. Helmets are required for anyone driving in a PCA autocross (AX) or driver education (DE) event.
The Milwaukee Region generally follows the standard adopted by PCA National and PCA Club Racing requirements. Helmets need to have a Snell rating and be current or last date certified; no cracks and chin strap in good condition. (Snell dating should be 2010 or later and must have a SA rating. Helmets with a DOT certification, a K or an M rating are not allowed.)
The ratings mentioned above are issued every five years and PCA allows the current year issuance and the previous year issuance. For example, the PCA Milwaukee Region will allow SNELL SA of 2010- and 2015-rated helmets. Indication of helmet compliance is a reflective decal affixed to the semi-rigid foam padding in the rear inside portion of the helmet. One may need to gently pry the cloth liner away from the foam padding to read the decal.
What are the differences between the SA, M and K standards?
The SA standard was designed for competitive auto racing. The K standard was released to accommodate helmets used in karting and the M rated helmets is for motorcycles. 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 generally allow for a narrower visual field than M standard. (As a result, some SA and K certified helmets may not be street legal for motorcycle riders).
3. The SA and K standards include a rollbar multi-impact test while M standard does not.
Helmet components protect the driver
Two main components of a helmet protect the driver. One is the outer shell of rigid material consisting of resin impregnated fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber or a combination. The purpose of the shell is to deter penetration of acutely shaped items and to distribute the impact force over a larger surface area, transferring force into the other main component – the inner foam padding.
Impact force continuation to the inner foam padding, usually an expandable beaded polystyrene, progressively crushes and ultimately increases the time of head and brain de-acceleration. The cloth liner over the foam padding is for comfort and absorption of perspiration.
Open or full-face style
Open face helmets, which debuted with early stock car and open wheel racing, are still available. They are more comfortable when the weather is hot and may be desirable for drivers who have claustrophobic tendencies.
The open face helmet is adequate for AX events and is allowed in PCA Milwaukee Region Novice and Intermediate DE Groups. But, if a driver anticipates progressing to the DE Advanced Group and possibly to PCA Club Racing, it is recommended that a full face helmet be purchased.
Full face helmets offer protection to the chin area. Open face helmets do not. This is important because more severe impacts may cause the seat harness to stretch, allowing the driver's chin to impact the steering wheel. If the car does not have an airbag, this would be problematic with an open face helmet.
The face shield also adds eye protection. Race tracks are littered with debris that sometimes can enter the vehicle. Further, a face shield also deters flames from reaching one's face and, if tinted, reduces fatigue on bright days.
Various supplementary head and neck restraints (HANS Device) require the use of a full face helmet and are strongly encouraged in high-speed events. The open face helmets will not contain the head and it will simply extrude out the front of the helmet in a crash.
Note that PCA Club Racing Rules requirements should be consulted if the driver has an interest in that venue as the requirements are generally more restrictive than Driver’s Education or Autocross requirements.
Proper fit is key to maximum protection
Some drivers borrow or share a helmet for their first AX or DE event. This is a valid option, but be aware there is a low to moderate probability that the helmet will properly fit the novice driver.
Proper fit of a helmet is very important and it is recommended that one tries a helmet prior to purchase. If ordering online, verify with the retailer that you can exchange the helmet until proper fit is achieved.
Follow the manufacturer’s fitting guide for an approximate helmet size.
It is highly recommended that one seeks fitting by a knowledgeable person. The helmet should fit snug about the head and face, not have any uncomfortable pressure points and, with the chin strap fastened, the helmet should not be able to be dislocated or removed by pulling up and forward from the back lower edge.
Replace every five years or sooner if wear is evident
Over time, helmets deteriorate due to exposure to UV, ozone, perspiration and mechanical wear and tear. Be sure to monitor chin strap condition and attach points. If the chin strap begins to fray, it can be replaced by most manufacturers. It is recommended that helmets be reconditioned and preferably replaced every five years.
If you paint your helmet, refrain from removing the chin strap rivets. Opt for masking. Use acrylic enamel-based paints, not lacquer based, to avoid compromising the integrity of the hard shell resin.
If your helmet experiences impact, inspect it for cracks, strap integrity and compressed inner foam. If damage is present, it must be replaced.