Study shows Florida’s bike helmet law (and my mother) got it right

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I was the sole 12-year-old wearing a helmet on my 1-mile bike ride to middle school, and there was no shortage of taunts thrown my way, and on one occasion, eggs.  So here is my retrospective “see I told you so”, and fodder for when I insist the same rule upon my kids as they learn to ride: a study just released in the American Journal of Pediatrics suggests states with mandatory bicycle helmet laws for kids have significantly lower rates of fatality and injury.

The study looked at a cross-section of all bicyclist aged 0-16 who died between January 1999 and December 2010; adjusted for potential confounding factors such as elderly driver licensure laws, legal blood alcohol limit, and household income; and found that fatality rates in states with helmet laws were significantly lower than in states without.

Florida passed its bicycle helmet law in 1997, but allowed counties to opt out. Initially three counties declined the law, but have since joined the rest of the state in requiring helmets on youth riders. Since its passage, bicycle deaths and injuries have fallen, particularly in the age group covered by the law. For example, in Hillsborough County, six years after the law’s implementation the region saw significantly greater helmet use among children, and a significant decline in injuries compared to pre-law years.

These results counter two popular arguments by helmet haters: first, that wearing a helmet might prevent death but not severely debilitating injuries; and second, that people wearing helmets gain a false sense of security and therefore put themselves at greater risk. The decline in injuries following Florida’s helmet laws suggests just the opposite.

So for the adults out there who think helmets are dorky, or the kids who just want something cool, visit and pick one that suits your style. You (and your mom) won’t be disappointed.

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three daughters.