William "Pete" Snell was an amateur race car driver during the mid 1950s. In 1956, he died from massive head injuries sustained during a crash. He had been wearing one of the best racing helmets available at the time. By 1957, the Snell Memorial Foundation had formed to oversee research and testing of helmets. They deal with protective helmets for bicycling, skating, skiing, motorcycle riding, automotive racing, and horseback riding.
Snell testing procedures cover all of the risks expected in the event the helmet is designed for. Unlike competing standards-makers, Snell randomly tests helmets bought from retail outlets. Impact testing involves dropping the helmet onto various sized anvils. Helmets fail if they impart more than 300 gs to the simulated head form inside. Penetration tests use a sharply pointed 3 kilogram weight dropped onto the helmet, with another test using a soft lead pellet fired at 500 kph (kilometers per hour) into the face shield. In either case, the helmet fails if the helmet is in any way penetrated. 'Special application' automotive racing helmets must also pass a flame test. A propane flame of 790° Centigrade is applied to the outside of the helmet, while the inside must not reach more than 70°.
Snell standards are among some of the highest in the world. They surpass the standards set by the US Department of Transportation, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the US Consumer Products Safety Commission, along with several international standards. Snell-approved helmets are required for all drivers at any Sports Car Club of America event. They are also recognized by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), the Indianapolis 500, and the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA). Snell-approved helmets are clearly marked by a 'Snell' sticker in plain view, under the inside lining of the helmet, or sewn to the chin-strap.