Heads Up on Bike Helmet Law

December 19, 2001; Updated October 17, 2003

Let's look at the facts:

  1. Approximately 28 million children in the US ride bicycles.
  2. In 1998, 194 children (ages 5-14 years) in the US were killed while riding bikes.
  3. Of the 194 children killed, 125 died of traumatic brain injuries.
  4. Each year, an estimated 20,000 children suffer a non-fatal brain injury while riding a bike.
  5. Bicycle helmets prevent up to 85% of head injuries and 88% of serious brain injuries.
  6. An estimated $395 is saved in medical and other costs for every bicycle helmet sold.

You would think that these statistics alone would persuade people to wear a helmet while riding a bike. However, you would be wrong. A 1994 survey reported that only about 50% of US children owned a bike helmet and only 25% of these kids wore a helmet every time or nearly every time they rode a bike. These numbers are different than those from an informal poll on the Neuroscience for Kids Brain Fitness web site where 3003 of 4189 people (72%) responded that they wore a helmet every time they rode a bike. Also, of these 3148 people, 788 (19%) said they sometimes wore a helmet and 398 (9%) said they never wore a helmet.

So, what does it take to get someone to put on a bike helmet? Apparently, education and encouragement are not enough for many children. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, a LAW requiring children to wear helmets while bike riding is the best way.

On January 1, 1997, Florida State passed a law requiring all children younger than 16 years to wear a helmet while bike riding. For one year, the police issued verbal warnings and passed out bicycle safety literature. On January 1, 1998, the police were authorized to issue a $15 ticket to children riding bikes without wearing a helmet. However, the state law allowed a county to "opt out" of new helmet use requirement. Three counties decided that they did not want the new helmet use law.

Researchers in Florida watched children riding their bikes to and from public schools across the state. They counted the number of children who were and who were not wearing helmets as they parked their bikes in the school bike racks. In counties with a state helmet-use law, 16,907 of 21,313 (79%) children wore helmets while riding their bikes. In counties without the state helmet-use law, only 148 of 450 (33%) children wore helmets.

These data suggest that a helmet use law DOES promote the use of bike helmets by children. Perhaps such a law would encourage EVERYONE to strap on a helmet. Does your state, county or city have a bike law? If you don't know, find out at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. For more information about bicycle helmet safety, see the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

Reference and other information:

  1. Kanny, D., Schieber, R.A., Pryor, V. and Kresnow, M. Effectiveness of a state law mandating use of bicycle helmets among children: an observational evaluation. American Journal of Epidemiology, 154:1072-1076, 2001.
  2. Puzzling Increase in Head Injuries - Neuroscience for Kids
  3. No Helmet, No Bike - Neuroscience for Kids

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