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Bicycle Helmet Safety LawsResearch Paper

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¶ … Bicycle Helmet Laws and How to Get Them

Step 1 Identify Preliminary Issues

For more than 50 years, Dr. Abraham Bergman has practiced "political medicine," working not only with individual patients, but with -- and sometimes against -- the system to improve children's health. Besides serving as director of outpatient services at Seattle Children's Hospital and chief of pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center, he has also worked tirelessly on projects such as a campaign that raised the number of children wearing bike helmets in Seattle to more than 60%.

Key Issues

It wasn't until 2003 that Seattle joined King County, Washington, with regulations that require bicycle riders to wear helmets. Currently, no state law requiring bicycle helmet use is in place. However, a number of cities and counties have their own regulations and do require helmet use when riding bicycles. To date, 27 locations, which consist of a mix of cities and counties in Washington State, have enacted bicycle helmet laws.

Additional Information

Roughly two percent of deaths from motor vehicle crashes are bicyclists. A majority of the bicyclist deaths occur as a result of serious injuries to their heads. This fact has underscored the crucial importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. An estimated 85% reduction in the risk of head injury to bicyclists is believed to be due to the use of bicycle helmets while riding bicycles. As discussed below, significant facts have been generated from the analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

A total of 741 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2013, a 2% increase from 2012. Bicyclist deaths were down 26% since 1975. In 2013, 84% of bicyclist deaths were age 20 or older. Deaths among bicyclists younger than 20 have declined 86% since 1975, while deaths among bicyclists 20 and older have increased 195%. In every year since 1975, many more male than female bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles. The decline since 1975 among female bicyclists (46%) was larger than the decline among male bicyclists (22%).

Step 2. Analyze the Present Situation

Laws that require young bicyclists to wear helmets are on the book in twenty-one states and the District of Columbia, however, none of these current bicycle helmet laws apply to all bike riders. Some states have seen the growth of local ordinances that require the use of bicycle helmets by some or all bicyclists. A telephone survey conducted on a nationwide basis indicates that state laws requiring the use of helmets increases the probability of compliance to the regulations -- that bicyclists will wear helmets -- by 18%. Over the past few years, the fatality rate for injured bicyclists who were wearing helmets has not exceeded 17%. It is useful to recognize that 84% of deaths that occurred to bicycle riders are associated with people who were 20 years of age or older.

Evaluate Decision Context

The challenge faced by bicycle safety advocates and bicycling organizations is the same one that faces every law that is targeted for state level enactment. Opposition is expected and objections will range from the costs to implement such a program to the unpopularity of government programs that appears to threaten the self-declared rights of parents to make decisions about their children's well-being.

Evaluate Mission/Goals

The mission of the bicycle helmet program is to ensure that wearing bicycle helmets is an integral aspect of the activity for all children and youth in order to prevent unnecessary injuries or deaths. The goals of the bicycle helmet program are focused on facilitating the procurement of bicycle helmets to be make available to children from low-income families, and to make obtaining a bicycle helmet an automatic part of a bicycle purchase.

Step 3. Finalize Issue Identification

Identify root causes (not symptoms)

Individual and local resistance to statewide legislative initiatives is common. State legislatures are typically reluctant to enact laws that are believed to not have the support of a majority of voters. Some outliers will claim that bicycle helmets contribute to the deaths of children, and they will be right, except that these preventable deaths are typically due to suffocation or some other accidental cause that is not unrelated to insufficient parental supervision. Bicycle manufacturers and sellers may perceive that a requirement to purchase bicycle helmets could have a chilling effect on sales and impact their bottom… [END OF PREVIEW]

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