Bicycle Helmet Laws
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Stephen Smith, Esq. | Last reviewed December 16, 2021
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If you ride a bicycle, you need to know the applicable safety and traffic laws. Helmet regulations are among the most common bicycle safety laws. There are no federal traffic or helmet laws applicable to bicyclists, but cyclists are subject to state statutes, local ordinances, and the same traffic laws as motorists. Read on to learn more about how bicycle helmet laws work.
Bicycle Safety and Helmets
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 850 cyclists died in bicycle crashes in 2019. Bicycle trips account for one percent of all trips made in the U.S. in a year, and nearly two percent of all traffic fatalities.
Because bicyclists appear to be over-represented in crash and fatality statistics, bicycling may be considered a more dangerous method of transportation than driving a motor vehicle. However, the Pedestrian Bicycle and Information Center cautions that there's currently no reliable source of bicyclist crash exposure data, and emphasizes that the significant health benefits of bicycle riding may offset the risks.
To prevent serious injury in a bicycle crash, the NHTSA stresses that everyone, regardless of age or cycling experience, should wear a bike helmet. Cyclists are particularly susceptible to fatal head injuries during a crash. Cyclists who receive a head injury while riding without wearing a helmet are three times more likely to die than those who are injured while wearing a helmet. Yet, fewer than half of bicycle riders wear helmets, and teens rarely do. Riders cite many reasons for not wearing helmets, including a belief the helmets are uncomfortable, are not socially acceptable, or are unnecessary because they are exceptionally skilled riders.
Bicycle Helmet Laws
To find the bicycle laws applicable to you, you should check with your state and the city in which you plan to ride. If there's a specific helmet requirement, you'll find it within the applicable state and city regulations. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have state bicycle helmet laws, typically mandating that riders under the ages of 18 (or 16 in some states) wear helmets when riding bikes.
For example, California requires helmets for riders 18 years and younger, while the laws in West Virginia specifically address riders under the age of 15. The city of Chicago is a popular biking destination and provides an excellent public biking program, yet there is no helmet requirement. Finally, the city of New York requires helmets for working cyclists and children 13 years or younger.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) keeps a record of which cities and municipalities have enacted bicycle safety ordinances. For the latest updates on bicycle helmet laws, check with the BHSI and your state and city websites.
Purchasing a Helmet
Before purchasing a bicycle helmet, you should do a little research. For example, Consumer Reports publishes a helpful bike helmet buying guide, and the BHSI covers more detailed information such as advice for adults with unusually-shaped heads, whether you should invest in an expensive helmet or if cheap ones are just as safe, and if folding helmets meet U.S. safety standards.
If You've Been Injured on a Bike, Get a Legal Case Review
If you've been injured while riding a bicycle — whether you were wearing a helmet at the time or not — you should immediately seek medical attention. After the initial shock wears off, however, you're likely going to be stuck with medical bills, lost wages, and other unanticipated expenses. If you've been injured in a biking-related accident, have your case reviewed by a legal expert in your area to learn more about your legal options going forward.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.