Is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet?

Is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet

Even though bicycle helmets help protect riders’ heads from injuries in collisions, more than 50% of all Americans who ride bikes, skateboards, or scooters don’t wear one. If you’re a veteran biker, you’ll know that many riders choose not to wear helmets while riding. The question of whether or not to wear a helmet is an old one that is unlikely to be settled soon, if ever, as long as bicycles are around.

However, laws in many countries mandate helmet use. But what are these laws precisely? Well, for starters, it’s not as simple as you may think. Bicycle helmet regulations are often set by states or local governments since there is no one-size-fits-all that applies uniformly. 

Helmet Laws in the US

Helmet rules in the US are haphazard, inconsistent, and hard to keep up with. The biggest issue is that many states don’t enforce bike helmet rules. Instead, they leave this responsibility to the municipalities. This results in a patchwork of bicycle helmet rules that vary drastically based on where you ride.

There are no federal regulations governing bike helmets. There is also no consistency across states, except that, even in numerous states where bike helmets are required, the absence of one is not admissible in court as a reason to reduce the amount of compensation paid in instances of injury or death.

Currently, there are 28 states without helmet legislation, and while the remaining 22 states do have these laws, the rider’s age plays a significant role. (When we use the term “rider,” we mean anybody on the bike, whether they’re the operator or a passenger, unless stated otherwise). Even in the states that don’t require bike helmets, many cities, counties, and municipalities do. In these places, the state is usually more than willing to allow them to enforce these laws.

For example, there are no bike helmet directives throughout Alaska, yet these directives exist in Anchorage (Municipality). If you’re a rider below age 15, wearing a helmet while riding in any public space is mandatory.

Note: Rebellious individuals risk a $25.00 fine if they don’t follow the rules.

State Bike Helmet Policies

Twenty-two states, the District of Columbia, and over 202 municipalities mandate riders to wear helmets. Thirteen states, on the other hand, do not demand that bike riders wear helmets. However, state and municipal regulations vary considerably based on age and location.

Youth riders under 18 are the primary focus of most bike helmet restrictions. Aside from targeting minors, these regulations generally hold parents or caregivers responsible for their children’s wellbeing. There are, nonetheless, a few state regulations that require adults to wear helmets.

Coincidentally, the National Bureau of Economic Research discovered that juvenile bike helmet rules had reduced youth bike-related deaths by roughly 19% over the last few decades. During this time, the percentage of young people wearing helmets increased from 20% to 34%. Unfortunately, this resulted in a 4%-5% decline in the number of young people who ride bicycles.

California (Thousand Helmets headquarters) has placed the legal age limit at 18. The law mandates the use of a helmet for everyone under 18, regardless of their religious affiliation or practice. Notably, the juvenile helmet rule applies to riding on a roadway, bikeway, sidewalk, or public bike path. The law permits a minor to ride a bicycle without a helmet (except on sidewalks) on private land.

If traffic police find a minor riding without a helmet in California, they’ll be subject to a $25 fine for each offense. Interestingly, California allows riders to utilize the citation as a “fix-it” ticket when paying the fine. The ticket will be dropped if you have an authorized helmet and have finished a bicycle safety class.

Unlike most states, Oregon does not require adults to wear bicycle helmets. For individuals aged 16 and under, the helmet regulation applies to any area designated for motorized vehicle traffic or public places (think mountain bike trails). Failure to wear a helmet? The fine is $25. In contrast to California, Oregon’s helmet laws permit people less than 16 years of age to not wear a helmet if it infringes on a religious belief or custom.

In New Mexico, where cities like Albuquerque rank high among the most bike-friendly destinations in the US, the rule is for adolescents and teenagers below 18 years to use the bike lane. New Mexico also mandates juveniles to wear helmets while operating recreational vehicles, including off-road ones. This regulation also applies to those under 18 who use e-scooters.

Why Do States Have Contrasting Helmet Laws

What Is The Punishment For Disobedience?

Suppose you’re a long-time inhabitant or just relocated to a new city with a passion for cycling. In that case, you must familiarize yourself with your county’s bicycle helmet laws. You don’t want to get in trouble for lacking the correct headgear. Sometimes a conflict of this kind might result in severe penalties since fines and traffic infractions are to be expected.

