Bicycle Helmet Laws
Revised immediately upon receipt of new info.
|State law||Under 16||1995|
|Pima County||Under 18||1995|
|Sierra Vista||Under 18||1995|
|State Law||Under 18|
|Bidwell Park, Chico|
for off road in
|State Law||Under 16||1993/1997|
|State Law for Ebike riders||All ages||2018|
|City of Seymour|
|State Law||Under 18 *||1996|
|District of Columbia|
|District Law||Under 16 *||2000/04|
|State Law||Under 16 **||1997|
|State Law||Under 16||1993|
|State Law||Under 16||2001|
|Chicago (messengers)||All ages|
|Lawrence||Under 16 *||2004|
|Louisville (Parks)||Under 18 *||2002|
|Louisville Extreme Park||All ages||2002|
|State Law||Under 12||2002|
|State Law||Under 16||1999|
|State Law||Under 16 *||1995|
|Allegany County||Under 16||1992|
|Howard County||Under 16||1990|
|Montgomery County||Under 18||1991|
under 17 *
|E. Grand Rapids||Under 18||1995|
|Farmington Hills||Under 16 *||1999|
|Kensington Metropark||All ages||1998|
|Hernando||Under 17 *||2010|
|Starkville||All ages *||2010|
|St Louis County||1 to 16 *||Unincorp.
|St Louis County municipalities of:||- - -|
|Bella Villa||Under 17||2005|
|Bellefontaine Neighbors||Under 17||2005|
|Black Jack||All ages||2008|
|Calverton Park||All ages||2001|
|Creve Coeur||All ages||2000|
|Grantwood Village||All ages||2003|
|Hanley Hills||Under 17||2007|
|Moline Acres||Under 17||2008|
|Norwood Court||Under 17||2004|
|Rock Hill||Under 17||2003|
|St. John||Under 17||2001|
|Sycamore Hills||All ages||2008|
|Town & Country||All ages||2002|
|Velda City||All ages||2006|
|Velda Village Hills||All ages||2005|
|Vinita Terrace||Under 21||2001|
|Webster Groves||Under 17||2004|
|Wilber Park||Under 17||2005|
|St Louis Co Parks||Under 17||2001|
|- - -||- - -||- - -|
|Columbia||Under 16 *||2003|
|St Charles||Under 16||2006|
|State Law||Under 16||2006|
|State Law||Under 17 *||1992/05|
|State Law||Under 18 *||2007|
|Los Alamos County||Under 18||1995|
|Eastchester||Under 19 *||2004|
|Erie County Parks||All ages||1993|
|Onondaga County-Syracuse||Under 18||2001|
|Rockland County||All ages||1992|
|Suffolk County||14 to 17||2000|
|State Law||Under 16||2001|
|Black Mountain||All ages||1996|
|Carolina Beach||Under 16||1994|
|Chapel Hill||Under 16||1992|
|Charlotte||Under 16 *||2002|
|Cornelius||Under 16 *||2001|
|Blue Ash||Under 16||2003|
|Brecksville||Under 18 *||1998|
|Cincinnati||Under 16 *||2004|
|Columbus||Ages 1-17 *||2009|
|East Cleveland||Under 18 *||2004|
|Enon||Under 16 *||2004|
|Glendale||Under 19 *||2000|
|Kettering||Under 16 *||2004|
|Madeira||Under 17 *||2002|
|Marietta||Under 16 *||2004|
|Orange Village||Ages 6 to 15||1992|
|Pepper Pike||Under 18||2000|
|Shaker Heights||All ages|
over 5 inc.
|South Euclid||Under 14||2000|
|Waynesville||Under 17 *||2000|
|State Law||Under 16 *||1994|
|State Law||Riders under 12||1995|
|State Law||Under 16 *||1996/
|State Law||Under 16||1994/2000|
|Fort Worth||Under 18||1996|
|Albemarle County||Under 15|
|Amherst County||Under 15||1993|
|Arlington County||Under 15||1993|
|Clarke County||Under 15|
|Fairfax County||Under 15||1993|
|Fairfax City||Under 15||2016|
|Falls Church||Under 15||1993|
|Floyd County||Under 15|
|Front Royal||Under 15||1996|
|James City County||Under 15||1999|
|Manassas Park||Under 15||1997|
|Newport News||Under 15||1997|
|Orange County||Under 15|
|Prince William Co.||Under 15||1995|
|Stafford County||Under 15|
|Virginia Beach||Under 15||1995|
|York County||Under 15||1994|
|Bainbridge Island||All ages||2001|
|Des Moines||All ages||1993|
|Gig Harbor||All ages||1996|
|Hunts Point||All ages||1993|
|King County||All ages||1993|
|Milton||All ages *||1997|
|Pierce County||All ages||1994|
|Port Angeles||All ages||1994|
|Port Orchard||All ages||2004|
|Seatac||All ages over 1 yr||1999|
|Snohomish skate park only||All ages||2002|
|Spokane||All ages *||2004|
|Tacoma||All ages *||1994|
|University Place||All ages||1996|
|State Law||Under 15||1996|
|South Charleston||Under 18||1994|
|St. Albans||Under 18||1995|
|Port Washington||Under 17||1997|
* 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.
