Do bike helmet laws work?

An interesting paper was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research on the effects of bicycle helmet laws on children’s injuries. The results found that while “helmet laws are associated with reductions in bicycle-related head injuries among children, […] the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.” In fact, there was an observed increase in head injuries from other wheeled sports; perhaps children found different activities to take part in where they wouldn’t need to wear a helmet.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed unintended consequences here at Rational Reactor. Many policies that are intended to keep people safe often end up with secondary consequences that are difficult to predict. BikeSafe has an interesting website that touches on this. Not only do they discuss different unintended consequences from past helmet laws, but they are dedicated to getting the public to focus more on overall biking safety, rather than just helmets.

Another interesting thought: What would happen if there were no laws? We can take a look at Germany where there are no laws mandating helmet use for bicyclists of any age. They cite an overall greater benefit to the population’s health because more people are able to bike without having to worry about laws.

Perhaps instead of focusing solely on making bicycle riders wear helmets, we should take BikeSafe’s lead, and focus more on overall bike safety.

One Reply to “Do bike helmet laws work?”

  1. I could guess from then title that the answer to the question was going to be “no” (after all, you blogged it!), but exactly how that worked out was interesting to me.

    It’s really too bad almost nobody is capable of internalizing complex/seemingly-counterintuitive ideas like this one. And it’d be political suicide to even suggest anything that isn’t staunchly helmet-centric.

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