Bicycle Blueprint

NYC Cycling
1. NYC Bike Policy
2. State of NYC Cycling
3. Cyclists & Streets
A Bike and a Prayer

Riding Infrastructure
4. Street Design
5. Bridges
6. Road Surfaces
7. Greenways
8. Parks
9. Bicycles and Transit
10. Reducing Traffic

11. Bicycle Theft
12. On-Street Parking
13. Indoor Parking

On the Job Cycling
14. Bicycle Messengers
Fifth, Park & Madison
15. Freight Cycles
16. Gov't Cycling

Reducing Risks
Three Who Died
18. Air Pollution

Bicycle Education
19. Schools
20. Public Education


      Chapter 17:
a) Perceptions and Reality
b) Accident Statistics
c) Cyclist/Pedestrian Accidents
d) Motor Vehicle Collisions
 Helmet Laws
f) Chapter 17 Recommendations
Table 17: Collisions and Fatalities in NYC Traffic Accidents

Helmet Laws

Debates over bicycle safety in the United States frequently center on getting cyclists to wear protective helmets. Helmet use has increased markedly throughout the U.S. and in New York City. A whopping 63% of cyclists responding to the 1992 City Cyclist survey say they always wear a helmet — up from 42% in 1988; another 16% ride with helmets some of the time. Although these percentages overstate helmet use by the overall cycling population, there is no question that helmet use is large and growing.

Despite the rise in voluntary helmet use, some advocates and legislators increasingly are seeking to mandate their purchase and use. At least five states and a number of counties now require helmet use by children under various ages. [4] New Jersey recently mandated helmet use for cyclists age 14 and under, and Rockland County (NY) adopted legislation in mid-1992 requiring all cyclists of all ages to wear helmets. While no states have passed mandatory bicycle helmet laws for adults, a number of such bills have been introduced in state legislatures. A law mandating adult helmet use in Ontario, Canada is scheduled to take effect by 1994, even though 80% of cyclists surveyed there said they opposed the measure. [5] New York State law mandates helmets for children ages 1-5, who must also ride in approved child seats (infants under 12 months may not be carried on bikes).

Proponents of legislating mandatory helmet use cite strong evidence that helmets can prevent many fatalities and up to 88% of potential brain injuries in bad falls. [6] Opponents focus on the potential chilling effect of bike helmet laws on cycling itself. According to this argument, since cycling is already a discretionary activity, anything that makes cycling less convenient — and indeed the simplicity and convenience of bicycling is one of its main attractions — will discourage cycling.

In effect, mandatory helmet-use creates an additional expense for the cyclist, another piece of equipment to carry around and one more preparatory step before climbing aboard and pedaling away. And indeed, cycling has declined in several Australian states that passed mandatory adult helmet laws in 1990. [7] Ironically, helmet laws that discourage cycling may indirectly harm those so discouraged, in view of research indicating that cycling promotes health through the cardio-vascular benefits of vigorous exercise. [8]

Moreover, since many helmet-law proponents are medical professionals with little familiarity with cycling, some cyclists feel singled out among the various groups in society, many of whom — motorists, for instance — engage in arguably more dangerous and antisocial practices. [9] While helmets drastically lessen the severity of head injury to cyclists, helmet-law advocates rarely promote helmet use as part of a comprehensive set of safety, education and facility-development measures aimed at cyclists and motorists alike. The European Cyclists' Federation estimates that the expenditures required to equip all bicyclists with helmets in a country or state would prevent more accidents and injuries if spent instead for safety education and on improving the cycling infrastructure. [10]

This conclusion appears to have been borne out in at least one local example. The town of Cranford, NJ, instituted an ambitious bicycle safety campaign aimed at both motorists and bicyclists in 1973. Accidents declined about 30% from pre-campaign levels over the next few years, and have remained low. Cranford continues to spend $1,000 each year on bicycle safety education. [11]

4. “The Most-asked Questions About Bicycle Helmets,” Randy Swart, Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, Arlington, VA, Dec. 1991, p. 4.
5. “Bike Helmet Law for Ontario?” Ontario-Carlton Cyclist, August 1991, cited in Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute Bibliography, Dec. 1991.
6. The New England Journal of Medicine, “A Case-Control Study of the Effectiveness of Bicycle Safety Helmets,” Robert S. Thompson et al., Vol. 320, No. 21, May 25, 1989.
7. Jim Pravetz, “The Impact of Australia's Mandatory Helmet Laws,” Bicycle Forum, August 1992, Number 30. See also “Helmet Law Discourages Cycling: Riding Numbers Plummet,” Ron Shepherd, Australian Cyclist, month unknown, 1991.
8. Bicycle Forum, “The Impact of Australia's Mandatory Helmet Laws,” by Jim Pravetz, No. 30, August 1992. See also Cycling Towards Health & Safety, Dr. Mayer Hillman, British Medical Association, Oxford University Press, Britain, 1992, which found a 20:1 ratio between life years gained vs. life years lost because of cycling.
9. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine article cited above identifies bicycling solely as a sport, and not also as a means of transportation.
10. “Cycle Helmets,” Position Paper, European Cyclists' Federation, Oct. 1991, Strasbourg, France, pp. 3-4.
11. Letter from Thomas E. Kane, Lieutenant of Police, Cranford, NJ, to Transportation Alternatives, March 23, 1992. Also “Bicycle Safety Alert Program,” Cranford Police Department and Cranford Bicycle Board, 1984.

a) Perceptions and Reality
b) Accident Statistics
c) Cyclist/Pedestrian Accidents
d) Motor Vehicle Collisions
 Helmet Laws
f) Chapter 17 Recommendations
Table 17: Collisions and Fatalities in NYC Traffic Accidents