Experts discuss helmet use law

Minnesota has no laws or ordinances regarding bicycle helmet use, but does require a front light and a rear red reflector.

Bryna Godar

 

As more bicyclists take to the road for summer, researchers and transportation planners are discussing whether Minnesota should implement a law requiring helmet use for bicyclists.

Past studies have found that helmets greatly reduce the damage caused by crashes.

Seventy percent of all fatal bike crashes involve head injuries, but only 20 to 25 percent of all bicyclists wear helmets, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Jon Roesler, the injury epidemiologist supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health, spoke about the importance of helmets Thursday at the University of Minnesota’s annual Transportation Research Conference.

“I think about students – you’re spending all this money to develop your brain,” he said. “Your brain is your most important organ … you [got to] wear a helmet.”

But many students at the University choose not to. The reasons vary – some students said they don’t want to mess up their hair, some find carrying a helmet is a hassle, some believe they are safe bikers and others just don’t want to.

Twenty-one states have bike laws, mostly for ages 17 and younger.

Minnesota, consistently ranked of the most bike-friendly, has no laws or ordinances regarding bicycle helmet use, but does require a front light and a rear red reflector.

Minnesota bicyclists also can wear headphones while biking, which worries some officials.  

“It’s not recommended, but it’s not illegal,” said Steve Sanders, the alternative transportation manager for the University’s Parking and Transportation Services.

The University has various programs aiming to educate bicyclists about safety. The “Safety is easy. The pavement is hard.” campaign is aimed at making pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists more aware of their surroundings, and the Campus Bike Center offers a course called U-Cycle 101 to help build confidence in cycling.

“It takes time for these efforts to take root,” Sanders said.

Would a helmet law work?

Bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in reducing head and brain injuries, according to the NHTSA. Yet students indicated they would likely not follow such a law if it existed.

“If I don’t agree with the law, I’m not [going to] abide by it,” said 21-year-old University student Jim Pankratz.

Some research shows that helmet laws actually reduce the use of bicycles.

 “From a health perspective, it is really important to keep people bicycling,” Roesler said, indicating that a law might not prove the most effective in promoting health and safety.