Cyclists throughout Boston are getting the message: Helmets are essential, even if they aren’t mandated for adults by Massachusetts law.

Although our Boston bicycle injury lawyers won’t argue there could be improvements to the current design, there is little doubt helmet use reduces the chances of serious injuries. At Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers and BikeAttorney.com, we encourage riders venturing out into the city to make sure their head is protected.

The City of Boston has made this a top priority, becoming the first bike-sharing network in North America to offer helmet rentals to the public. These helmet vending machines, or “Helmet Hub,” offer one-day, $2 helmet rentals or $20 helmets for purchase.

It should be noted, though, that a Boston cyclist who is injured in a crash while not wearing a helmet is just as entitled to personal injury damages.

What the Research Says

Helmets have proven one of the most effective ways for riders to reduce their risk of head trauma and facial injuries.

One of the most significant studies was published in 1996 by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Researchers sought to examine the protective effectiveness of bicycle helmets in four different age groups involved in crashes with motor vehicles by helmet type and certification standard. They analyzed 18 months-worth of data from seven hospitals in which 3,390 bicyclists were treated for injuries. In 26 percent of those – and in 56 percent of the controls – the riders were helmeted.

In every single category, the study authors discovered there was a reduction in the risk of head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries. Overall, there was between a 69 percent to 74 percent reduction in head injuries among helmeted cyclists.

A more recent study by Australian researchers, published in 2013 by the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, looked at the effectiveness of bicycle helmets in 6,735 accidents involving motor vehicles. Study authors concluded the risk of head injury was reduced by 74 percent. The more serious the injury, the greater the reduction.

What the Local Statistics Say

Local statistics tell us that bicyclists who wear helmets fare better in crashes than those who don’t.

In the 2013 Boston Safe Cycling Report, local Emergency Medical Services personnel recorded each of the bicycles accidents to which they were called to respond. This would indicate some type of injury was reported.

Of those cases over a three-year period, less than 50 percent of the cyclists involved in those crashes wore helmets. That is far lower than the citywide average helmet usage, which is at about 72 percent.

That tells us that cyclists in Boston who don’t wear helmets tend to report more injuries.

What the Law Says

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not mandate that adult riders wear helmets, though many government agencies encourage it.

The state does require helmets for younger riders. Specifically, M.G.L. Ch. 85, Section 11B states that:

“Any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger on a bicycle on a public way, bicycle path or any other public right-of-way shall wear a helmet.”

That helmet must, by law, be secured to the person’s head by straps when the bike is being operated and it has to meet the standards set forth by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

However, the law specifically states that a violation of this clause is not to be considered a form of contributory negligence in a civil action, which means it won’t lessen the amount of damages to which a plaintiff is entitled.

Another statute, M.G.L. Ch. 85, Section 11D, states that any retailer who sells or rents bicycles, in-line skates, scooters, skate boards or other manually-propelled wheeled vehicles have to prominently display the language of M.G.L. Ch. 85, Section 11B, indicating helmets are required for youth. If the facility is in the business of renting bicycles, they must make federally-approved helmets available to their customers.

What the Standards Say

The CPSC sets the standards for bicycle helmets safety. The agency is careful to note that no helmet is proven to prevent concussions, and consumers should be wary of any products that promise to do so.

All helmets made on or after 1999 (which are pretty much all that are in use today) must adhere to the CPSC bicycle helmet standard set forth in 16 C.F.R. part 1203. The specifics of this rule are complex, but essentially, the agency requires manufacturers to make sure any bicycle helmets they make:

  • Allow for adequate peripheral vision;
  • Fully cover the head;
  • Absorb an adequate amount of impact;
  • Have adequate retention systems so the helmet doesn’t come off in a crash;
  • Contain adequate labeling and instructions.

If you have been injured in a Boston bicycle accident, our injury lawyers will help you determine whether you’ve got a valid case for compensation.

Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers and BikeAttorney.com at 617-777-7777.