Section VI. Analysis Conclusion

In general, bicycle helmet use laws can be effective in increasing bicycle helmet use and decreasing injuries. The effectiveness of these laws can be difficult to define and measure.

Enactment of bicycle helmet use laws is subject to the political considerations common in the legislative process (e.g., role of committee assignments, political leadership) encountered in efforts to adopt other traffic safety countermeasures. However, enacting and implementing bicycle helmet use laws differ in some key aspects. Debates will emerge focusing on protecting children, bike helmet access for low-income residents, infringing on individual rights, and other issues. Proponents must be prepared for these differences, as well as for issues that may be specific to a community.

Though the experience of every jurisdiction varied, and recommendations were sometimes contradictory (e.g., “impose a fine,” “repeal the fine,” “lower the ages covered,” “make it all-rider”), several themes emerged in this review:

  • The major stakeholders in enacting a law are usually emergency medicine professionals, pediatricians, and a coalition (focused on children’s safety, injury prevention, or bicycling and bicycle safety); the bicycling community, also a major stakeholder, has been divided at times on this issue; and law enforcement, though usually not deeply involved, may have a “make-or-break” role;

  • Typically, few citations are issued under these laws and they are not a priority for enforcement agencies;

  • Even though the laws may be little enforced, they are seen as valuable leverage (especially for parents) for increasing bicycle helmet use;

  • The evolving role of bicycling and the bicycling community in the changing transportation mix will influence the strategies, issues and constituents involved in future bicycle safety efforts (for example, the issue of a bicycle helmet use law’s impact on ridership), so bicycle helmet proponents should consider these concerns; and

  • Bicycle helmet use laws are unlikely to be evaluated without outside financial support.

A piece of advice from John Overstreet, a long-time volunteer proponent and teacher of bicycle safety in Maryland, on promoting bicycle helmets and bike safety: “Nobody can do it by themselves; just keep trying.”

Some of the more creative ideas encountered in these communities include:

Crossing Guards as a Resource: In Jacksonville, FL, elementary school crossing guards were trained to recognize correct and incorrect bicycle helmet fit. On designated days, the crossing guards would distribute two types of bookmarks. One bookmark congratulated a bike-riding student for wearing a bicycle helmet and the bookmark was a ticket for a prize drawing. The other bookmark encouraged a bike-riding student who was not wearing a bicycle helmet to go to the physical education teacher to get a session on bike helmet safety. The bookmarks given to these students were a different color. After a student had participated in the bicycle helmet safety session, s/he could then submit the bookmark for a prize drawing.

Engaging Law Enforcement: The state of Oregon produced a training video where line officers would hear “from the top down” that enforcing the law was important and would learn about head and brain injury. In the video, “Putting Safety on Top,” the Governor (on a bike and wearing a bicycle helmet) and his wife, the honorary chair of the SAFE KIDS coalition, spoke about head injury and bicycle helmet use. The state’s top law enforcement officials were also interviewed. The experiences of two bicycle crash survivors were contrasted. One was a 17-year-old who had been in a bike crash, with no helmet, at age 12 and had suffered a brain injury. He and his grandmother talked about what it is like to live with a brain injury. The other survivor, the son of a patrolman, had been in a crash under identical circumstances but had been wearing a bicycle helmet. He walked away from the crash.

Officers receive continuing education credit for watching the video. The video, described as “powerful” and “emotional,” was well received and is still being used.

Peer Courts: In some jurisdictions, bicycle helmet use law supporters complained about disinterest in the courts or lack of consistency in adjudicating these offenses. One unconventional approach to enforcement is reportedly successful in Oregon. Jurisdictions with Peer Courts are reported to have “real” enforcement. The students on those courts are willing to cite and give community service to fellow students found to be in violation of the law.