The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency largely responsible for age-21 drinking laws and graduated drivers licenses, is calling on legislators in all 50 states to pass new laws that would require bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets.
The agency said urgent action is needed to curtail the number of fatal accidents involving cyclists and motor vehicles. “If we do not act to mitigate head injury for more bicyclists, additional bicyclists will die,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
In the agency’s first review of bicycle safety since 1972, it said 857 bicyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles in the United States last year, a 6.3% increase over 2017. More than 63 percent of those riders were not wearing helmets, and head injuries were the leading cause of death in those accidents.
There are currently no state-wide or federal laws requiring bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets, though many localities have passed such rules and many more require them for riders under the age of 18. The NTSB says only about half of cyclists currently wear helmets with any regularity.
The vast majority of cycling organizations oppose compulsory helmet laws, arguing that such personal safety mandates infringe on peoples’ civil liberties and lead to overall decreases in cycling activity.
In the report, the agency also recommended other measures to improve road safety for cyclists, including infrastructure that separates cars and bikes on roadways and improved collision-avoidance technology in cars.
The NTSB has issued more than 14,000 safety recommendations in the course of its existence, according to a report to Congress five years ago, nearly three-fourths of which have eventually been implemented.