Children under 16 must wear a bicycle helmet per New York state law. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) hosts yearly festivities where it fits and donates free official NYC bike helmets to children. According to the NYC DOT, all working bikers (such as delivery guys) must wear helmets.

In 2020, there was some debate about making bike helmets mandatory for all bike-share riders in NYC. However, the suggestion was greeted with strong opposition from campaigners. The critics argued for improvised and protected bike-lane infrastructure.

Interestingly, although neither Washington nor Missouri have enacted statewide bicycle helmet regulations, many of their communities mandate their use regardless of age. One may argue for statewide helmet legislation to avoid misunderstanding. Imagine traveling between cities with varied helmet rules and being stopped without the required safety gear. Not pleasant, right?

Why Do States Have Contrasting Helmet Laws?

If we dig a bit further as to why this is the case, it might be because obligatory helmet legislation has been shown to diminish ridership. There is a widespread belief among cyclists and bicycle supporters alike that increasing the number of people riding their bikes on the road would significantly improve safety. Vehicle operators will be better prepared to share the road with bicycles as a result of this increased awareness among their fellow road users. 


Helmets and Adult Bikers

Many times riding a bicycle without a helmet as an adult will not land you in legal trouble. This does not, however, prevent the possibility of bodily harm. Remember that when riding a bicycle, you are entirely defenseless compared to when you are in a car, except for the precautions you wear.

Deaths of cyclists make up a small part of all deaths in the United States, but they are also some of the easiest to avoid.

There were 835 cycling fatalities in 2016. 51% (424) of the deceased cyclists did not have a helmet at the time. According to national statistics, 16% of fatalities (137) were wearing helmets, while the helmet status of 33% (274 people) remains unclear. In 1975, 97% (776) of cyclists who succumbed to death were not wearing a helmet, compared to 2% (19) wearing one.

These rates have decreased since then. Studies indicate that wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the likelihood of head bruises by 50%, severe head bruises by 60%, fatal head bruises by 65%, and facial injuries by 33%.

However, there is still a lot of controversy about the use of helmets. Opponents of mandatory bike helmets claim that requiring people to wear them would discourage them from riding their bikes. They argue that such directives would increase the likelihood that they would use another transportation mode since helmets are unfashionable, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.

According to various researches, a decrease in bicycle-related injuries is attributable to more individuals wearing helmets. Other studies claim that the decline results from fewer individuals riding their bikes since they prefer not to wear helmets. In addition, enforcing helmet use is burdensome and requires a lot of police resources.

Wearing a bike helmet is, of course, a matter of personal preference. When protecting yourself from life-threatening injuries, a properly fitted helmet is your first line of protection. This is true for anybody who regularly rides a bike, whether commuting to work, hitting the trails on the weekends, or just for fun.

We recommend you wear a helmet, no matter where you live on that spectrum or your local rules. If not, be sure to check with your municipality’s regulations, just to be on the right side of the law.

 People Also Ask:

  1. Can You Get a Concussion From Riding a Bike?

Head injuries and concussions are common in the cycling world. Even the most careful cyclists and mountain bikers can get this condition if they get a head injury terrible enough in a crash or collision.

  1. What Should I Do If I Hit My Head On The Bike?

The USA Cycling website suggests that you seek prompt medical attention following a bicycle accident. Make sure to show your damaged helmet to the doctor. This information will be helpful to the doctor in determining the extent of the harm. Also, ensure that the physician checks your entire body and not only your head.

2 thoughts on “Is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet?”

  1. Wow, I honestly thought it was a law that you had to wear a helmet. With as many accidents that happen, I feel helmets should be worn for safety. You did a great job on your research. It is nice to know your dedication to this post. Safety is always important for any age. Letting people know this shows it is your passion for safety. Thank you

    • Hi, Deborah, and thank you.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Yes, I agree. Using a bike helmet is easy and doesn´t need to cost so much. For example, you can see a post here about the question: Is more expensive bike helmets safer than the cheap ones.

      But it adds so much safety.

      Great to hear about your benefit of the article too.

      Don’t hesitate to contact me to help you with anything else or if you have any questions.


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