This is a US list. For countries outside the US please See below.
* Also covers one or more non-bicycle wheeled vehicles: in-line skates, roller skates, skateboarders, non-motorized scooters. There are other laws that cover them too, but we don't have the info on all of them yet. New Mexico was the first to include tricycle riders.
** Florida permitted counties to opt out. Three initially did so, but now have all rescinded their exceptions. Private property (a driveway, for example) was excluded but all roads and trails are covered.
*** Virginia's state enabling legislation permits localities to adopt laws covering only children under the age of 15. Although as shown by the blanks we do not have official confirmation in every case, all of the Virginia laws we have found specify "fourteen and younger." (shown as under 15 in our table)
That's a total of 22 State laws (including the District of Columbia as a "state") and at least 201 local laws. Only 13 states have no state or local helmet laws at all. (Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming)
These are bicycle helmet laws. As noted, we often do not have good info on what laws cover skaters, scooter users, Segways or other conveyances, although where known we have a * indicating that.
Here is the same list by date that the law became effective.
We update our page periodically by searching those local municipal and County codes that are available on the Web. You can do that for your community at Municode.com if your own code is posted. Washington State codes are found at Municipal Research Services Center of Washington. Aside from the published codes, our sources are community residents who email us to tell us about their law.
We also have another page with more info on mandatory helmet laws, including copies of some of them. And we have a page suggesting language on standards for anyone writing a new law. We recommend looking at the Hernando, MS, law passed in 2010 as one that covers all the bases and has up-to-date language on standards.
To search the Web for details on state and local laws, the definitive central resource page is the MassBike state laws page with pointers to the texts of the laws, resources, search engines and more. If they have changed the link again, use this Google search.
State and local helmet laws now apply in states that include more than half of the total population of the US, but actually a much smaller portion of the population is covered, less than 15 per cent, due to age limitations of the laws. Laws have been proposed and may be either defeated or in some stage of the legislative process in a number of other states.
If you need detail on the provisions of these proposed laws, including penalties, enforcement, associated educational campaigns, helmet banks or giveaway programs, treatment of contributory negligence (liability) provisions, or dates of enactment, Safe Kids USA has a status sheet on bicycle helmet laws available from Meg Farrage at 202-662-0616. We are indebted to Safe Kids for their help in keeping our list up to date, and to Ralph Wessels for information on the Washington State communities. Shirley Scatcherd provided the info on the St. Louis County local laws (35 of them!), and we have her original detailed compilation of them up. We also have an email with detail on the St Louis County Law including their unique street sign.
EvaluationsYou can access here a compendium of bicycle helmet safety program evaluations taken from the Centers for Disease Control's MMWR issue titled "Injury Control Recommendations: Bicycle Helmets" Please send us any other evaluations you may see in the future so we can add them to this page.
Here is a link to a formal study on the effect of bicycle helmet legislation on bicycling fatalities.
Consumer Product Safety Commission staffer Greg Rodgers has published a study concluding that the presence of a State law increases helmet use by 18.4 per cent.
New York State reported that since it introduced its first helmet law in 1989 for passengers under 5, and its second in 1994 for riders under 14, the annual rate of cyclists hospitalized from bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries fell for the under 14 group from 464 in 1990 to 209 in 1995. The rate for cyclists 14 and over for the same years declined less rapidly, from 454 to 382. There is no way to determine exactly what proportion of the improvement was due to helmet laws, since there is no data on improvements to bicycle facility safety, rider education or total miles ridden in those years, and helmet promotion campaigns by Safe Kids and others were active in the state. But it is likely that increased helmet use, prompted by passage of the first law in 1989 and the promotion campaigns in New York communities, played a role in the reduction of injuries.
New Jersey reported in July of 1997 that since it introduced a helmet law for kids under 14 the number of bicycle-related fatalities for that group fell by 60 per cent, from 41 in 1987-1991 to 16 in 1992-1997. For riders age 14 and over the figures were 75 and 71. The School Board of Sommers Point, NJ added a helmet rule and boosted helmet use by those who ride to school from 6 per cent up to more than 70 per cent. Their attorney thought that failure to require helmets could leave the School District liable in the event of an injury.
