National Bike Helmet Use Survey

April 30, 1999

A Yankelovich Partners Survey
Released by 
McDonald's and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
April 1999

Highlights

 

 

  • About 50% of all bicycle riders in the U.S. regularly wear bike helmets while riding a bike, according to the first national survey of bike helmet usage patterns since 1991.

 

  • Of the 50% of bikers who regularly wear a bike helmet, 43% said they always wear a helmet and 7% said they wear a helmet more than half the time.
  • The percentage of bikers who reported regularly wearing a helmet rose from 18% in 1991 to about 50% of all bike riders in the new survey.
  • About 38% of adult bike riders regularly wear a bike helmet; about 69% of children under 16, as reported by their parents, regularly wear a bike helmet while riding a bike.
  • Bike helmet ownership among bike riders rose from 27% in 1991 to 60% in the new survey.
  • Bike ridership rose 20% from an estimated 66.9 million riders in 1991 to 80.6 million riders in the new survey, or about three times the U.S. population increase over that time period.
  • Half of all bike riders, however, do not regularly wear a helmet, which is the single most effective protection against head injury.

Background

 

 

The McDonald’s Corporation and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been working together on a national education campaign to encourage bike riders, especially youngsters, to wear bike helmets. As part of this effort, Yankelovich Partners conducted a national survey of bike helmet usage patterns. This is the first such survey since 1991.

In 1991, CPSC conducted the first national survey of bike helmet usage patterns. The survey reported that 18% of all bike riders wore bike helmets all or more than half of the time. Since then, there has been a heightened awareness of the importance of wearing bike helmets. CPSC’s bike helmet safety standard, state helmet laws, public education campaigns, and better-fitting and better-looking bike helmets have all contributed to a climate that encourages helmet use.

To ascertain whether these efforts resulted in more bike riders wearing helmets, Yankelovich Partners conducted this new survey. It is similar in scope and questions to the 1991 CPSC survey.

Bike Helmet Ownership and Use

 

 

In the new survey, about 60% of bicyclists reported owning a bicycle helmet (Table 1). About 45% of adults reported that they owned a helmet. About 84% of children under 16, as reported by their parents, owned a helmet.

About 50% of all bike riders reported that they regularly wore a bike helmet while riding a bike. This included 43% who said they always wore a helmet and another 7% who said they wore a helmet more than half the time (Table 2).

"Regular" helmet usage is defined as wearing a bike helmet "all or almost all the time" or "more than half the time."

About 38% of adult bike riders reported regularly wearing a bike helmet. About 69% of children under 16, as reported by their parents, regularly wore a bike helmet while riding a bike.

In contrast, 43% of all bicyclists reported never or almost never wearing a helmet. Another 7% said they wore a helmet less than half the time.

 

Table 1: Riders who own a bicycle helmet

 

Table 2: Time spent wearing a helmet

Response

Yes
No
Total

Percent

60
40
100

Response

Always or almost always
More than half the time
Less than half the time
Never or almost never

Percent

43
7
7
43

 

Reasons for Choosing and Wearing a Bike Helmet

 

 

Of those who owned a helmet, 95% said that comfort or fit was an important factor in choosing a bike helmet for themselves or a child (Table 3). Safety certification was an important factor for 93%. Ease of strap adjustment also ranked high among bike helmet owners, with 88% citing this as a factor in choosing a helmet. In addition, 70% mentioned cost as an important factor; 64% cited helmet appearance.

Table 3: Reasons for choosing the helmet purchased

Importance of Factors

Very
(%)

Somewhat
(%)

Not
(%)

Unknown
(%)

Comfort or Fit
Safety Certification
Ease of Strap Adjustment
Appearance
Cost
82
81
54
29
26
13
12
34
35
44
3
5
10
33
28
2
2
2
3
2

 

Of those bikers who wore a helmet all or some of the time, 98% said they wore a helmet for safety reasons (Table 4). In addition, bikers reported that they wore a helmet because a parent or spouse insisted on it (70%), and/or they lived where a law required bike helmet use (44%).

Table 4: Reasons for wearing a helmet all or some of the time*

Response

Safety
Parent or spouse insists
Local legal requirements

Percent

98
70
44

*Includes multiple responses

Reasons for Not Wearing a Bike Helmet

 

 

Bikers reported several reasons for not wearing a bike helmet. For those who only sometimes wore a helmet, the major reasons included: riding only a short distance (26%), forgetting to wear a helmet (25%), and feeling that the helmet was uncomfortable (20%) (Table 5).

For those who did not own a helmet, the major reasons for not wearing a bike helmet included: they had not gotten around to it (20%), and the helmet was not comfortable (18%) (Table 6).

 

Table 5: Reasons for not wearing a helmet all of the time*

 

Table 6: Reasons for not owning a helmet*

Response

When riding a short
distance
Forgetting to wear it
Helmet uncomfortable

Percent

26

25
20

Response

Haven’t gotten around to it
Helmets are not comfortable
Helmets are unnecessary
Helmets are not attractive
Do not ride very often

Percent

20
18
11
9
7

*Includes multiple responses

 

Bike Helmet Use for Other Sports

 

 

The bikers surveyed also reported wearing a bike helmet for other sports. Nationally, 20% reported wearing a helmet for other activities. Of this group, most (67%) reported wearing the helmet while in-line skating. Skate boarding was mentioned by 10% of this group.

Bike Riding Patterns

 

 

Those interviewed for this survey said they rode bicycles, on average, between six and seven months of the year.

