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Success Story: Safer Bicycle Helmets for Kids

May 28th, 2018

Some of the most important projects we work on at Anthrotech involve helping clients work toward developing products that are safer for their respective user populations. Today, we want to talk about a project that was particularly gratifying because it helped ensure the safety of children riding bicycles. While the project was gratifying, it also presented unique challenges because we were working directly with children, not adults.

Project Origin

At the time of the project, the George Snively Research Foundation was the research arm of the Snell Memorial Foundation, which certifies a wide variety of helmets for safety. Foundation leaders wanted to improve the fit and safety of children’s bicycle helmets, which were starting to become more widely used. They looked around for anthropometric data on children’s heads and found that none were available. So, they decided to create an anthropometric database of children’s heads and make user data available to helmet manufacturers that were using the Snell Foundation certification process. Obviously, children are more likely to wear a helmet if it is comfortable, so the comfort of helmets was paramount. Additionally, the proper fit was important because if a helmet doesn’t fit properly, it could slide on the head and be less safe than it was designed to be. 

Foundation leaders reached out to Anthrotech and asked that we measure children’s heads in order to develop the database that would be shared with manufacturers.

How Anthrotech Helped

In the mid-1990’s, we began work on the measurement project for the Snively Foundation. In total, we measured more than 1,000 children, aged 2 to 19, in eight locations across the U.S. We took six head measurements; the most important were head length, head breadth, and head height. In addition, we collected 3D head scans of each child, which was considered highly innovative for the time (but is now more commonplace). Having 3D images of the head allowed us to analyze the shape of the head, in addition to the size.

Because we were measuring minors, the process of getting people to agree to participate was a bit more complicated. We had to get permission from the children’s parents. We chose to work in schools because that’s where children are most largely congregated. Not all school leaders wanted to take on the project which required time, space and parental permissions for the measurements, so we had a bit of trial and error before finding and confirming our measurement locations. We ended up working with a lot of parochial schools, as they were less bureaucratically complex than the public schools.

Incentives are often used to compensate participants for their time. But, in this case, we didn’t want to incentivize children, as we thought that might cause problems in the classroom. Instead, we provided money to the schools directly and asked that school leaders distribute the funds in the way they best saw fit for their needs. Some schools purchased audio-visual equipment with the funds or additional teaching aids. We were certainly happy to be a part of those additional benefits for the schools.


After measurements were completed and analyzed, we were able to provide a database that could be used in the development of children’s bicycle helmets. In a subsequent project, we created physical headforms based on these measurements and scans, and the Foundation made those available directly to manufacturers, too.

Helmets with Snell certification are among the safest that parents can purchase for their children. Anthrotech’s work was critical in providing manufacturers with the information they need to make the helmets fit comfortably and properly, ensuring the highest level of safety.

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