To Wear Or Not To Wear A Bike Helmet?

You’d think it was a no-brainer, but the compulsory bike helmet use debate still rages.

The statistics speak for themselves.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there were almost 467,000 injuries and over 1,000 bike-related deaths in 2015 alone.

Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that over 51 percent of fatalities occurred in cases where the biker didn’t wear headgear. You may wonder how many states require bicyclists of all ages to wear a helmet?

US Helmet Laws

There is no federal law that mandates or rejects the use of bike helmets.

Instead, the states and sometimes the local communities jump into this fray with their regulations. But even that question doesn’t have a cut-and-dry answer.

State and Local Actions

Helmet on a boy

Bicycle helmet laws by state share one thing in common: none require adults to wear one.

The regulations that do exist involve children. However, there isn’t consensus with this point either.

In Louisiana, for example, the law applies to individuals age 11 or younger. On the other end of the spectrum, states like Florida set the bar at 15. Others like California take it even further to 17.

The breakdown by age is as follows:

11 and Younger

  • ​Louisiana
  • ​Pennsylvania

13 and Younger

  • ​New York
  • ​14 and Younger
  • ​West Virginia

15 and Younger

  • ​Alabama
  • ​Connecticut
  • ​District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee

​​​​​​​​​​​​16 and Younger

  • ​Massachusetts
  • ​New Jersey

​​17 and Younger

  • ​California
  • ​Delaware
  • ​New Mexico

​​It strikes us as curious why the disparity in age exists among the states.

And where is age 12 in this debate? If there’s one thing you can say about US bike laws is that they are confusing, at best.

On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that some municipalities require helmet use for riders of all ages. Examples include Chicago (messengers), Greenburgh, N.Y., and Oklahoma City, Okla. When in doubt, check before hitting the road.

Other Regulations

To make it more difficult, some have additional provisions.

In Massachusetts, it’s illegal for an adolescent 16 or younger to ride with a child under age 1. In New York, it’s 13. We’re left to wonder the basis of the debate is.

Why the Debate?

Sweaty man Helmet

You may expect bicycling organizations to support these laws, especially when it comes to kids. It involves two disparate issues, namely, comfort and scientific evidence.

There’s no denying that wearing one gets hot on a summer day.

It interferes with your enjoyment and presents its own hazards with sweat dripping into your eyes.

The second one is tricky.

Often, it’s the basis for state and local laws. The evidence is split with some studies suggesting a reduced risk of injury and others not finding compelling data.

A further concern exists with its impact on individuals who bike. Opponents say that compulsory bike helmet laws will deter individuals from taking up the sport. Again, the figures are mixed on this score.

For our part, we put it down to a simple question. If there’s even a chance that it’ll prevent a serious head injury, why risk it by not wearing one?

You only stand to benefit.

About the Author Max Shumpert

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

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