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Strengthen Helmet Laws

Helmet laws address safety helmet use by motorcycle, low-power cycle (moped, scooter, motorized cycle), or bicycle riders. As of June 2015, all but three states have motorcycle helmet laws in place (GHSA, Helmet Laws, 2015). However, a majority of states only require use of a helmet up to a certain age, varying from age 17 to 20 years, or have provisions that uninsured riders must wear a helmet regardless of age. Fewer than 20 states have universal helmet laws in place that require anyone operating or riding a motorcycle to wear a helmet. This number decreased after 1976, when states were no longer required to enact such laws to receive federal highway safety funds. Research shows that universal helmet laws result in increased helmet use and decreased motorcycle fatalities and serious injuries. Partial helmet laws have not been shown to encourage riders to wear helmets, even among young riders to whom the laws apply. Nearly half of all states also have low-power cycle helmet laws in place that cover mopeds, powered scooters, and other motor-powered cycles that are not considered motorcycles.

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities

How has this worked in practice?

Ride Smart Florida

Florida’s Ride Smart is a multi-issue safety campaign. The campaign includes activities designed to increase motorist awareness of motorcycles, decrease impaired riding, increase helmet and protective equipment use, increase proper licensure, and promote rider education and awareness. The campaign uses public service announcements, outdoor advertising, and promotional materials about helmets and protective equipment. Materials are distributed at motorcycle rallies, community events, and conventions. All of the outreach materials are produced in English and Spanish. The Florida Department of Transportation's Motorcycle Safety Program and program partners developed the Ride Smart website to make it easier for anyone interested in promoting motorcycle safety to find the information and resources they need. The Roadway Safety Foundation and FHWA in 2011 recognized the program’s video, “Making Roadways Safer for Motorcycles.”

Ohio’s statewide campaign for children’s bicycle helmet use: Put a Lid on It!

Evidence shows that bicycle helmet laws increase helmet use and reduce head injuries. Likewise, helmet laws requiring children to wear helmets appear to reduce bicycling-related fatalities. In an effort to promote bicycling safety for children, the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (Ohio AAP) developed in recent years a Put a Lid on It! Bike Helmet Safety Awareness campaign, which included a Bike Helmet Safety Awareness Week. The statewide campaign goal focuses on encouraging adults and children to wear helmets. During the Awareness Week, Ohio AAP hosts activities for children of all ages, including helmet safety lessons and giveaways, and bike-to-school days. Partners for the event have included pediatricians, children’s hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and schools. The Ohio AAP estimates that a $10 bicycle helmet saves the health care system $41 per child.

Where can I learn more?

GHSA - Helmet Laws provides an overview of motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws, information on laws in place by state, policy recommendations, and links to data and reports.

CDC Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety - Motorcycle Safety Guide includes information on universal and partial motorcycle helmet laws, how helmets reduce the risk of severe brain injury, and relevant data, resources, and links.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety - Highway Loss Data Institute - Motorcycle helmet use provides more detailed information on motorcycle helmet laws, including a history of changes in laws by state.

The NHTSA Bicycles and NHTSA Motorcycles websites provide safety program information, including research, educational, and enforcement resources.

Evidence base

Brooks E, Naud S, Shapiro S. Are youth-only motorcycle helmet laws better than none at all? American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 2010;31(2):125–129.

Byrnes M, Gerberich S. Motorcycle helmet use and legislation: A systematic review of the literature. Minnesota Medicine 2012;95(1):60–5.

Carpenter CS, Stehr M, Journal S, May N. Intended and unintended consequences of youth bicycle helmet laws. Journal of Law and Economics 2011;54(2):305–24.

Community Preventative Services Task Force. The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide): Motorcycle Helmet Laws website; 2015.

Dellinger AM, Kresno M. Bicycle helmet use among children in the United States: The effects of legislation, personal and household factors. Journal of Safety Research 2010;41(4):375–80.

Goodwin A, Sandt B, Hall W, Thomas L, O’Brien N, Summerlin D. Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for state highway safety offices, 7th edition. Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT; 2013.

Hooshmand J, Hotz G, Neilson V, Chandler L. BikeSafe: Evaluating a bicycle safety program for middle school aged children. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2014;66:182–6.

Karkhaneh M, Kalenga J, Hagel B, Rowe B. Effectiveness of bicycle helmet legislation to increase helmet use: A systematic review. Injury Prevention 2006;12(2):76–82.

Markowitz S, Chatterji P. Effects of bicycle helmet laws on children’s injuries. Health Economics; 2013;24:26–40.

Mehan TJ, Gardner R, Smith GA, McKenzie LB. Bicycle-related injuries among children and adolescents in the United States. Clinical Pediatrics 2009;48(2):166–173.

Mertz KJ, Weiss HB. Changes in motorcycle-related head injury deaths, hospitalizations, and hospital charges following repeal of Pennsylvania’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law. American Journal of Public Health 2008;98(8):1464-1467.

Naumann RB, Dellinger AM, Zaloshnja E, Lawrence BA, Miller TR. Incidence and total lifetime costs of motor vehicle-related fatal and nonfatal injury by road user type. Traffic Injury Prevention 2010;11(4):353–360.

Last updated: Monday, August 24, 2015