Industrialized Cyclist Notepad

Thompson Rivara Thompson ’96

Thompson, Rivara and Thompson M.D.s, “Effectiveness of Bicycle Safety Helmets in Preventing Head Injuries,” JAMA, 1996.


This is probably the most cited of all helmet studies. It appeared at a time when the CPSC was considering the possibility of making new standards for little kids’ helmets. On one side of the discussion, engineers and advocates who thought child and toddler helmets should be made softer to protects kids from the type of head injuries they are most likely to suffer while bicycling. On the other side, helmet company reps who argued that kids didn’t need new standards or softer helmets.

Thompson, Rivara and Thompson’s “Effectiveness of Bicycle Safety Helmets in Preventing Head Injuries” came along just in time to lend the industry some apparent scientific legitimacy to their argument.

The study concludes like this: “Based on our study, changes in helmet certification standards or the design of helmets particularly for younger age groups are less likely to result in major benefit.” The mention of kids’ helmet standards–“particularly for younger age groups…”–comes out of the blue at the end of the paper.

This is quite strange because, earlier in the document, the authors revealed that the study, which included over 3,000 crashed cyclists, included only one helmeted brain-injured subject under 6 years of age. Because of this almost total lack of data, the authors admit that their study cannot estimate any protective effect of helmets for this age group.

Hmm. But in the conclusion, which is the only part of the privately held document that journalists or 99% of the public will ever read, the authors do just that. They claim that helmets give the same protective benefit “to cyclists of all ages…” And then they go out of their way to say that bit about little kids not needing better helmet standards.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s very interesting that the particular age group that receives the most attention in the conclusion, is the one that received the least attention when collecting data. This seems to be a really smarmy piece of work.

See and Family Biking: The Parent’s Guide to Safe Cycling for more on kids’ helmet standards.

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Me likey.