Teenagers' Attitudes Towards Bicycle Helmets

Monash University Accident Research Centre - Report #64 - 1994

Authors: C. Finch, J. Ferla, G. Chin, P. Maloney & P. Abeysiri

Full report in .pdf format [1MB]

Abstract:

A survey of Year 9 and Year 10 school students was conducted in September 1993 to determine teenagers' attitudes towards bicycle helmets. The survey found that bicycles are the preferred form of wheeled recreation/self-transport amongst teenagers. However, less than one-quarter of all teenagers reported that they always wore a helmet when they rode a bicycle. Major factors leading to teenagers not wanting to wear a bicycle helmet were the helmet's appearance and comfort. Both safety considerations and parental pressures were factors that influence a teenager to wear a helmet. This study has highlighted three major problem areas: low helmet ownership and wearing rates; the low priority that teenagers give to safety issues compared to comfort and peer acceptance, and an ignorance of the need for helmets in all riding situations.

Executive Summary

Despite the large influence that Bike-Ed and other education programs have had on helmet wearing rates and other safety behaviours in children, and the introduction of mandatory helmet wearing in Victoria, helmet wearing rates in 12-17 year olds are considerably lower than in other age-groups. Furthermore, since the introduction of mandatory helmet wearing, there has been an apparent drop in the numbers of teenagers using bicycles.

Reasons for these trends in teenagers are currently unclear. A survey of teenagers' attitudes was considered as an appropriate step to take to obtain some relevant information on these issues. A survey of 1240 Year 9 and Year 10 students from fourteen schools in the outer south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne was conducted in September 1993.

This survey found that bicycles are still the preferred form of wheeled recreation/self transport amongst teenagers with over 80% of all responding teenagers having ridden a bicycle during the previous year. Males tended to use bicycles more often and across a wider variety of places than females.

Almost two-thirds of all teenagers reported that they owned a helmet but only one-third wore a helmet the last time they road a bicycle. Less than one quarter of all teenagers always wore a bicycle helmet when they rode a bicycle, despite the fact that helmet wearing is compulsory in this state. This is of some concern when viewed in the light of the high numbers of teenagers who use a bicycle.

The major factors leading to teenagers not wanting to wear a bicycle helmet were the helmet's appearance and comfort. Appearance was more of an issue for females than males. Both safety considerations and parental pressures were factors that influence a teenager to wear a helmet.

Few teenagers had recently participated in a bicycle education program. Despite this, many appear to be familiar with the importance of bicycle helmets as a safety measure. This study has highlighted three major problem areas:

  • low helmet ownership and wearing rates
  • the low priority teenagers give to safety issues compared to comfort and peer acceptance
  • an ignorance of the need for helmets in all riding situations.

The study's major recommendations are the following:

1. Future education schemes (through schools, media etc) should emphasise that helmets should be worn whenever a bicycle is ridden and not just in traffic or other obviously dangerous situations.

2. Helmet manufacturers and government bodies should promote the availability of modern, light, well-ventilated and stylish helmets. Parents should be advised that their children are more likely to be happy about wearing these helmets (which they have helped to choose).

3. The possibility of a fine being imposed on non-helmet wearing bicyclists needs to be emphasised and enforced by the relevant authorities. The perception that fines are low and unlikely to be incurred should be addressed.

4. Parents should continue to encourage their teenagers to wear bicycle helmets. This could be achieved by developing education schemes aimed at adults' awareness of bicycle safety issues, thereby increasing the number of parents that demand helmets be worn by their children and providing role models for teenagers.

Sponsor: Roads Corporation (VicRoads)