While this standard has been in existence longer than other cycling helmet standards profiled here, relatively few helmets meet Snell’s 1995 “B-95” standard. This is generally true for at least two reasons: (1) B-95 is a completely voluntary standard and (2) Helmets that pass B95 are generally bulkier and less attractive)
The Snell Memorial Foundation is a nonprofit organization that has been testing helmets and creating helmet standards since 1957. Snell’s initial focus was on high-performance racing helmets (automotive) and their tests still seek to ensure that helmets provide a level of protection at very high impact energies. In the case of the B-95 standard, that means cycling helmets are dropped from higher heights on all three anvils (flat, hemi and curbstone) than in any other standard, aside from ASTM’s F 1952 downhill mountain biking standard. Those greater drop heights result in higher impact energies, making for a somewhat bulkier, less attractive, and heavier helmet. See the charts below for specifics. Furthermore, the Snell B-95 standard also features a lower test line than CPSC (though not as low as EN and AUS/NZ standards), which means that more of the helmet surface needs to manage impact energy to the test’s specified threshold.
While most other standards allow helmet brands/distributors to either self-certify or have a third-party testing facility certify that their helmets meet the standard in question, the Snell Foundation itself tests the helmets that are submitted for Snell certification. Snell also tests samples selected randomly from retailers. They believe this helps ensure that the helmets certified by Snell are representative of the models consumers are purchasing.
Snell testing protocols favor helmets that may have better energy management at extremely high impact speeds. That said, product design is often a matter of trade-offs. Making a helmet excel at damping or “attenuating” high-energy impacts by equipping it with higher density foam, for instance, may lead to a helmet that is less effective at damping lower impact energies during normal to slow-speed crashes. Which is the better helmet? It’s impossible to definitively say since every crash is a unique event and no one can predict whether their next crash will be high-speed or relatively low speed. If you could predict the crash, after all, you might not crash in the first place.