Duval County, Florida, reported an increase in helmet use by all ages from 19 per cent in 1996 to 47 per cent in 1997 after the Florida law was passed. Bicycle deaths fell from five to one, and injuries from 325 to 105. Results were even better in the age group covered by the law. Hillsborough County, Florida, also reports an increase in helmet use and a decline in injuries after passage of the same law.
A study done in North Carolina using actual field observation before (1999) and after (2002) their law covering kids under 16 passed showed a small increase in adult helmet use but no increase for kids covered by the law. Overall on-street NC helmet use went from 18% to 24%, with larger gains among mountain bikers. The study concluded that "statistical analyses indicate that the law failed to generate a differential increase in helmet use by children ages zero to 15 years, mandated to wear helmets, compared with those ages 16 and above and not covered by the law. Although the difference in helmet use between surveys (1999 pre-law and 2002 post-law) was significant, it is clear that the helmet requirement has had little effect on increasing helmet use by children thus far. As far as we know they have not updated the study since 2002.
A study published in Pediatrics in 2002 found that in Canada the bicycle-related head injury rate declined significantly (45% reduction) in provinces where legislation had been adopted compared with provinces and territories that did not adopt legislation (27% reduction). A 2010 Canadian study showed that bicycle usage remained constant after helmet laws were adopted in two provinces, and that helmet use was increased more by all-ages laws than those applying only to children.
A study of California statistics by Lee et al published in Accident Analysis & Prevention in 2005 shows that head injuries in the under-16 group covered by the law went down by 18.2 per cent in California after the state helmet law was passed. There was no change in adult head injury rates.
This statistical analysis on the University of California - Irvine Department of Education site concludes that passing a state-wide bicycle helmet law reduces cycling by those who are covered by the law by 4 to 5 per cent. We note a number of problems with the data they used, but are still concerned about the conclusion. No local bike counts have ever shown that result anywhere in the US.
NotesThe National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, a Gallup poll sponsored by the US Government, found that 90% of cyclists support helmet laws for children, while 62 percent support such laws for adults. (Here is an excerpt from the study with details.)
The Spokane law was passed by the City Council over the Mayor's veto. The Mayor wanted to delay, reduce coverage to those 16 and under, not cover skateboarders or inline skaters and coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions. The Council vote was 5-1 with one absent. Here is a columnist in the local newspaper who agreed with the action.
The Shaker Heights, Ohio, law covers adults but not kids under the age of 5 years. It does cover passengers on bicycles, however. The Austin, Texas, law was originally for all ages, but a grass-roots protest movement resulted in limiting it in October, 1997, to riders under 18. A similar change was made in Barrington, Illinois. Seymour, Connecticut, repealed its law. (The referendum also included an unpopular no-smoking law.) An attempt in 1999 to force a referendum on the Farmington Hills, Michigan, law for riders under 16 failed for lack of signatures. The Canadian province of British Columbia has made exceptions to their all-ages law for medical exemptions, those with heads larger than size 8 (manufacturers had not yet begun producing the extra extra large helmets available today) and those whose religion requires headgear making helmets impossible (primarily Sikhs).
The Dallas all-ages law has come under attack and in June 2009 it was ruled unconstitutional by a state district judge. The city is appealing that judgment and resumed enforcing the law in October of 2009 pending the appeal. This Dallas Morning News article has more details.
The City of Oakwood, Ohio, has taken an different route by adopting a resolution encouraging the use of helmets. It directs the Safety Department (Police) to develop educational programs for helmet safety. It also provides the authority for officers to "wave over" minor cyclists who are not using protective head gear. No fines or other deterrents are permissible as this is not an ordinance, but a "soft mandate."
King County, Washington, mounted a comprehensive safety program with many elements, including their all-ages helmet law. They brought their child deaths down by 62 percent over a nine year period.
Many bicycle clubs, the US racer's organizing body, USA Cycling and the Triathlon Federation require helmets in their events, although they may or may not support helmet laws. Touring organizations like Adventure Cycling usually require them for tour riders. U.S. military regulations require helmets on military facilities. The National Bicycle Dealers Association opposes mandatory helmet laws. Bicycle Retailer and Industry News has editorialized against them.
