As it is entirely legal and sensible to drive in sunglasses, which can be whipped off swiftly in a car, surely it is a good idea to have a visor that can be flicked up when you enter a tunnel, or go into an area of dark, and as the light fades, the visor clears. Anyone who has tried to fish out sunglasses from inside a crash helmet, while wearing gloves, will doubtless confirm the faff.
Sadly, the law has been overtaken by technology because the law which governs helmets, a United Nations treaty, is old and predates photochromic visors. Because a photochromic visor cannot meet the BS standard, nor the ECE standard they are technically unlawful to use.
Police ignore dark visors
However, police the world over ignore dark visors in daylight and the UN treaty which governs visors is law in 50 countries. Individual jurisdictions have a certain amount of interpretation as to the darkness a visor can have, and most plump for 50% light transmission. It sounds a lot, but it is a very light tint.
The dark visor laws will not change with Brexit and do not emanate from the EU (even though the regulations are made under EU powers so as to have consistency across the single market), so don’t put a dark visor on for your first ride of the New Year.
If you want to be legal
If you wish to be entirely legal, and have the facility to have eye shade in a helmet, those helmets with an internal drop-down visor are entirely lawful. But if your helmet needs to adapt to changing lighting conditions is the photochromic visor a good option?
I happen to think it is, even though it is technically illegal. The method for testing the light transmission is not certified for curved surfaces so light transmission is not what you might get nicked for especially as the police turn a blind eye to most victimless and technical offences.
An officious police officer could pull you over, inspect your visor and upon noting the absence of a quality kitemark, nick you for not having a kitemark. You would really have had to annoy him though or been caught in a swoop on “anti social’ riding – the only time I have heard of people getting done in daylight for non kitemarked eye protection were green laners mistaken for crossers by coppers on a mission.
Fog and mist
So, the upside for photochromic visors is you don’t have to swap out visors, you can lift your visor for the few seconds it takes to change as you transition from light to dark and they look cool in the sun or general daylight.
The downsides? Well, they are a bit illegal, pretty expensive and have one safety downside, in fog or mist they darken when you really don’t want them to.
I have two photochromic visors in two different helmets. If there is fog or mist about I use a clear visor. The only other downside is the darkening is variable.
My Klim visor darkens more deeply than my Shoei visor in fading light conditions so for me, the Shoei is the better visor even though both go very dark in bright sunshine.
Bike Magazine March 2021