Most bike riders (61%) said they frequently rode their bikes on neighborhood streets with little traffic. Thirty-one percent said they frequently rode on sidewalks or playgrounds. Only 10% said they frequently rode on major thoroughfares, highways, or streets with significant traffic.

Twenty percent said they frequently or sometimes rode bikes at night. However, 80% said they rarely or never rode at night.

Views About Bicycle Deaths and Injuries

 

 

Each year, bicycle crashes kill about 900 people; about 200 of those killed are children under age 15. Each year, about 567,000 people go to hospital emergency departments with bicycle-related injuries; about 350,000 of those injured are children under 15. Of those children, about 130,000 suffer head injuries.

In the survey, however, most bikers underestimated the annual number of bicycle-related deaths and emergency department injuries. For example, 72% of those who responded believed there were 500 or fewer bicycle-related deaths every year. Similarly, 96% believed there were fewer than 50,000 bicycle-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments every year.

Comparisons with 1991 Survey on Bike Helmet Usage

 

 

The new survey showed that national bike helmet use rose to about 50% from the 18% reported in the 1991 CPSC survey. Bike helmet ownership rose to 60% from 27% in 1991 (Table 7).

Bike ridership also rose. In the new survey, there were an estimated 80.6 million bike riders. This increased from an estimated 66.9 million riders in 1991 (Table 7). Over this time period, bike ridership increased about 20%, or about three times the 7% population increase of the U.S.

 

Table 7: Comparisons with 1991 Survey

Response

Helmet use
Helmet ownership
Number of bike riders

1991

18%
27%
66.9 million

1998

50%
60%
80.6 million

 

 

In the new survey, more than 80% of the bike riders with helmets indicated that comfort or fit and safety certification were very important factors in choosing a bike helmet. In 1991, 77% listed comfort and 75% listed safety certification as very important factors.

In the new survey, 98% cited safety as a reason for wearing a helmet when riding a bike, and 70% mentioned having family members, such as a parent or spouse, insist upon use of a bike helmet (Table 8). In the 1991 survey, more than 90% mentioned safety and family members’ insistence upon using a helmet as an important reason for wearing a helmet.

 

Table 8: Reasons for wearing a helmet all or some of the time, 1991 and 1998*

Response

Safety
Parent or spouse insists
Local legal requirement

1991

94%
93%
12%

1998

98%
70%
44%

*Includes multiple responses

In the new survey, 44% cited living where a law required bike helmet use. In 1991, only 12% cited a legal requirement as a reason for wearing a bike helmet (Table 8).

For those who did not have a helmet, 11% said that helmets were not necessary in the new survey (Table 9). In 1991, 21% said that helmets were unnecessary. In the new survey, only 3% said that helmets were too expensive or that they could not afford one. In 1991, 8% felt that helmets were too expensive.

 

Table 9: Reasons for not owning a helmet, 1991 and 1998

Response

Helmets are unnecessary
Helmets are too expensive
Never thought about it

1991

21%
8%
21%

1998

11%
3%
10%

 


Description of Bike Riders Surveyed

 

 

According to the new survey, 80.6 million people rode a bicycle during the preceding year.

Approximately one-half (49%) of those interviewed lived in suburban neighborhoods. The other half was split between urban (27%) and rural (24%) areas. Twenty-three percent lived in the West, 27% lived in the Midwest, 30% lived in the South, and 20% lived in the Northeast.

Helmet usage and helmet ownership were highest among those who lived in the Northeast and West and lowest in the Midwest.

Fifty-two percent of those interviewed had a college bachelor’s degree or higher. Of those who regularly wore helmets, 57% had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Of those who responded to the question about annual household income, 57% made more than $45,000 per year and 35% made more than $60,000 per year. Household incomes were not much higher for those who regularly wore helmets: 60% of these households made more than $45,000 and 36% made more than $60,000.

Of the bike riders surveyed, 51% were male. Sixty-two percent were 16 years or older. About three-quarters identified themselves as Caucasian. Ten percent identified themselves as African-American, 6% as Hispanic, and 1% as Asian. Seven percent were from another ethnic background or did not respond to the question.

Description of New Bike Helmet Survey

 

 

The new survey was based on telephone interviews completed with a nationally representative sample of 1,020 bicycle riders in the United States. The survey employed a single stage list-assisted random-digit-dialing sample design and was conducted by Yankelovich Partners, an experienced and well-known marketing research firm headquartered in Connecticut.

The survey focused on the current helmet usage patterns of bicycle riders in the United States: how many riders own helmets, the frequency of use, and the reasons riders do or do not use helmets. The survey also collected information about the characteristics of riders (e.g., age, gender, and experience) and their riding patterns (e.g., how much they ride, where they ride).

Yankelovich Partners developed the questionnaire during the summer of 1998. In order to evaluate helmet usage patterns over time, the survey’s helmet questions were designed to be similar to those asked in the 1991 CPSC bicycle survey.

The survey was conducted during August 1998. When households were reached, respondents were asked how many household members had ridden a bicycle during the last year. Each of the riders was a potential respondent. If there was more than one rider, one was selected to be interviewed. This was done by selecting the rider with (alternately) the most recent or the next birthday. If the selected rider was under 16, a parent or guardian was asked to respond on the child’s behalf.

Attempts were made to contact about 11,000 U.S. households. Of the 3,347 households contacted, 1,069 had at least one bicycle rider in the household. Interviews were completed with a total of 1,020 respondents. The sample was weighted to make population projections of bicycle riders in the continental United States.