Should helmets be required for bikeshare bikes

As New York City gears up to launch their bikeshare program they are considering whether or not helmets would be required when using a rented bike.  Check out this New York Times article with some of the details.

This brings up an interesting debate.  Should helmets be required?  Is it reasonable for the person that wants to ride uptown  instead of drive for an afternoon meeting to carry a helmet around with them?  What about people that are sightseeing?  Is it practical for visitors of the State Museum that then want to ride down to the AquaDuck tour strap a helmet to their camera bags?  It’s possible that requiring a helmet would discourage people from using bikeshare bikes.

Let’s take a look at the two sides.

The point behind a bikeshare program is to get more bicycles on the streets, make bicycles available, and to provide a convenient travel mode.  It makes sense that the more bikes that are on the street, the more drivers will be aware of them and thus everyone is safer.  Bikeshare bikes are usually ‘cruiser’ types equipped with lights and bells.  People will not be racing down hills or between cars, the bikes wouldn’t let them.

The flip side deals with administration and safety.  If a municipality has an existing helmet law for privately owned bikes on the roadways, how can anyone expect it to be different for municipally owned bikes?  Would the law(s) be amended to exclude bikeshare bikes?   In terms of safety, we’ve been pushing proper helmet use and fitting for years.  Would a change in mindset be needed and could it be made in time?  It would probably be a tough sell to convince some that riding without a helmet is safer when considering the potential for car/bike conflicts and the possibility of head injuries. 

Does the fact that more bikes being on the road (which increases safety) outweigh the safety and injury concerns?  Safety, at least in transportation circles, usually is focused around the data…the hard facts.  Should data be the decision maker or should data be part of the equation when a municipality makes an informed decision? 

As Grist says, “bike sharing is too good an opportunity to let pass.  It’s sustainable, healthy, and doesn’t require extra parking garages or oil imports

What do you think?

8 responses to “Should helmets be required for bikeshare bikes”

  1. Carrie Ward says:

    Where are the bikeshare bikes???

  2. Capital Coexist says:

    None in this region yet. The City of Albany will be looking at the feasibility of a bikeshare program as part of the CDTC Linkage Program.

  3. daleyplanit says:

    I’ve used bike shares in Montreal and Denver and I’ve seen first hand how great bike shares have been for cities like Paris and Barcelona. None of these places require helmets. Bike shares are great ways for tourists to explore a city on an intimate level and on the cheap. I think requiring all users of a bike share to bring a helmet along makes it very difficult for non-residents to utilize the bikes – and is likely to be a significant deterrent. I’m 100% behind helmet use, and it should be encouraged – but requiring it could leave a segment of the marketplace unable/unwilling to rent the bikes.

  4. healthy says:

    Riding any kind of bike in unfamiliar territory can increase the chances that the rider might make a mistake. Wearing a helmet makes any ride safer. What would be wrong with planning for helmets to be provided along with the rental bike? Why not rent both? I believe there are sanitary measures that can be taken to ensure that the helmet is all that gets shared.
    As a helmet user over the age of 14, I would be very uncomfortable NOT wearing a helmet. In the 2 cities where I have used ride share bikes, helmets came along with the rental.

  5. ivan vamos says:

    We rented bikes many times as at a number of train stations in the Netherlands, Denmark and some other locations. They did not have or require helmets. The NYS VTL is an issue for those renting who are under the age that requires helmets. The best option is to have helmets available for rent at a nominal fee for those who want them, or those who are under age. Some problems arise regarding fitting and sanitizing the helmets after use.

  6. I am deeply biased when it comes to this question. My helmet (or at least three helmets ago) saved my life. Why not share a helmet when you share the bike?

  7. Sarah Rain says:

    Wearing bicycle helmets is a personal choice. The government should not be involved in regulating their use. Unlike motorcycle helmets, there is much less compelling evidence that bicycle helmets increase safety. Also, bicycling is a low risk activity- most statistics show that there is a higher risk of head injury per mile as a pedestrian or motorist than as a bicyclist.

  8. Alex Dupuy says:

    I think that encouraging helmet use, but not requiring it, is the right approach. NYCDOT has done a lot of bike helmet giveaways to cyclists, and hopefully that will increase after the launch of NYC bike share next spring (really, this should be built into the financing of the franchise arrangements). Having helmet-share available as well would be nice, but I suspect that the utilization would be pretty low.

    You do raise a good point about children under age 14. My daughter is only four, so this is pretty hypothetical for us as she won’t be big enough to use a bike share bike for many years to come. But I can certainly see some 11-13-year olds being big enough to use a bike share bike. Having different laws for bike share vs. personally-owned bikes doesn’t make a lot of sense, but perhaps the best solution for that is simply to lower the age limit for helmetless riding – what is the logic behind the age 14 cutoff anyhow? For car seats and front-seat riding in a car there is an issue of body size and design points for seatbelts, but I don’t see that applying to helmet use for bike riders. I think an age cut-off of 10 or 12 (the sidewalk riding age limit) for mandatory helmet use when bicycling would make more sense.

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