Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

Consumer-funded, volunteer staff

Helmets Children Promotions Statistics Search

Ads and media coverage with no helmets

Summary: Ads, articles and media events that offend by depicting unsafe conduct continue to appear. We don't spend time protesting them, but you are welcome to.

You've seen them, and so have we–the ads with bare-headed riders, or riders in TV programs doing crazy stunts like riding the wrong way on a one-way street. Here are some old examples, but it happens every day.

In August of 2009, President Obama appeared in photos riding with his daughters. Like many parents, the daughters were outfitted with helmets, but dad was not. Many cyclists had the same reaction we did: Oh no! More recently, President Biden was photographed riding with no helmet.

Further back, Amway and the YMCA, who should know better, ran a two page ad in the September 22, 2008 issue of Newsweek with an unhelmeted family riding bicycles, to publicize their concern for your wellness and their wellness events. Those who protested have been told that it was an oversight. One of the protesters had a blog page on the ad up for a while. Ironically, their website was inspirewellness.com.

The drug company Eli Lilly had a full page ad in some major US newspapers in early June of 2008 with an unhelmeted child rider. The text of the ad says Lilly is working with African American communities on diabetes treatment--not prevention, but treatment. So presumably Eli Lilly is interested in head injury treatment too, not prevention. They are selling nearly $20 billion in drugs per year, but producing ads with kids on bikes with no helmets.

The cover of the March 9, 2008 issue of Parade Magazine had comic Tina Fey on a bicycle with no helmet.

We don't usually take the advertiser or publication to task, in part because we don't want to become the Helmet Police, and because one look at our letterhead will reduce the reaction to a shrug. We hope that will not inhibit you, however, and would encourage you to contact the editor or advertiser with your own thoughts about the effects of bad role models.

Please email us a copy of any protests you send to advertisers or the media so that we can add them to this page. Here are some we have received.

From: "June E. Cooley"
To: info@ast.com
Subject: Skateboarders Bad Example for not wearing helmets
Date: 21 Jun 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

When I was channel surfing, I stopped to look at the Baltimore event today. What I saw bothered me greatly...athletes not wearing helmets and other protective gear. Not wearing a helmet sends younger athletes the wrong message, thus setting a bad example.

Helmets work and protect the head in any kind of riding accident...skateboard, horseback, bicycle, etc. Had I not been wearing a helmet when I fell off my bike two years ago, I would have sustained a serious, possibly life-threatening head injury.

The athletes I saw are just as human as I am. Just because they are the best in their sport doesn't confer immunity from injuries. I'd hate to tune into one of your events and have to watch one of the riders suffer a serious injury on national television because he wasn't wearing a helmet. Skateboards may be cool, but an ambulance ride with your head immobilized on a backboard en route to a lengthy hospital and rehab stay because of a head injury isn't.


June E. Cooley

Here is John Markert's letter to Sports Illustrated Kids about one of their articles:

Date: 10 Dec 2005
From: john markert
Subject: One too many blows
To: talkback@sikids.com, accelv@msn.com

To the editors:

I picked up my son's January issue of (Sports Illustrated Kids) SIKIDS and found on p. 38 an article by Scotty Cranmer telling kids how to ride with no hands. RIDE WITH NO HANDS?

Have the author or editor of this irresponsible article ever read any safety manual about bike riding for kids? Did it ever occur to them that this "cool" article might endanger kids? Did they foresee the possible human suffering and litigation as a result of this article?

Would they permit their own children to ride with no hands? Would they want their children emulating the girl in the illustration who is RIDING WITH NO HELMET, KNEE PADS, OR ELBOW PADS? Although the author suggests that the child should "put on your helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads" before trying such a dangerous stunt, did he ever consider what percentage of children (especially girls) actually own such safety equipment? Why are there no words of caution that if these safety items are not available then the stunt riding should not take place. He also suggests, "Find some flat ground to ride on." For most kids, this would be the streets in front of their houses. From the illustration, I would assume that the helmet-less girl is riding in a street. Why are there no words of caution that practicing stunts should never be done in a street, or that stunt riding should be done with adult supervision?

The author ends the "tips" with the suggestion, "Once you've go the knack, go ahead and SHOW OFF." Apparently, the author has TAKEN ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD! Showing off often leads to more intensive risk-taking and may lead other children to try to emulate the risky behavior.

Extreme and racing sports attract spectators who hope to see the participants push the envelope of safety, crash and burn, and even die right before their eyes. I think the majority of "extreme" athletes, "jackasses", and other entertainers have a mentally unbalanced lifestyle with a history of broken bones, pain, and suffering. Are these the kind of writers that kids should be learning stunts from?

Recently, a famous motorcycle builder and personality, Indian Larry, met his demise by falling off his motorcycle (helmetless) while stunt riding at 6 MPH and striking his head on the street. I can personally attest that injuries can occur at seemingly safe speeds. While traveling at a slow speed on my bicycle, I momentarily took my hands off the bars to adjust my sunglasses, lost my balance, fell, and broke my arm. Fortunately, I always wear a helmet, so I suffered no injury to my head when it struck the ground, and the incident took place in a parking lot, not on a street.

Why not hire a bicycle safety expert to write your tips? Is safety not "edgy" enough? Or have Scotty write about the high-tech safety gear that protects him from the inevitable scrapes and tumbles and even life-threatening injuries that he faces.


John Markert

Here is one from Hal Cain to NBC:

Dear NBC:

Last week's episode of "Ed" (#402, "New Car Smell") had a disturbing scene. No, not Ed and Carol moving in together, but the scene with them riding a tandem bicycle without helmets and running a stop sign! As a cycling advocate and a rehabilitation professional who has worked with survivors of traumatic head injuries, I was appalled. Head injuries from bicycle accidents are a major problem primarily due to riders not wearing helmets. Promotion of safe cycling is key to reducing injuries and death. To top it off, the scene showed Ed and Carol ignoring traffic laws by running a stop sign. Bicycles are legal vehicles for road use and as such bicycle riders have the responsibility of obeying all signs and signals–dangerous, especially without helmets. It was irresponsibility of the producers, directors, editors, other network staff who to let this scene air. For future programs, Ed or otherwise, where bicycles are being used, please be cognizant of the issues around safe cycling and fulfill your public obligation...

Send us yours by email