For some years the World Health Organization Helmet Initiative promoted helmet use for bicycles and motorcycles worldwide. It published a newsletter, Headlines, focused primarily on international helmet promotion and helmet laws. The December, 2004, issue of Headlines had articles on bicycle helmet laws in Sweden and as well as motorcycle helmet laws in Italy and two US states: Kentucky and Louisiana. A 2008 journal article concluded that motorcycle fatality rates are 22-33% lower in state with an all-ages motorcycle helmet law and 7-10% lower when the law covers only certain ages. The Initiative Web page is no longer being funded, however, and during 2010 the Web page may disappear.
In Australia, bicycle helmets are mandatory in all states and territories for all ages. Compliance is high but varies by area, with some cities over 90% and rural areas much lower. In the State of Victoria cyclists' head injuries declined 41%. There were 36% fewer child riders on the road, immediately after the legislation passed, but perhaps more adult riders. Changes in ridership may or may not have been related to the passage of the laws, and the road culture in Australia is unique to that country. (No similar effects have ever been documented in the US.) Injury reduction was below expectations, but still spectacular. Hospital data from Western Australia showed that the number of intracranial injuries was cut in half with increased helmet use, while head injuries were less serious, and hospital stays shorter. There is more analysis in ">this journal article and ">this followup article. In a survey done in 2011, those who do not ride a bike for transport cited road safety and traffic as their main concerns, with about 16% saying helmets deter them, ranking number 13 in the list. In 2011 a film maker in Brisbane produced this anti-helmet law video for an organization called helmetfreedom.org that hopes to repeal the Queensland law. In 2012 this study of long term bicycle related head injury trends for New South Wales found indicators that cycling has increased and head injuries have dropped over time. Here is a summary by the authors. Posting comments on this blog the critics continue to debate.
New Zealand's national helmet law took effect in January, 1994. This study shows that although cyclists' injuries increased in the years thereafter, head injuries declined. If the link does not work we have another copy.
Sweden is reportedly considering a national law. Iceland's mandatory helmet rule, a ministerial decree covering children under 15, came into effect in September of 1999. The Spanish legislature passed a comprehensive bicycle law in mid-1999 that reportedly included a mandatory helmet provision, although we do not have any further information on it. The Swedish government has conducted an international literature search, summarized in this study published in 2003. (See page four for the English abstract.) They found that helmet laws can achieve levels of usage not achieved by education alone, that helmet laws reduce head injuries, and that helmet laws can result in a reduction of cycling by young people. We have the abstract up on our site if you can't deal with the .pdf file.
The British Medical Association examined the evidence and recommended in 2004 that the UK adopt a mandatory helmet law for both children and adults. They had previously recognized the benefits of helmet use but had feared that a helmet law might reduce cycling, resulting in negative net health benefits. That same argument led readers polled by the BMA's magazine to vote against helmet laws in 2011. In 2010 Jersey was considering a new law that would require helmets for riders under 18, having rejected a proposal for an all-ages law. The UK's Transport Research Laboratory has published a paper on the effectiveness of helmets. It found that in 2008, 34 per cent of riders in the UK were already wearing helmets on major roads, and 17 per cent on minor roads. In a 2011 poll of 4000 cyclists conducted by the non-profit IAM, ten percent of the respondents said they would quit cycling if a mandatory helmet law were enacted.
The Copenhagen Post reported in November, 2009 that a failed attempt to pass a Danish law requiring helmets for those under 12 was being revived after evidence surfaced that the proportion of Danish cyclists arriving at emergency rooms with head injuries was declining as helmet use there has increased to about one in six cyclists.
In 2011 Switzerland considered a helmet law as part of a package to reduce road deaths, but the Transportation Committee of the National Council rejected the recommendation.
