NACTO Statement re: Mandatory Helmet Laws

San Diego bicyclist on Hwy 101 bike lane busy intersections

NTSB is getting a lot of pushback from its recent statement about bicycle safety on our roads.

In the NTSB’s first examination of bicyclist safety on U.S. roadways since its last report on this topic in 1972, the agency said critical changes were needed to address the recent rise in fatal bicycle crashes involving motor vehicles, even as overall traffic deaths fell in 2018. 

[…] The investigators’ primary focus was on crash avoidance, but in those instances when crashes do occur, they said the use of a helmet was the single most effective way for riders to reduce their chances of receiving a serious head injury. Because research shows that less than half of bicyclists wear helmets and that head injuries were the leading cause of bicyclist fatalities, the NTSB recommended that all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, require that all persons wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.

NTSB News Release 11/5/2019 NTSB Says Changes to Roadway Design, Collision Avoidance Systems, More Helmet Use Needed to Address Increase in Bicyclist Fatalities

Many people assume that bicycle helmets offer greater protection than they are actually designed to provide. Bicycle helmets are not currently designed for impacts as forceful as a vehicle crash. Bicycle helmets only offer minimal protection for a cyclist if falling say, off the bike and hitting the curb.  Bicycle helmets are not even designed nor tested for any kind of strength that would be necessary to withsand the impact from a vehicle. Even if bicycle helmets were designed as well as motorcycle helmets, dangerous drivers are still a huge problem, and cyclists as well as pedestrians are getting seriously injured and too often killed.

This is not Vision Zero.

Please read the NACTO statement in full where they discuss the Australian mandatory adult helmet law result data, which showed no safety improvement, and rather, the law discouraged bicycle riding.

For the first time since 1972, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) turned its attention to bicycle safety and released a series of recommendations to protect people on bikes on US streets. NACTO applauds the Board’s road design and bike infrastructure recommendations and renewed focus on this topic as cyclist fatalities in the US hit an 18-year high in 2018. However, a last-minute recommendation that states adopt mandatory helmet laws flies in the face of best practice on bicycle safety.

While requiring helmets may seem like an intuitive way to protect riders, the evidence doesn’t bear this out. Experience has shown that while bike helmets can be protective, bike helmet laws are not.

NACTO Statement ON NTSB Mandatory Helmet Laws