BTA Policy on Bicycle Helmets

There are few topics in bike advocacy that elicit such an emotional response as helmets. We all know someone who managed to avoid serious injury by wearing a helmet. And we all know someone who reserves the right to ride helmet-free.

Just reevaluating our helmet policy forces us test our assumptions, reaffirm our core beliefs, and confront some of the hardest issues head on. This is a good thing for an organization to do, and it is important to consider input from all sides.

From the feedback that we received from our restated helmet policy, it’s clear that you feel the same way. And with your input, we would like to clarify and modify our policy.

We believe in safer streets.
The BTA exists to push for safer streets and to make our roads more bike-friendly. Cycling is fun. Cycling is safe. Cycling builds community. We believe that you should be able to bike anywhere in Oregon with the same confidence that you do down your own street. This is what we work for, not just because we are people who ride bikes, but because of the countless benefits that increased cycling brings to our cities and communities.

We think you should wear a helmet.
Cycling is safe, but not without risk. Helmets are safety devices that make bicycling safer by mitigating injury in the event of a fall or crash. We believe that helmets can and do save lives. We believe that if you are under 16 that it should be required.

We will keep growing the movement.
Our mission is clear – we work to create healthy, sustainable communities by making bicycling safe, convenient and accessible. It is unlikely that a mandatory helmet law would advance this mission. But we promise to actually read a mandatory helmet bill before opposing it. If a bill does not advance cycling in Oregon, then we will fight against it.

We love helmets because they can help in certain situations. Our larger focus remains on making our roads more bicycle friendly through infrastructure improvements, reducing auto speeds, and fighting distracted driving.

Oregon is a great place to ride a bike. But we feel there is a lot of work ahead of us to make it truly world-class. This is the hard work we do as an organization every day, and of course we invite you to join us.


To assist in setting the policy, BTA conducted a survey of our members in October of 2011. The results are below.

1. How often do you wear a helmet while bicycling?

Almost 80% of respondents say they wear a helmet every time they ride.
16% of respondents say they wear a helmet for most trips.
3% say they sometimes wear a helmet.
Just over 1% say they never wear a helmet.

2. How do you think the BTA should be involved in encouraging helmet use and/or supporting a mandatory helmet law? (Respondents chose “agree” or “disagree” for each statement separately.)

“I believe that everyone should be encouraged to wear a helmet, but the choice is ultimately that of the individual. The BTA should oppose a mandatory helmet law.”
Agree: 65.9% (464)
Disagree: 34.1% (240)

“I believe adults should be required by law to wear a helmet. The BTA should support a mandatory helmet law.”
Agree: 37.1% (276)
Disagree: 62.9% (467)

“I believe the best way to change behavior on helmet use is through education and encouragement, not through legislation. The BTA should focus on education and encouragement.”
Agree: 83.5% (644)
Disagree: 16.5% (127)

“I believe that health officials are the best group to decide this issue. The BTA does not need to be involved with legislation of helmet use.”
Agree: 19.7% (130)
Disagree: 80.3% (530)

“I am not concerned with helmet use.”
Agree: 14.7% (96)
Disagree: 85.3% (557) 653

3. Are you a BTA member?
Yes: 88.5%
No: 8.5%
Not sure: 2.9%



Comments (4)

  1. Hans Voerknecht Permalink  | Nov 20, 2011 12:46am

    This policy change of the BTA is very regrettable in my opinion. In my view the growth in bicycle use is hindered for a large part by the promotion of helmet use, making it almost a social obligation. The thing is that the evidence on the effects on safety of helmet is very thin an the effects on safety on what we call “safety by numbers” (the more people ride bikes, the safer it gets) are much larger than any helmet effects can be. (Although less than 0.5% of the Dutch cyclists wear helmets, cycling in the Netherlands is 8-10 times safer than in the US). So it is much more important to get a lot more people on bikes than having them wear helmets. To get this realized it is very important that you get your teenagers on board. In the Netherlands the age group of 12-16 years are the heaviest bicycle users cycling 6.5 km on average per day per person. This will mean that when they are 18 they will be very used to cycling, a lot of them won’t buy a car, not because of lack of money, but for practical reasons. And they will be very good bicyclists. These youngsters will just not wear helmets or not use the bike,a nd you will have to get them bacj when they are 16-18 years of age (and almost all of them have bought a car in the US). So even encouraging people wearing helemets is in my opinion counterproductive to both bicycle use and bicycle safety. If you want more people cycling and feeling safem the following measures and messages are much more effective in my opinion:
    1. Make car drivers better drivers: Make the requirements for getting a driving license in the US much stricter (and even better: make the minimum age for a driving license 18, just like in Europe);
    2. Stop communicating that cycling is dangerous, but that cycling is fun.
    3. Go for much more segregate bicycle facilities, like the bicycle boulevards in Portland or to interchange the position on the streets of parked cars and bicycle lanes, by this producing a bicycle path;
    4. Make safe school routes and try to make the bike the default transport mode to schools (like in the Netherlands, where there are no scholl buses), this also produces adults in a later stage with less obesitas, heart and coronary diseases …..and a lot of other diseases)

    But stop this moral obligation to wear helmets

  2. jim Permalink  | Dec 18, 2012 10:44am

    Does a child riding in a bike trailer have to wear a helmet?
    Does a child riding on a bike, but not pedelaling have to wear a helmet?

  3. Rob Sadowsky Permalink  | Dec 18, 2012 10:54am

    The Helmet Law in Oregon states:

    Effective on July 1st, 1994 youth under age 16 riding a bicycle, skateboarding, riding a scooter, or using in-line skates, when a passenger on a bike in any public place (streets, roads, sidewalks, parks, ect.) must wear bicycle helmets labeled ANSI and/or Snell approved. Failure to wear the helmet is a traffic infraction punishable by a maximum fine of $25. This law is in violation if the person operating a bicycle carries another person on the bicycle who is under the 16 years of age is not wearing a helmet.

    Of course, laws do not always take every situation into the content of the law, which leaves it up to the judicial system to interpret. I would argue (although I’m not an attorney) that the above law would require helmets whenever a child is moving by bicycle whether they are pedaling, in a trailer, in a bike child seat, or standing on wheel pegs. If you are under 16, wear a helmet.

  4. Vernon Huffman Permalink  | May 28, 2013 04:38pm

    Left out of this discussion is the question of improving helmets to save more lives. The accepted standard for bike helmets only protects the rider from a single blow, while many accidents involve multiple blows. While helmets help to prevent skull fractures, they do very little to prevent concussions. The industry is well served by helmets that wear out every five years, but cyclists aren’t.