No Helmet, No Bike

July 13, 2000

It's a warm summer day. It's a great day for a bike ride. Are you wearing your bicycle helmet? I hope you are. Read these statistics:

  • About 27.7 million children under the age of 15 years ride bicycles in the US.
  • In 1997, about 367,700 children went to the emergency room for a bicycle-related injury; about 30% of these children had a head, face or ear injury.
  • In 1997, 224 children were killed in bicycle-related accidents; about 66% of these children had head injuries.
  • In the US in 1994, only 50% of the children who rode bikes said they owned a bike helmet; only 25% of the children who rode bikes said they wore a helmet every time they rode their bikes.
  • Studies indicate that bicycle helmets prevent 69% to 88% of serious head or brain injuries.
    (Statistics referenced in Gilchrist et al., Pediatrics, 106:6-9, 2000)

Because statistics don't seem to influence riding habits, a new report details another way to get kids to wear their helmets:

NO HELMET, NO BIKE

In 1997, Dr. Julie Gilchrist led a team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Human Resources to the small town of Wadley, Georgia (population 2,400). The state of Georgia had passed a law in 1993 that said all bicycle riders under the age of 16 years must wear a helmet. Although parents could be given a ticket if their children did not wear a helmet, the law was rarely enforced. The town of Wadley then added another twist to the law books: if a child under the age of 13 years did not wear a helmet when riding, the police could confiscate the child's bike. Parents would have to come to the police station to pick up the bike.

The study carried out by Dr. Gilchrist had two parts. First, in April 1997, helmets were given to all 426 students in the elementary school and to approximately 150 middle school students. Students and their parents also received bicycle safety instruction. Second, following the distribution of helmets, the police started to enforce the law and take bikes away from helmetless riders.

When the researchers surveyed people before the study began, they found that NO ONE in the town used a helmet and that only 8% of the children in kindergarten through fifth grade even owned a helmet. During a five-month period, workers positioned themselves around town and recorded how often helmets were being used.

The police impounded a total of 167 bicycles (about 33 per month) after the program began. In children between the ages of 5 and 12 years, helmet use went from 0% before the program to 45% after enforcement of the law. Teens (13-15 years) use of helmets increased to 18%. It was disappointing to see that adult helmet use increased to only 3%.

Helmet Use Before And After Police Enforcement

This study suggests that police enforcement of helmet laws has a significant effect on helmet use. When the police have the power to take away bikes, kids will wear their helmets. Whether this program of helmet distribution, safety education and bicycle impoundment will increase the use of helmets in larger cities remains to be seen. Moreover, the law only targeted kids under the age of 13 years. More studies are needed to see if teenagers and adults would also be motivated to wear helmets if the police could take their bikes.

Although losing your bike because you did not wear your helmet may seem like a severe penalty, the law is meant to protect you. The brain is a delicate and fragile organ. It contains all of your memories and your ability to form new ones. It is everything you were and everything you will be.

Protect your brain! Wear a helmet!

Reference: Gilchrist, J., Schieber, R.A., Leadbetter, S. and Davidson, S.C. Police enforcement as part of a comprehensive bicycle helmet program. Pediatrics (July issue), 106:6-9, 2000.


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