Bicycle helmets in the United States

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Map showing bicycle laws in the U.S. States in blue have statewide laws; states in red have local laws but no state-wide laws; other states have no laws.[1]

The requirement to wear bicycle helmets in the United States varies by jurisdiction and by age of the cyclist.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have statewide mandatory helmet laws for children.[2] Twenty-nine US states have no statewide law, and 13 of these states have no such laws in any lower-level jurisdiction either.[3]


States began to adopt laws on wearing helmets for bicycle riding in 1987.[4] There are a total of 22 state laws for bicycle helmets and 201 local laws.[5] The intent of a bicycle helmet is to prevent head injuries during bicycle accidents. Each year about 2 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths are bicyclists. In a majority of bicyclist deaths, the most serious injuries are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet.[6] Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent, and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent.[7]


A helmet law will reduce the fatalities of people in bicycle accidents by about 15 percent in the long run.[8] There is no evidence that shows these laws and statistics have a spillover effect for adults.[9] Just because more children will be wearing helmets does not mean more adults will wear them. Through 2000, existing helmet laws have saved 130 lives.[10]

They Are Working[edit]

The state of New York reported that since it had introduced its second helmet law in 1994 for riders under 14, the annual rate of cyclists hospitalized from bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries fell from 464 in 1990 to 209 in 1995.[11] California was the first state to require helmets for bicycle riders over 18. “Some bicyclists are hardheaded about mandatory-helmet law” by Steve Rubenstein In California, there is a bill requiring adult cyclists to wear helmets or pay a $25 fine.[12]

Helmet Recalls[edit]

By law, all helmets sold in the U.S. must meet standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).[13] There were two helmet recalls in the year 2000.[14] A helmet made by Rand International of Farmingdale, NY helmet was voluntarily recalled and involves 70,000 helmets known as "L.A. Cruisin' Bike Helmets" in child, youth and adult sizes.[15] The CPSC’s press release for the recall was, “These helmets fail impact testing and labeling required under CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets violating the Consumer Product Safety Act. Riders wearing these helmets are not properly protected from falls and could suffer severe head injuries…” [16] The other helmet was a girl's helmet with decals reading "Hearts and Flowers." It was voluntarily recalled by Cycle Express Inc., of New York, N.Y., who had sold about 9,000 of them. The CPSC released a similar press release statement, “These helmets fail impact testing and labeling required under CPSC’s Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets violating the Consumer Product Safety Act. Riders wearing these helmets are not adequately protected from falls and could suffer severe head injuries or death…” [17]


Some believe that helmets are not as protective as they claim to be. The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (BHRF) states that, “closer investigation has revealed serious flaws in the evidence most frequently cited in favour of helmet effectiveness.” [18] A majority of evidence in favor of bicycle helmets being effective have come from studies where a group of cyclists with head injuries is compared with one or more groups without (case control studies).[19] Some evidence suggests that increased use of helmets for cyclists have been sometimes associated with increase in number of head injuries.[20] BHRF has also stated, “Helmeted cyclists have been shown to be more likely to hit their heads if they crash and may be more likely to crash in the first place.” [21]

See also[edit]