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NTSB recommends states require helmet use for all cyclists

Published November 5, 2019
Following the release of a sobering bike fatality report, the federal board discussed countermeasures at a hearing Tuesday.

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday adopted an amendment recommending all 50 states pass laws requiring bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets.

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The recommendation was made after an NTSB panel discussed its study on U.S. bicycle safety. Recent traffic fatality statistics show that 857 bicyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles in 2018, a 6.3% increase over 2017, even though total road fatalities decreased by 2.4 percent in 2018.

The fatalities do not include solo bicycle crashes or incidents involving "dooring," when a parked motorist opens a vehicle door in front of a passing cyclist.

Currently about 22 states have helmets laws, but all require helmets only for children under a certain age, ranging from 12 to 18.

Investigators identified other countermeasures — which were discussed Tuesday and included road improvements and improved rider visibility with reflective clothing and lights — to reduce the number of collisions between bicyclists and motorists.

Board member Jennifer Homendy made the request for the helmet recommendation, and it was approved by Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt and Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.

"Our job is not to just prevent a crash; our job is to save lives," said Homendy, an avid cyclist. "And, obviously, we have recommendations on preventing a crash, and when we look at investigations, and when we consider recommendations as a result of those investigations, our work is being done to prevent crashes. But it's also our job to prevent injuries and save lives. And we have laid out in 16 pages of this report that that is exactly what helmets can do. And that's been known since the 1980s.

"And I think it would be an absolute shame and probably a shock to anyone looking at our fantastic report that after 16 pages, we don't in the end recommend the adoption of laws to require helmet use."

Ivan Cheung, board research manager, said a national survey reported 46% of cyclists never wore a helmet. According to helmet-use statistics among cyclists from 2010-'17, 79% of cyclists fatally injured were not wearing helmets; for those crashes involving motor vehicles, 63% weren't not wearing a helmet. Also noted in the report were a "particularly low usage among young bicyclists."

Cheung said research showed that helmet laws are effective in increasing helmet use, from 10% to as high as 84%.

Landsberg said he expects the board's recommendation to be criticized by groups "passionate about, you know, 'I'll be responsible for what I do.'"

More information: NHTSA October report.

The board's safety report will be available in several weeks. The opening and closing statements, investigators' presentations and a synopsis of the report, including the full text of the findings and safety recommendations, are available at go.usa.gov/xpTps.

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

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