As you peddle around on your bike, you may notice a glaring inconsistency among cyclists. While some would never dream of hopping onto their bikes without a helmet, others seem unphased as they cycle by with the wind in their hair. In many places, it looks like a matter of personal choice, but what does the law say about wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle, and is it illegal to ride without one?
There is no federal law that makes riding a bike without a helmet illegal. However, 22 states and the District of Columbia have state laws to make wearing helmets mandatory, but these regulations only apply to children. Some cities and municipalities have instituted all-age helmet regulations.
If you love the feeling of the wind in your hair while you are riding your bicycle, you may be wondering if what you are doing is illegal. Let’s check out the laws and whether wearing a helmet is mandatory in your region.
Is It Illegal To Ride A Bicycle With No Helmet?
While no federal law prohibits you from riding your bike without a helmet, 22 States and the District of Columbia have introduced state-wide laws in this regard. The states that do have helmet rules are specifically aimed at cyclists under the age of 18.
It is estimated that less than 15% of the US population is covered by helmet laws since states that have such laws have restricted them to children. However, cyclists need to know the specific helmet laws in their area because there are more than 200 municipalities with local ordinances that require wearing bicycle helmets regardless of age.
The patchy bicycle helmet laws across the country can be confusing. What is required in one area, or in some cases some occupations, may not apply in another. An excellent example is that working cyclists in New York are required to wear helmets and children aged 13 or younger, but helmets are only recommended for everyone else.
To understand the specific laws applicable in your state, you can check out this list of Bicycle Helmet Laws. This handy resource lists all the state and regional rules regarding wearing bicycle helmets.
Take note that there are some states where it is only mandatory to wear a bicycle helmet if you are under a specific age. There may be specific local areas within the state where an all-age helmet rule applies.
There are only 13 states that have no bicycle helmet-wearing laws at all at any level. They are:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- South Carolina
What Happens Legally If I Don’t Wear A Bike Helmet?
A bicycle helmet is a simple way to avoid severe head injury if you have an accident. However, some people prefer not to wear a helmet and cite reasons like helmets being uncomfortable, unfashionable, ruining their hairstyles, or causing them to engage in riskier riding than when they are without.
There are no federal laws that require bike riders to wear helmets, but there are plenty of states and several local municipalities that do have laws that mandate the wearing of helmets. If you do not adhere to the helmet laws in your area, you may be lucky and only receive a warning, or you could get a fine.
Most states with helmet laws limit them to minors below a specific age. If someone under age is found to be in violation of the local bicycle helmet regulations, it will be the responsibility of their parent or guardian to pay the fine.
A far more serious problem may arise if a cyclist is not wearing a helmet and is involved in an accident. If the helmet law in the area was not adhered to, it could reduce the cyclist’s ability to recover damages from the other party.
Who Needs To Wear A Bike Helmet?
All cyclists should wear a bicycle helmet regardless of age, experience, or location. Even if you are out in the countryside with minimal traffic, any crash while riding a bicycle can result in serious head injuries, and wearing a helmet can save your life.
Bicycle helmets are not required by federal law, but plenty of local areas have mandated the use of helmets, especially for children. Even if you live in one of the states with no laws requiring you to wear a bicycle helmet, everyone who rides a bike should wear a helmet.
Why Should You Wear A Bicycle Helmet?
Most of us don’t regard a bicycle helmet as the most attractive headgear, and their unflattering design has emerged as a reason many casual bikers opt not to wear one. In fact, in places where bicycle helmets are mandatory, some people simply refuse to ride bicycles at all.
Most of us know that the reason everyone should wear a bicycle helmet has nothing to do with fashion. A bike helmet, like a football helmet or a horse riding helmet, protects your brain from injury in case of a collision. However, it goes far deeper than that.
Let’s look at some reasons why wearing a bicycle helmet is essential:
- It shields your brain – There is plenty of evidence and testimonies from cyclists who have been involved in serious accidents that wearing a helmet can protect you from brain injuries or death. A study by The American Journal of Surgery showed that cyclists wearing helmets had a 51% reduction in the odds of traumatic brain injury and 44% reduced odds of mortality than those without helmets.
- A bicycle helmet protects your face – Helmet wearers show a significantly lower rate of facial fractures following collisions compared to non-helmet wearers.
- Wearing a bicycle helmet normalizes the practice – Kids, in particular, watch and learn from adult role models. Putting on a bike helmet each time you get on a bike helmet makes the practice routine. In the same way, you teach kids always to wear their seatbelt in the car and also wear one yourself, making wearing a bike helmet a habit.
