Are Bicycle Helmet Laws Dangerous?

Why laws requiring helmets actually lead to more injuries

Bike helmet laws deter people from riding bikes at all, which makes cars less careful around the few riders that are on the streets. (olaser/iStock)
Photo: olaser/iStock

There’s no question that helmets make cycling safer. A recent study by researchers at the University of Arizona found that wearing one makes you 59 percent more likely to survive a collision. But according to many bike advocacy groups, laws requiring that adults wear helmets actually lead to more injuries. How’s that? 

Studies show that the laws deter people from riding, and the fewer riders there are on roads, the more car-bike accidents occur. Research backs up the idea that more cyclists on city streets reduces the number of collisions with automobiles, though exactly why is unclear. Anti-helmet-law groups believe it’s because motorists become accustomed to sharing the road. “Nothing makes cycling safer than more cyclists,” says Keegan Stephan, an organizer for New York City biking advocacy group Right of Way. “It changes the way drivers behave, and it changes the culture on the streets. Passing helmet laws that will deter cycling is one of the more detrimental things you can do.” 

Not all biking groups oppose all-ages helmet laws, which are currently in place in some 50 U.S. cities. But as The Wall Street Journal reported last fall, several attempts to pass statewide legislation failed in the face of broader safety arguments. 

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