*** Jackson, MS law exempts riders who are riding in a cul- de-sac or dead end street in a residential area.
**** 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 states (including the District of Columbia as a "state") and at least 202 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 for anyone writing a new law suggesting language on standards. 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.
If you are lobbying for a law, the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has produced this unique Ohio Youth Bicycle Helmet Ordinance Toolkit. "Assisting local communities in educating decision makers on the importance of a youth bicycle helmet law."
To search the Web for details on state and local laws, we recommend this page on the League of American Bicyclists site.
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 Worldwide has a status sheet on bicycle helmet laws available from Meg Farrage at 202-662-0616. We are indebted to Safe Kids Worldwide 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.
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 Worldwide 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 concludes that passing a state-wide bicycle helmet law covering youth riders 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 actual rider counts have ever shown that result anywhere in the US.
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.
El Cerrito, California, dropped its 1993 all-ages law in 2013, noting that the 1994 California State statute takes precedence. In 2015 there is a California State Senate bill that would expand their law to cover all ages, skateboards, non-motorized scooters and more.
The Dallas all-ages law was changed in June, 2014 after 18 years and now applies only to riders under 18. The impetus was the establishment of a shared bicycle program, whose promoters believed a strictly-enforced all-ages law would severely restrict their program. A local newspaper reported that the majority of the citations had been handed out in poor, minority neighborhoods, leading to charges that the law was not evenly applied. This article shows that few citations had been handed out to younger riders. And this study indicates that the proportion of head injuries may rise in Dallas, although any effect on injury rates remains to be seen.
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.
There are mandatory helmet laws in Argentina, Australia, Austria, parts of Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Jersey, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and parts of the United States. In 2017 a new review of their effects is being undertaken at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
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. In 2016 Canberra announced they would study the possibility of relaxing their helmet law for "parks, town centres and other low-speed environments such as shared zones and university precincts" in an effort to increase ridership. And in 2017 the Bicycle Network organization launched a thorough review of its long-standing position in favor of mandatory helmet laws, expected to be completed in April, 2018.
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.
In Europe: "In some European countries, cycle helmets have become mandatory in the last few years. In Malta, cycle helmets became mandatory for all cyclists in April 2004. In Sweden, cycle helmets became mandatory for children up to 15 years of age on January 1st 2005. The same group of cyclists has to wear helmets in Slovenia and the Czech Republic. In Spain, cyclists have to wear a helmet outside urban areas except when going uphill.
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.
Iceland's mandatory helmet rule, a ministerial decree covering children under 15, came into effect in September of 1999.
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 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. There are exceptions to the 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 that makes helmets impossible (primarily Sikhs). 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. A 2015 law in Newfoundland and Labrador requires all cyclists of any age to wear a helmet.
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. In addition, Spain adopted a mandatory helmet law for riders under 17 in March of 2014.
Iceland's under 15 rule is mentioned above
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. In March of 2017 a new French law goes into effect requiring helmets for anyone under 12 years old, with a fine of €135 for an adult carrying a child on their bike without a helmet or accompanying a child who is cycling without one.
The Netherlands has a similar discussion, focusing primarily on children and seniors. Helmet laws would be a big step for a country as bike-centric as the Netherlands, where cycling has been made safer by meticulous attention to road facilities, legal structure that places all blame on a motorist in a crash and by high volumes of riders.
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.
We have always been a lot more enthusiastic about promoting voluntary use of helmets than promoting laws, and it would appear from the list above that most U.S. states and localities are too. Even seatbelt laws that have been around for a long time are mostly secondary offense laws limiting enforcement to occasions when a driver has been stopped for something else. Helmet laws can be useful, but given the problems with enforcing them they will probably not work well in most places until more riders have accepted the need for wearing a helmet. So we favor a stronger push for voluntary usage than for passing new helmet laws, and our Web site has always reflected that attitude.
At present the pace of new helmet laws has slowed to almost zero. Attempts to extend laws to cover adults have been unsuccessful. Urban riders are increasingly questioning the need for helmets, and certainly the need for helmet laws. WABA, our parent organization, has taken a position opposing the extension of the Maryland state helmet law to adults. A pendulum is swinging. We expect it to swing back eventually as injuries show up, but the positive experience with shared bicycle programs has raised basic questions about the need for helmets, and younger riders are reconsidering. We regard all that as a fashion trend and remain convinced that bike riders need helmets.
We do not participate in the endless Internet "Helmet Wars," among a small group of posters in blogs and social media, but we have a Web page up discussing some of the recurring points.
This BikePortland blog article concludes that their law has not had much effect. Riders are not wearing helmets, and head injuries are rising as cycling becomes more popular.
The authors of This Cochrane Collaboration study found that helmet legislation "appears to be effective in increasing helmet use and decreasing head injury rates in the populations where it is implemented. However, there are very few high quality evaluative studies that measure these outcomes, and none that reported data on possible declines in bicycle use."
If you see outdated information on this page, please contact us by email. This is a difficult page to keep current!