North Carolina Bicycle Helmet Study

During the summer of 1999, HSRC researchers collected observational data about bicycle helmet use in 22 randomly selected cities and towns throughout North Carolina.

The central finding of this study is that most bicyclists riding in NC do not wear a bicycle helmet. There was considerable variation in helmet use depending on the type of site at which the bicyclist was observed. The overall correct helmet use rate was lowest in neighborhoods (13 percent), followed by collector streets (22 percent), greenways (37 percent), and mountain biking trails (80 percent).

Helmet use was also related to the characteristics of the observed cyclists. For example, across the full sample, the lowest correct helmet use rate was 10 percent for the 14-18 age group. The use rate was generally higher for cyclists older than 18 years, as well as for children 0-5 years old.

Further results show greater helmet use among cyclists who treat bicycling as a serious activity. This is reflected in higher use rates for riders of road bikes, and for those who use gloves and/or a backpack when bicycling. Nearly every bicyclist (98 percent) who was observed with both gloves and a backpack was wearing a helmet. On the other hand, helmet use among those for whom bicycling appears to be a casual activity is quite low.

In the spring and summer of 2002, approximately six months following the effective date of the mandatory helmet use law, HSRC repeated the statewide observational survey. Survey results indicate that helmet use has increased by a modest amount compared with use estimated from the 1999 survey. Statewide helmet use estimated from the probability sample of on-street locations was 24 percent for helmet use (includes correct and incorrect use) in 2002 compared to 18 percent in 1999.