Frequently asked Questions
For Policy Makers
Helmet laws lead to less cycling, say economists
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Do helmet laws make kids fatter?
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California introduced a statewide helmet law for children and youths under 18 years old from 1st January 1994. There had been a helmet law since 1987 for cycle passengers aged under 5 years.
There is no statewide helmet use data.
Helmet use by cyclists under 18 in San Diego increased and then fell again as follows (Ming, Gilchick and Bender, 2006):
The subsequent fall in helmet use may be because enforcement of the law was lax.
During 1994 only warnings were given to cyclists not wearing a helmet. From 1st January 1995, offenders or their parents have been liable to a fine of USD 25 upon citation. However, the fine can be waived for a first offence.
A statewide study (Lee, Schofer and Koppelman, 2005) suggested a decreased risk of head injury for some groups of youth cyclists but not for others. However, with no information on exposure or helmet use, this study is weak and contradictory.
A study based in San Diego (Ming, Gilchick and Bender, 2006) found no significant reduction of serious head injury rates as a result of the legislation. Indeed, the percentage of cyclists with serious head injuries rose from 27.2% in the pre-law period to 28.2% post-law, despite an increase in percent helmet wearing, and the highest increase in serious head injuries (from 59 to 71 per annum) coincided with the fastest growth in helmet wearing (1992-93).
Hospital data for non-head injuries suggest that across California youth cycling declined by around 14% as a result of the law (Lee, Schofer and Koppelman, 2005).
Lee, Schofer and Koppelman, 2005
Lee BH, Schofer JL, Koppelman FS, 2005. Bicycle safety helmet legislation and bicycle-related non-fatal injuries in California. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2005;37:93-102.
Ming, Gilchick and Bender, 2006
Ming J, Gilchick RA, Bender SJ, 2006. Trends in helmet use and head injuries in San Diego County: The effect of bicycle helmet legislation. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2006;38(1):128-134.