The single most important piece of safety equipment for a bicyclist is a bike helmet. Did you know that some cities in Arizona require bike helmets for children? Tucson was the first city to introduce this requirement in Arizona (1993), and was followed by Pima County, Sierra Vista and Yuma. The most recent city to adopt a mandatory helmet law for children was Flagstaff in 2010. In all cases the helmet law applies to only children under the age of 18. In the neighboring states of New Mexico and California, there are statewide helmet laws for all children under the age of 18.
The goal of the legislation is not to create new ways to fine people or to make bicycling more difficult or expensive; it is to minimize the chance of a serious injury or fatality in vehicle-bicyclist crashes or in other bicycle mishaps. Nevertheless, wearing a helmet is always a good idea and a smart thing to do regardless if there is a law or not.
When you observe professional riders or experienced bicyclists, you will almost always see them wearing a helmet. Why? Simply because a bike helmet is a low-cost proven safety device that saves lives.
According to the Bike Helmet Institute, head injuries cause 75 percent of the 700 annual bicyclist deaths in the U.S. Even though the number of pedalcyclist fatalities in Arizona has dropped from 25 in 2009 to 19 in 2010, motor vehicle collisions with a bicyclist are typically very serious. Medical research shows that bike helmets can prevent 48 percent to 85 percent of cyclists' head injuries. Even a low-speed fall on a bicycle trail can scramble your brains.
The Bike Helmet Institute provides the following shopping guide to bike helmets:
- Make sure your helmet fits to get all the protection you are paying for. A good fit means level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight. The helmet should not move more than about an inch in any direction, and must not pull off no matter how hard you try.
- Standards are no longer a big issue in the US market, but check inside for a Consumer Product Safety Commission sticker.
- Pick white or a bright color for visibility to be sure that motorists and other cyclists can see you.
- Common sense tells you to avoid a helmet with snag points sticking out, a squared-off shell, inadequate vents, excessive vents, an extreme "aero" shape, dark colors, thin straps, complicated adjustments or a rigid visor that could snag in a fall.
If a bike helmet has been involved in a crash, it should be thrown away and replaced with a new one. Information on the Maricopa Association of Governments Metropolitan Area Bikeway Map states that bike helmets should even be replaced after several years of wear and tear.
In addition, the "Share the Road Guide for Bicyclists and Motorists," published by the Arizona Department of Transportation, also reminds bicyclists that helmet and bicycle mirrors will improve bicyclists' overall awareness and allow bicyclists to see vehicles that are following them.