Police Officers need to enforce helmet laws
Summary: Enforcing bicycle safety laws should include helmet law enforcement if the community has one. Helmet laws are powerful educational tools. Measured enforcement can reach some riders who ignore other safety messages. Law officers can save lives and protect the community from loss through injuries.
Police officers are usually reluctant to take time to enforce bicycle safety regulations, including helmet laws. There are other more pressing needs. Ticketing riders is very unpopular in the community. If they are kids, they may not even have an id. Just catching them can be a challenge. In some jurisdications the officer is told to follow the child home to ticket the parents. That could take a very long time, and the parents may not be home.
Bicycle safety regulations are important to the riders, however. If they are riding recklessly or not wearing a helmet they need help. They may not know anything about safe riding. If they are kids, parents are not getting the message across to the child. The authority of a police officer can do that. Issuing a ticket in those situations is probably not mandatory in your community. But simply stopping and cautioning the rider may achieve real results.
Most of the 800 bike riders who die every year in the US were hit by cars. Following safety rules on the streets and wearing helmets could prevent many of those deaths. The injury toll is much higher. Police officers can help protect the community from unnecessary grief.
The State of Oregon produced a video over a decade ago to persuade its state police to enforce their helmet law. More recently NHTSA has a roll call video up on the web on bike safety law enforcement. It is introduced by Cpl. Chris Davala, a Maryland State Trooper who is Vice President of the International Police Mountain Bike Association. NHTSA also offers a CD with a training course. (NHTSA links change, so you may have to do a search from their main page.) We encourage you to use the video and check out the CD.
For further info on police enforcement problems, check out the International Police Mountain Biking Association. The organization was founded by officers who ride bike patrol and have a lot of experience in the field.
There have been allegations in various cities that selective enforcement of helmet laws facilitates police profiling and provides officers with a mechanism to implement racial or other bias. There is no national study that we know of, and it would be difficult to structure a scientific investigation of the phenomenon. Although in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement there is likely to be more attention to this question, all we can suggest is this Google search for information on it.
We have a page on helmets for police officers.
This page was revised on: October 24, 2020.