Canada has some provincial and local helmet laws. Ontario's helmet law for cyclists under 18 took effect in 1995. It was originally to have covered all ages, and there is a bill in parliament now to extend it to do that. There is spirited opposition by a few cyclists there. (see links below) Proponents cite the cost of cyclists' injuries to the national health system, without reference to the much greater cost of treating those injured in cars, a blind spot also found in the US. In March, 2003, the Canadian Institute for Health Information announced that hospitalizations due to cycling-related injuries were down 12.5 per cent between 1997-98 and 2001-02. Head injuries fell even more precipitously, by 26 per cent during the same period. British Columbia's 1996 all-ages law was very successful in increasing helmet use, according to an evaluation project for this law conducted by the University of North Carolina. It showed substantial increases in helmet use after the law was passed. Nova Scotia's law came into effect in 1997 and covers all ages. New Brunswick also has an all-ages law. In Quebec, the Montreal suburbs of Cote Saint-Luc and Westmount have passed by-laws requiring the use of bicycle helmets within their boundaries. In October, 1997, the Cote Saint-Luc law was extended to cover bicyclists and skaters of all ages. Alberta added a law on May 1, 2002, requiring helmets for riders under 18, including passengers and toddlers on tricycles. Prince Edward Island's law was effective on July 5, 2003, and covers all ages. A research project in Toronto before and after their law came into effect showed that "although the number of child cyclists per hour was significantly different in different years, these differences could not be attributed to legislation. In 1996, the year after legislation came into effect, average cycling levels were higher (6.84 cyclists per hour) than in 1995, the year before legislation (4.33 cyclists per hour)." Conclusion: Contrary to the findings in Australia, the introduction of helmet legislation did not have a significant negative impact on child cycling in this community. Manitoba's under-18 helmet law comes into effect during 2013. They will permit first-time offenders to avoid a fine by taking an on-line bike safety quiz.
Dubai adopted an all-ages mandatory helmet law in 2010. The fine for not wearing a helmet is 500 dirhams, about $136 US.
Finland passed a mandatory helmet law with an effective date of January, 2003. It covers all ages, but there is no fine associated with breaking the law. Spain adopted a mandatory helmet law for cycling outside of cities in 2004. Helmets are not compulsory in towns and may be removed while climbing steep hills. Iceland's under 15 rule is mentioned above, and the Czech Republic requires helmets for those under 16.
France has a lively discussion on helmets going on. The best summary is probably this page on the Mieux se Déplacer à Bicyclette site. They analyze deaths in Paris and in France as a whole and conclude that helmet usage is a personal question but can save lives.
Japan adopted a national helmet law in 2008 that requires children under 13 to wear helmets. This story reports that 76 per cent of the surveyed parents of kids 1 to 6 years old had bought helmets for their kids, but only 54 per cent said the kids always wear them.
Mexico City briefly adopted a mandatory helmet law, but this article on the European Bicycle Federation site says they repealed it in February of 2010 in an effort to support their shared bicycle rental program, Ecobici. We have more comments on our page on shared bicycle programs.
In April of 2003 the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced that it intended to make helmet use compulsory in the professional races it sanctions. The ruling has stuck this time (in 1991 an compulsory helmet rule was rejected by the riders). It followed several well-publicized deaths, including that of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev. Kivilev died of a head injury without a helmet. The impetus for the ruling had also grown since a helmeted rider fell on a turn at an intersection in a rainy Dutch stage of the Tour de France and hit his head on a concrete bollard in the center of the road, but to the astonishment of the crowd got up and raced away. In 2004 the UCI even extended its requirement for impact protection to the teardrop-shaped "chrono" helmets the riders use in time trials for better aerodynamics. The rule has an exemption for elite riders in climbs of more than 5 km.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute supports carefully drawn mandatory helmet laws covering all age groups because we believe they are needed to raise awareness that helmets save lives, in the same way that seatbelt laws and smoke detector requirements were used to inform the public that those safety devices were necessary. Many riders and parents do not know that they need a helmet, and the laws educate as much as they force compliance. We also believe that most riders regard helmets as a fashion item rather than as a safety appliance, and like any other fashion this one may wane. We support efforts to improve the safety of the cycling environment to reduce the need for helmets, and that should always be regarded as the primary injury prevention measure for reducing all injuries to cyclists. We do not believe that wearing a helmet causes riders to take additional risks. We believe that in this country promoting helmets will not detract from the effort to improve road safety, and in fact has stimulated those efforts, giving us the most widespread and best-supported campaigns for better road safety for cyclists that we have ever had in our history. We are keenly aware that safer cycling requires more riders on the streets, but we do not believe that helmets discourage cycling in the US. Since bicycles on a public road are vehicles, we believe that the operator has the rights and obligations of vehicle users in our ever-more-populated and outrageously unsafe road environment, so requiring a bicycle helmet is as reasonable as requiring a helmet on a motorcycle rider or requiring seatbelt usage in cars. We would support provisions for medical exemptions based on a doctor's certification or religious requirements for headgear.