Beneficial effects of bicycle helmet use have been reported mostly based on medical or survey data collected from hospitals. This study was to examine the validity of the United States General Estimates System (GES) database familiar to many transportation professionals for a beneficial effect of helmet use in reducing the severity of injury to bicyclists and found potential risk of erroneous conclusions that can be drawn by a narrowly focused study when the GES database is used. Although the focus of the study was on bicycle helmet use, its findings regarding potential risk might be true for any type of traffic safety study using the GES data. A partial proportional odds model reflecting intrinsic ordering of injury severity was mainly used. About 16,000 bicycle-involved traffic crash records occurring in 2003 through 2008 in the United States were extracted from the GES database. Using the 2003-2008 GES data, a beneficial effect of helmet use was found in 2007, yet a detrimental effect in 2004 and no effect in 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2008, which are contrary to the past findings from medical or hospital survey data. It was speculated that these mixed results might be attributable to a possible lack of representation of the GES data for bicycle-involved traffic crashes, which may be supported by the findings, such as the average helmet use rates at the time of the crashes varying from 12% in 2004 to 38% in 2008. This suggests that the GES data may not be a reliable source for studying narrowly focused issues such as the effect of helmet use. A considerable fluctuation over years in basic statistical values (e.g., average) of variables of interest (e.g., helmet use) may be an indication of a possible lack of representation of the GES data. In such a case, caution should be exercised in interpreting and generalizing analysis results.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Human Factors and Ergonomics
- Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health