Bicycle Safety

Consumer Product Safety Commission Reminds Bicyclists to "Use Your Head by Wearing a Helmet"

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been reporting for years that wearing a helmet while riding a bike can save your life. Cole Kertz, an 8-year-old from Bloomington, Ill., can now vouch for this first-hand. Doctors tell him if he had not been wearing his helmet, he would have died last summer when he crashed into a pole while riding his bike. Even with the helmet, he suffered a severely broken jaw, which had to be wired shut to heal.

Cole is better now and using his experience to spread the word about how important bike helmets can be. "Some of the other kids at school didn't used to wear helmets," said Cole. But after his return to school last fall with the injury still healing, and after hearing the story of how his helmet saved him, Cole thinks it has convinced his friends to always wear a helmet. "I guess they thought, 'I don't want to die.'"

"Each year, about 900 bicyclists do die, and more than a half-million bike riders are injured seriously enough to go to hospital emergency rooms," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "Use your head by wearing a helmet, like Cole did. It can not only reduce the severity of head injuries suffered by bicyclists, it can save your life."

According to a survey released in 1999 by CPSC and the McDonald's Corporation, only about 50% of bicycle riders in the U.S. regularly wear bike helmets. Of the estimated 80 million bike riders, 43% never wear a helmet and 7% wear helmets less than half the time.

National Strategy

CPSC is participating in a national strategy to make it safer for bicycle riders to use the nation's roads by, in part, promoting bike safety and helmet use. The strategy, entitled the National Strategies for Advancing Bicycle Safety, was prepared by a coalition of representatives from more than 60 groups, including CPSC, other federal and state agencies, professional and non-profit groups, and bicycling advocacy organizations.

According to the CPSC, not only do bicyclists of all ages need to always wear helmets when biking, they also need to make sure their helmet fits properly. Helmets should be worn low on the forehead, about two finger widths above the eyebrows. They should sit evenly between the ears and flat on the head. Tighten the chin straps and adjust the pads inside so the helmet feels snug and secure, and doesn't move up and down or from side to side.

When purchasing a new helmet, bicyclists should make sure it meets the current safety standard issued by CPSC. The standard ensures that helmets provide excellent head protection and that the chin straps are strong enough to keep a helmet on the head and in place during a fall or collision. Look for a label inside the helmet which states it is certified to comply with CPSC's standard.

For More Information

For more tips on bicycle safety and information on recalls involving bicycles and bike helmets, call CPSC's Hotline at 800-638-2772, or go to CPSC's website.

Bicycle Helmet Use Laws

The United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supports the enactment of bicycle helmet usage laws. Bicycle helmets offer bicyclists the best protection from head injuries resulting from bicycle crashes, and bicycle helmet laws have been proven effective in increasing bicycle helmet use.

Key Facts

More than 46,000 bicyclists have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932-the first year that bicycle fatality estimates were recorded. In 1999, 750 bicyclists were killed, and approximately 51,000 were injured in traffic-related crashes. Children ages 14 and under accounted for 193 (26%) of the fatalities, making this one of the most frequent causes of injury-related death for young children. Each year almost 400,000 children ages 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries. Universal bicycle helmet use by children ages 4 to 15 would prevent 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries, and 18,000 to 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually. Bicycle helmets are 85-88% effective in mitigating head and brain injuries, making the use of helmets the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes. Despite the fact that 70 to 80% of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, only about 20-25% of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets. Nationally, bicyclists ages 14 and under are at five times greater risk for injury than older cyclists.

As with safety belts, child safety seats, and motorcycle helmets, the enactment of laws requiring the use of bicycle helmets-along with education and visible enforcement-is likely to be the most promising way to increase bicycle helmet usage.

Legislative Status

The first bicycle helmet law was passed in California in 1986. This law was amended in 1993 to cover all children under age 18.As of January 2001, 17 states have enacted age-specific bicycle helmet laws. Most of these laws cover bicyclists under age 16.H.R. 965, the Child Safety Protection Act of 1994, required the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to develop a mandatory bicycle helmet standard. An interim mandatory bicycle helmet standard became effective on March 17, 1995. Helmets were required to meet one of the following voluntary standards: ANSI, ASTM, Snell, or Canadian (CSA).

On March 10, 1998, the CPSC published a final rule establishing 16 CFR Part 1203, Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets, which applies to bicycle helmets manufactured after March 10, 1999. The standard mandates several performance requirements including:

  • Impact protection in a crash: The standard establishes a performance test to ensure that helmets will adequately protect the head in a collision or fall.
  • Children's helmets and head coverage: The standard specifies an increased area head coverage for children ages 1 to 5.
  • Chin strap strength and stability: The standard establishes a performance test to measure chin strap strength to prevent breakage or excessive elongation, and the helmet's resistance to rolling off the head during a collision or fall.

In addition, helmets meeting the new standard must have a label indicating that they meet CPSC's safety standard. On October 1, 2001, The Child Safety Act went into effect as enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Cost Savings

The estimated cost of bicycle-related injuries and deaths (for all ages) is $8 billion. It is expensive to treat bicycle-related head injuries because these injuries can endure throughout a lifetime.

For every $10 spent on bike helmets in this country, $30 in direct health costs are saved, as well as an additional $365 in societal costs. If 85% of all child bicyclists wore helmets every time they rode a bicycle for a year, the lifetime medical cost savings would total $109 to $142 million.