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Helmets and Laws in New York State

Summary: Summary: The November, 1999, issue of the American Journal of Public Health has an article by Dr Douglas R. Puder et. al. of the Department of Pediatrics, Nyack Hospital, Nyack NY which concludes that helmet legislation can be important in boosting levels of helmet usage. It also gives realistic estimates for helmet usage in the three counties surveyed based on actual observation in the summer of 1995.

Dr. Puder and his colleagues observed cyclists in New York's Rockland and Westchester counties, and in Fairfield County, Connecticut to provide data for evaluating the effectiveness of the counties' helmet laws. At that time, Rockland required all cyclists of all ages to wear helmets. In Westchester the New York state law covered all cyclists under age 14. In Fairfield County, the Connecticut state law required helmets for riders under 12. (Connecticut has since raised its age to under 15.) In Rockland and Westchester counties there is a potential fine of $50 for infractions, although in most localities such fines are rarely levied.

Puder and his colleagues observed nearly 1,000 cyclists at 51 sites in the three counties over the course of that summer. After factoring in their ages they concluded that cyclists in Rockland County, with the strictest helmet law, had the highest rate of helmet use (35 per cent). Riders in Westchester County had a helmet usage rate of 24 per cent. Cyclists in Fairfield County, with the most lenient law, wore helmets only 14 per cent of the time.

The study concludes that an all-ages helmet law is effective in raising helmet usage, although the authors did not take into account educational factors which may have affected the totals. They ignored the possible effects of school programs or local helmet promotion efforts.

In addition to the overall numbers, the study states that teen helmet usage was 17 per cent in Rockland County, 8 per cent in Westchester and 4 per cent in Fairfield. Follow up sampling in 1999 indicated that in Rockland teen helmet use is now up to 35 per cent.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 1999;89:1736-1738.