Bicycle Helmet Laws
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. Cyclists are subject to state laws, 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), hundreds of cyclists die yearly in bicycle crashes. Bicycle trips account for 1% of all trips made in the U.S. annually and nearly 2% of all traffic fatalities.
Bicyclists appear to be over-represented in crash and fatality statistics. So, bicycling may be considered a more dangerous method of transportation than driving a motor vehicle. But, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center notes that there's currently no reliable source of bicycle accident exposure data. The significant health benefits of bicycle riding may offset the risks.
The NHTSA stresses that everyone should wear a bike helmet to prevent traumatic brain injuries in a bicycle crash. Cyclists are particularly susceptible to fatal head injuries during an accident. Cyclists who receive a head injury while riding without a helmet are three times more likely to die than those 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 that helmets are:
- Not socially acceptable
- Unnecessary because they are skilled riders
Bicycle Helmet Laws
To find the applicable bicycle laws, you should check with your state and the city where you plan to ride. Any helmet requirements are found within the jurisdiction's regulations. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have statewide bicycle helmet laws. These laws typically mandate that riders under age 18 (or 16 in some states) wear helmets when riding bikes.
For example, California requires helmet use for minors. The bike helmet laws in West Virginia specifically address riders under age 15. Chicago is a popular biking destination. It provides an excellent public biking program, yet there is no helmet rule. New York City requires helmets for working cyclists and children 13 years or younger.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) keeps a record of which cities have enacted bicycle safety ordinances. Check with the BHSI and your state and city websites for the latest updates on bicycle helmet laws.
Purchasing a Helmet
Before purchasing a bicycle helmet, do some research. For example, Consumer Reports publishes a helpful bike helmet-buying guide. 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
- If folding helmets meet U.S. safety standards
Understanding Public Property and Bike Lanes
Public property refers to spaces such as roads, sidewalks, and parks owned and maintained by the government for public use. Many cities have designated specific sections of the public property for bike riders, known as bike lanes.
Bike lanes are dedicated paths for cyclists, typically marked by painted lines, symbols, and signs. They offer a safer space for cyclists, separate from motor vehicle traffic. However, the placement and quality of bike lanes can vary greatly. Some are well-maintained and clearly marked, while others are more neglected or sporadic.
Right of Way: Cyclists vs. Motorists
The "right of way" concept is fundamental to maintaining order on the roads and preventing accidents. In most jurisdictions, the laws outline who has the right to proceed first in different scenarios: motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians.
Cyclists, like motor vehicle drivers, are required to follow these right-of-way laws. For instance, at an intersection with stop signs, the first vehicle (including bicycles) to arrive generally has the right to proceed. In cases where cyclists and motorists arrive at the same time, the vehicle on the right usually has the right of way.
However, these laws can vary from place to place and often depend on the situation. For instance, in some regions, cyclists in bike lanes have the right of way over cars turning across the bike lanes. Being familiar with your local traffic laws is crucial for all road users.
Safety Tips for Bike Riders
Despite bike lanes and right-of-way rules, cycling can still present safety challenges. Here are some tips to help keep cyclists safe:
- Visibility: Make sure you're easily seen, especially in low-light conditions. This means wearing reflective clothing and using lights or reflectors on the front and rear of your bike.
- Anticipation: Always stay alert and anticipate potential hazards. Watch for opening car doors, pedestrians stepping into the bike lane, and cars turning across your path.
- Helmet Use: Wearing a helmet can drastically reduce the risk of serious head injuries. Ensure your helmet is appropriately sized and correctly fastened.
- Signal Intentions: Always use hand signals to let others know when you plan to turn or stop.
- Follow Traffic Rules: Obey all traffic signals and stop signs, and ensure you understand local right-of-way rules.
Role of Insurance Companies in Cycling Accidents
In the aftermath of cycling accidents, insurance companies play a significant role. The affected parties may look to them for:
- Coverage of medical expenses
- Bike repair or replacement
- Compensation for pain and suffering
For motorists, their auto insurance company may handle claims involving cyclists. For cyclists, their home or renter's insurance may cover a stolen or damaged bike, but it's less likely to cover medical costs from injuries.
If the cyclist carries a specific cyclist insurance or a personal liability umbrella policy, these could potentially cover both property damage and personal injuries. It's important to understand the terms of these policies thoroughly. They may not always cover all the damages, especially in a hit-and-run scenario or if the driver is uninsured or underinsured.
If You've Been Injured in a Bike Accident, Speak to a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you've been injured while riding a bicycle — whether you were wearing a helmet or not — you should immediately seek medical attention. After the initial shock wears off, you'll likely be stuck with medical bills, lost wages, and other unanticipated personal injury expenses.
If you've been injured in a biking-related accident, have your personal injury case reviewed by a bicycle accident lawyer in your area. A lawyer can help you learn more about your legal options going forward. A personal injury attorney can also help you file a personal injury claim for any severe injuries you have suffered.
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.