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Do You (Really) Need a Helmet While Riding a Bike?

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Bicycle helmets minimize the risk of catastrophic brain injuries in high-impact collisions, but more than half of all Americans who ride a bike, skateboard, or scooter do not wear one. If you’re a seasoned biker, you’ll know that many riders choose not to wear a helmet. It’s one of those age-old controversies that is unlikely to end anytime soon — if ever — as long as bicycles are on the road. In fact, we investigated whether or not you should wear a bike helmet, as well as the potential trade-offs.

Yes, there are laws requiring the usage of a helmet. But, technically, what are the laws? It turns out that it’s not as simple as you may think. Because there is no one-size-fits-all federal bike helmet rule, they are frequently set at the state or local level. Whether you’re a long-time resident of your particular city starting into riding for the first time or a transplant who recently relocated to a new city, it’s critical to become acquainted with your local bicycle helmet rules so you don’t get caught without the correct headgear. A disagreement like this could end up costing you money in the form of fines.

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The following is a brief reference guide to assist you and your family ride safely (and legally).

STATE BIKE HELMET LAWS

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Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, V
Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming are among the thirteen states that do not mandate riders to wear helmets.
State and local laws differ significantly depending on where you live and your age.
Most bike helmet restrictions apply to riders who are 18 or younger.
STATE LAWS REQUIRING RIDERS TO WEAR BIKE HELMETS

A few states have enacted statewide legislation requiring the use of a helmet when riding a bicycle or mountain bike, as well as when cycling and skating. These regulations frequently target children and hold parents or guardians responsible for their children’s safety. However, there are nearly no statewide rules that require adults to wear helmets. Here’s a breakdown of the population by age and state.

Bike riders under the age of 16 are not permitted in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, or Tennessee.
Passengers aged 5 and under; bike riders aged 18 and under; scooter, skateboard, and in-line skate riders aged 18 and under
Connecticut: Bicyclists under the age of 16; e-bikers of all ages
Bike riders under the age of 18 are prohibited in Delaware and New Mexico.
Bike riders under the age of 12 are prohibited in Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
Passengers aged 5 and under, as well as bike riders aged 17 and under, are exempt in Massachusetts.
Bicyclists under the age of 17 in New Jersey
Passengers aged 5 and under, as well as bike riders aged 14 and under, are exempt in New York.
West Virginia: Bicyclists under the age of 15
As you can see above, a certain states have tighter helmet laws than others. The majority of these regulations apply to minors aged 18 and younger. Unsurprisingly, the National Bureau of Economic Research discovered that juvenile bike helmet rules reduced youth bike-related mortality by roughly 19% over the last couple of decades. Youth helmet use increased by 20-34 percent throughout this time span. The consequence was that bike riding among young people fell by 4-5 percent.

There is a gold bike helmet, a blue bike helmet, and a black bike helmet.
California (home of the Thousand Helmets) set the legal drinking age at 18 years old. Anyone under the age of 18, regardless of religious belief or practice, is required by law to wear a helmet. It’s vital to understand that the youth helmet rule applies to anyone who rides a bicycle on a street, bikeway, sidewalk, or public bike path. It is legally permissible for a young person to ride a bike without a helmet on private land (except sidewalks).

Keep in mind that failing to wear a helmet when required in California results in a $25 punishment. A parent, guardian, or the youth riding without a helmet must pay. Interestingly, instead of paying, California allows riders to utilize the citation as a “fix-it” ticket. Simply put, show law authorities that you have an approved helmet and have finished a bike safety course to have the penalty removed.

Oregon, our northern neighbor, does not have an adult bike helmet law, as do the majority of other states. For those aged 16 and under, the helmet rule applies to any area meant for motorized vehicle traffic or public spaces (think mountain bike trails). Failure due to failure to wear a helmet? It’s a fine of $25. In contrast to California, a person 16 or younger is lawfully permitted to ride without a helmet if it violates a religious belief or practice.

In New Mexico, where cities like as Albuquerque have been ranked highly on bike-friendly city rankings, the rule is for adolescents and teens under the age of 18. New Mexico is the only state that mandates kids to wear a helmet while riding off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, and ATVs. This law also applies to e-scooters for anyone aged 18 and under. What is the penalty for breaking the law? Fines and traffic tickets are likely.

On the East Coast, New York City adopted the state of New York’s bicycle helmet law for minors. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) hosts annual events where it fits and gives away official New York City bike helmets free of charge to children in order to increase the number of safe riders on the road. Working cyclists of all ages, according to the NYC DOT, must wear a helmet. Consider bike messengers and those who deliver food on bikes.

This year, there has been considerable discussion about making bike helmets mandatory for all bike-share users in New York City. It has sparked great debate, with opponents of the rule arguing for improved protected bike-lane infrastructure instead.

Whether or not there are statewide helmet laws, several communities compel cyclists of all ages to wear a helmet when riding. The cities are as follows:
Alabama’s Montevallo and Homewood
California’s Chico (Bidwell Park)
Illinois’s city of Chicago (messengers only)
Kentucky’s Louisville (Extreme Park)
Maryland’s Sykesville
Kensington, Michigan (USA) (Metropark)
Mississippi cities of Jackson and Starkville
Parks in Erie County, Greenburgh, and Rockland County, New York
North Carolina’s Black Mountain and Boone
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Interestingly, while neither Washington nor Missouri have enacted statewide bicycle helmet requirements, many of their communities do, regardless of age. The complete list may be seen here. To eliminate misunderstanding, one may argue for a statewide helmet law at that moment. Consider riding from one city with different helmet legislation to another and being pulled over without the necessary safety equipment.

STATES THAT DO NOT REQUIRE RIDERS TO WEAR BIKE HELMETS

There are 13 states that do not have bike helmet laws.

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Arkansas
Colorado
Idaho
Indiana
Iowa
Minnesota
Nebraska
North Dakota (ND)
South Dakota (SD)
South Carolina (SC)
Utah
Vermont
Wyoming
If we dig a bit deeper, it’s possible that this is due to obligatory helmet rules, which have been shown to diminish ridership. Many supporters and ardent cyclists believe that increasing the number of riders on the road will make the roads safer. Drivers of motor cars become more aware of bicycles as a result, and are thus better prepared to share the road with their two-wheeled counterparts. However, if you reside in one of these states or are enthusiastic about bicycle advocacy, consider becoming a voice to help defend the 57 million bikers in the United States.
We understand that wearing a bike helmet is a personal choice. A well-fitting helmet is your first line of defense if you care about your safety and want to protect yourself from life-threatening harm. This applies to daily bike commuters, weekend warrior mountain bike trail riders, and even those who enjoy a few joy rides around the block every now and again. We recommend you to protect your head, no matter where you lie on the spectrum or what your local helmet laws are.’ After all, you only get one of them.

Author avatar - Bradley Knight

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