- They make you more visible – Bicycle helmets are available in plenty of colors and can even have built-in reflectors or headlamps. This is important, especially if you cycle in traffic.
- Helmets protect you from weather – Although a bicycle helmet may never replace a fashionable beach sun hat, these practical safety devices provide some protection from UV rays and a layer of warmth when it is cold. For people with long hair, wearing a helmet has the added benefit of preventing their hair from blowing into their faces and obscuring their view.
- Wearing a helmet may prevent you from getting a fine – Cyclists must follow the laws of their state or local area. Failure to comply with local or state helmet laws can impose a fine.
- You have a better chance of recovering damages– No one chooses to be involved in an accident, but if it does happen, it may be easier to lodge a claim and be successful if all safety precautions are meticulously followed.
Should Riding A Bike Without A Helmet Be Illegal?
Oddly enough, whether or not wearing bicycle helmets should be mandatory is a hot topic of debate in the cycling world. There are some persuasive arguments both for and against the case.
Proponents are adamant that bicycle helmets save lives and can prevent serious brain injuries. On the other hand, the anti-helmet group has proof that in some areas, mandatory helmet laws have reduced the number of cyclists, and helmets might be a deterrent to the sport.
Statistics indicate that wearing a bicycle helmet significantly reduces the chance of sustaining a head injury in the event of an accident. There is also a higher chance of surviving a crash if you were wearing a helmet. It is estimated that 75% of bicycle-related fatalities among children could be prevented if they all wore helmets.
So with all that data showing that bicycle helmets save lives and make the sport safer, why would anyone be against mandatory helmet laws? It turns out that forcing people to wear a helmet while cycling makes them less likely to get on a bike in the first place.
Those in the anti-mandatory bicycle helmet lobby argue that getting more bikes on the road is the only way to make cycling safer. The Citi Bike program in NYC is a success story in safety and does not require riders to wear helmets. In contrast, a similar program tried in Brisbane, Australia, that required users to wear helmets did not take off. The mandatory helmet requirement was found to have been a major barrier to the program’s success.
Some regular cyclists have also indicated that wearing a helmet makes them ride more boldly and take more chances than when they are unhelmeted. So in effect, wearing a helmet gives them a false sense of security and less in tune with traffic conditions around them.
Why Are Bicycle Helmets So Ugly?
Most people agree that it is hard to look gorgeous in a bicycle helmet. Some designs tend to make you look like an alien rather than a cute, super-fit champion of the road.
Bicycle helmets are designed with a worst-case scenario in mind. They are made to excel in one particular factor – spreading force. An impact to any specific part of the helmet spreads the force and cushions the blow. The result is that your skull is less likely to fracture, resulting in a lower chance of TBI or death.
Helmet designs make more sense when you think of them as cushions for your skull. If you are in an accident, the light, impact absorbing Polystyrene (EPS) foam inside the outer shell is likely to break apart, and you will need a new helmet, but rather that than your skull!
Fortunately, not all bicycle helmets are as unattractive as they once were, and new styles have emerged that are not only functional but can also look really cool – some are even cute! There is no longer any need to sigh as you strap on a tired old bicycle helmet for your daily commute or weekend exercise.
Are There Cute Bicycle Helmets?
Old-fashioned, alien-looking bicycle helmets that give you helmet hair can be a thing of the distant past. Cyclists now have the option of matching up their helmets with their bikes or choosing a trendy design that can suit them.
Check out some of these cute women’s bike helmets that offer safety and great style:
Nutcase Street MIPS Helmet – There is nothing tired or dull about this cute flower design helmet.
Thousand Premium Bike Helmet – Stand out among commuters in this metallic helmet that is designed to look more like a classic equestrian helmet than a standard piece of cycling safety equipment. Best of all, it can be attached securely to your bike, so you don’t have to lug your bike helmet around with you.
Heritage Bike & Skate Helmet – Go retro with a classic design with modern safety features that will look cute and protect your head.
Tokyo Black Rain Bike Helmet – This is a perfect choice if you want a bike helmet that doesn’t look like a helmet! This delightful item was listed by Vogue, so you know it’s trendy! It has all the safety elements of a bike helmet but has been cleverly disguised as a cute black hat. Even better, it is water resistant, so your head will stay dry if you get caught in the rain.
It is always advisable to wear a bicycle helmet every time you are cycling, even if it is not a legal requirement in your region. Although some places in the United States do not have any mandatory laws about wearing bicycle helmets, others do. Cyclists must familiarize themselves with the law in each specific area.