Bike Helmets in Boston

Bike HelmetsIf you were in Boston last week, there is a good chance you saw a few cyclists. It was Bay State Bike Week and cyclists came out strong for events and group rides.

While many cyclists were wearing helmets, a new report says not all are. According to the City of Boston Cyclist Safety Report, from 2009 to 2012, cyclists were wearing helmets in less than 50 percent of incidents responded to by Boston Emergency Medical Services (Boston EMS).

Women wore helmets in 60 percent of incidents while men wore them in 43 percent.

Overall, the city reports 72 percent of cyclists citywide are wearing helmets.

Cyclists who wear bike helmets reduce their risk of head injury in a cycling accident by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The city’s report shows bike accidents in Boston have increased from 2010 to 2012. The Boston Police Department reports a 2 percent increase while Boston EMS reports 9 percent. Nine cyclists died in accidents, including five in 2012. Ridership has also increased over this time as the city expanded infrastructure and launched the Hubway bike share program, making hundreds of new bikes available for short-term rentals.

Boston Bikes (the office which manages the city’s bike programs) reported a 16-28 percent increase in bike trips over that period. In the city’s report, Mayor Thomas Menino has pledged to decrease the cyclist crash injury rate by 50 percent by 2020.

Bike Helmets in Boston
In Massachusetts, cyclists who are 16 years of age or younger must wear helmets while riding bicycles, under M.G.L. c.85 Section 11B. The helmet must be secured to the cyclist’s head with straps and meet standards established by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

But they are important for cyclists of all ages. The Boston cyclist safety report, which was produced by a number of city offices, has a long-term goal of passing a law requiring cyclists of all ages to wear helmets in Boston.

The city has tried to make discount helmets available to riders, launched a $40,000 “Wear a Helmet” advertising campaign promoting helmet usage and plans to install helmet vending machines at Hubway bike share stations. It also stresses helmet usage through its community programming.

In addition, Hubway riders agree to wear helmets as part of their rental agreement. But a study last year revealed many riders are not holding up their end of the deal. In the study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reported 80 percent of bike-share users in Boston and Washington D.C. were not wearing bike helmets. By contrast, riders who owned their own bike wore their helmets about half the time.

The study’s author wrote that head injury accounts for about one third of all bicycle injuries and about three-quarters of all bicycle-related deaths.

Bike Helmet Law for Boston?
Boston was one of the first cities in the country to offer bike sharing. It would be leading the way again if it passed a law requiring cyclists of all ages to wear helmets. Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and 21 other states require cyclists under 16 to wear helmets, but there are no states which mandate use by adults, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

There are other cities and towns with laws or ordinances requiring helmets be worn by cyclists of all ages, including Dallas, Texas and Sykesville, Maryland. There is a bill proposed in the Legislature to make Maryland the first state to require cyclists of all ages to wear helmets.

In Washington State, more than two dozen communities have laws or ordinances requiring helmets to be worn by all ages, but there is no statewide law.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck

Breakstone, White & Gluck of Boston has over 85 years combined experience handling bicycle accident cases in Massachusetts. If you have been injured, contact us today for a free legal consultation at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
In 2013, we proudly donated 750 bike helmets for youth to Boston Bikes’ Roll It Forward and other programs in Greater Boston. To learn more about our community outreach efforts, visit