More Than Half the Country Is Taking Crazy Chances On Their Bicycles

If you commute by bicycle daily, you’re well aware of the dangers of being on a bicycle sharing the road with bigger vehicles. Even if you ride only semi-regularly, you’ve probably had a close-call with a car – or maybe even just a slip-up on your bike. The IIHS says most bicyclist deaths occur because of a head injury, so it would make sense that people would want to wear helmets, and that states would enact laws to mandate this (like seatbelt laws). Right? Yet less than half of all states have bicycle helmet laws, and even states that do vary in how strict they are. 

A map showing which states have bicycle helmet laws.
Map of bicycle helmet laws | IIHS

Bicycling can be dangerous

Bicycling is a great way to get where you need to go, and an excellent form of exercise. It can be freeing to hop on a bike and go for a ride. Unfortunately, riding a bicycle can also be dangerous. And even though many things are dangerous to one extent or another, there is one very clear risk when riding a bike; a head injury. 

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has studied bicycle accidents and injuries, and they found that in 2019, 843 cyclists were killed in accidents with vehicles. Surprisingly, 90% of bicycle-related deaths happen to adults. Would bicycle helmet laws have reduced those deaths? The IIHS says yes.

Bicycle helmet laws save lives

In those 843 cyclist deaths, 62% of bicyclists were not wearing helmets. Another 23% of cyclist helmet status was unknown. This leaves 15% of cyclists to have been killed while definitely wearing a helmet. Clearly this percentage is much lower than the 62% known to not be wearing helmets. The IIHS says, “During the past few years, no more than 17 percent of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets.”

Additionally, wearing a helmet decreases the risk of a head injury by 50%. It also decreases the risk of a head, face or neck injury by 33%. These are all compelling reasons to wear a bicycle helmet. 

Helmet use rates are lower among bike share users than among riders of personally owned bicycles, even in cities requiring helmet use for all ages

States vary on who they require to wear helmets

The thing about bicycle helmet laws is that they work. Not only do they prevent death, they also prevent injuries. Plus, cyclists are four times more likely to wear a helmet when there’s a helmet law. Yet less than half of states have bicycle helmet laws. 

The IIHS says that, “Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have helmet use laws applying to young bicyclists. None of these laws apply to all riders. Local ordinances in a few states require some or all bicyclists to wear helmets.”

It’s clear that bicycle helmet laws save lives, so why don’t more states make them mandatory? Just like seat belt laws, bicycle helmet laws could reduce the number of people killed while riding a bicycle. Even if your state doesn’t have a bicycle helmet law, it’s a good idea to wear one – and so important for kids.

RELATED: How the IIHS Tries to Prevent the Deadliest Crashes