Bicycle-related head injuries cause >150 deaths and 45 000 nonfatal injuries among children in the United States annually. Although bicycle helmets are highly effective against head injury, only 24% of US children regularly wear one. Georgia mandated bicycle helmet use for children, effective July 1993. During that summer, 1 rural Georgia community passed an ordinance instructing police officers to impound the bicycle of any unhelmeted child. We evaluated the effect of active police enforcement of this ordinance, combined with a helmet giveaway and education program.
During April 1997, ∼580 children in kindergarten through grade 7 received free helmets, fitting instructions, and safety education. Police then began impounding bicycles of unhelmeted children. We conducted an observational study, unobtrusively observing helmet use just before helmet distribution, several times during the next 5 months, and once 2 years later.
Before the program began, none of 97 observed riders wore a helmet. During the next 5 months, helmet use among 358 observed children averaged 45% (range: 30%–71%), a significant increase in all race and gender groups. In contrast, adult use did not change significantly. Police impounded 167 bicycles during the study, an average of 1 per day. Two years after program initiation, 21 of 39 child riders (54%) were observed wearing a helmet.
Without enforcement, the state and local laws did not prompt helmet use in this community, yet active police enforcement, coupled with helmet giveaways and education, was effective and lasting.