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Safety Measures to Prevent Traffic Injuries

Evidence-based strategies and promising approaches for preventing traffic injuries include helmet use laws for bicycles and motorcycles, safety training, and bike rodeos. Helmets have been shown to effectively reduce the risk of head and brain injuries. Safety training that involves education about how to properly wear a helmet, as well as training on how to safely ride bicycles, motorcycles, and ATVs, is another effective injury prevention strategy.

Helmet Use Laws

Use of a well-fitting helmet greatly reduces the risk of head injury of occupants of bicycles, motorcycles, or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) involved in crashes and collisions. The most dangerous and potentially fatal injury that can occur from these events is a head injury or traumatic brain injury.

Bicycle Helmet Laws

Bicycle helmet use laws are important strategies for increasing helmet use and for educating people about the safety impact of wearing a properly fitting helmet. As of March 2022, 22 states and the District of Columbia had enacted statewide bicycle helmet laws, and over 200 localities had also enacted similar laws to prevent head injuries. Many of these laws only apply to people under age 16 or 18, but some localities have adopted laws that apply to people of all ages. One study of the use of helmets for preventing head and brain injury suggests that proper use of helmets can lower the risk of such injuries between 58-60%.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends universal motorcycle helmet laws as an effective and evidence-based strategy for increasing helmet use and decreasing motorcycle-related injury and death. This recommendation is based on evidence showing that helmet use lowered the risk for a fatality by over 40% and lowered the risk for head injury by 69%. Despite the evidence that helmets can prevent motorcycle-related injuries and deaths, only 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted universal helmet laws, 29 states have partial laws in place that often only apply to people under age 18, and 3 states have no motorcycle helmet law at all.

Safety Training and Activities

Bike Rodeos

Bike rodeos are one promising approach for educating children and their families about bicycle safety, including helmet wearing, and are also being adapted to teach rural communities about motorcycle and ATV safety. At these events, children and their parents bring their bikes or ATVs, and practice safe driving skills and learn about helmet safety. The size of the event and activities can be customized for the specific educational needs of the community.

Examples of community bike rodeo activities include:

  • Helmet distribution and fitting – making sure that helmets meet U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards
  • Bike fitting – ensuring the child fits on the bike properly and adjusting the bike to maximize fit for safety
  • Safety check – making sure bike wheels and frame are adjusted properly and everything is secured
  • Education – teaching how to read and understand traffic signals, road signs, and how to use hand signals
  • Practice – including time to practice riding the bike safely and signaling
  • Safety rules – teaching about using safety equipment, such as reflectors, to improve visibility while riding and about avoiding hazards on the road

Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Parks

One strategy to encourage safe riding of ATVs and other off-highway vehicles (OHVs) is creating designated areas for driving these vehicles for recreational use to keep them off major roadways and to prevent injuries. For example, in Iowa, OHV riding parks give people the opportunity to ride ATVs and OHVs on safer terrain. States with OHV parks often provide safety guidelines, which may include training courses and other requirements.

Farm Equipment Safety

Injuries from driving farm equipment on major roads is a concern in rural areas, which tend to have higher concentrations of farmland. The Agricultural Safety and Health eXtension Community of Practice is a collaboration of over 90 member organizations, universities, and government agencies that produces resources to educate about the risks related to operating these vehicles on roads.

Strategies to increase visibility of farm equipment and to prevent crashes and injuries include:

  • Using proper road signage in areas where farm equipment is likely to be on the road
  • Using slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblems to mark equipment and make it stand out to other drivers
  • Using reflective tape for vehicles being towed
  • Using lighting to ensure visibility during travel, such as using headlights and taillights, as well as flashing warning lights when necessary

Examples of Programs that Focus on Increasing Helmet Use and Safety Training

  • ATV Ride Safe Oklahoma is a collaboration between the Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital, Trauma One Injury Prevention at OU Medical Center, and Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension that provides the community with safety education around ATV injury prevention. The program promotes the “8 golden rules of ATV safety,” such as wearing a helmet and other proper safety gear when riding, avoiding riding ATVs on paved roads and highways, never riding after drinking alcohol or using drugs, and only riding ATVs designed for your age. The program also promotes free online safety courses through the ATV Safety Institute, where people can sign up to learn about ATV rider safety. The program also provides in-person hands-on courses.
  • The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) is working with local trauma departments and schools to deliver education and training on preventing traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) from using ATVs and other offroad vehicles. Alaska is unique in that many communities use ATVs, snowmachines, motorcycles, or bicycles to travel locally to school and work. ANTHC educates about the importance of always using helmets to reduce the risk of TBI. Together with ANTHC, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation Injury Prevention Program implemented training on these topics using the ATV Safety Toolkit.
  • Hard Hats for Little Heads is a program through the Texas Medical Association that aims to reduce head injuries among children in Texas by providing free bicycle helmets. The program began in 1994 and has distributed more than 350,000 bicycle helmets to children in that time.
  • The Bicycle Helmet Program at the Margaret Mary Community Hospital in Indiana offers bicycle helmets to community members at a discount, charging only $5.00 per helmet. Hospital representatives visit local elementary schools annually to teach about bicycle safety, rules of the road, and the importance of wearing a properly fitting helmet. Through this program the hospital has sold hundreds of helmets to families in the community for children and adults of all ages.
  • The University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center is conducting innovative research related to bicycle and pedestrian safety for children. They developed a virtual environments lab with technology that simulates how people interact with roads, traffic, vehicles, and bicycles. From this research they are implementing interventions to target findings about how children interact with the environment while on bicycles and when crossing roads. They also created a searchable inventory of bicycle safety programs after studying youth bicycle education and safety programs implemented in the U.S. and other countries.
  • The Youth Bicycle Education and Safety Training (BEST) Program educates children in elementary and middle schools all over Utah about how to operate bikes safely. The program provides training and experience for children riding bikes at different schools in their community. During the training, they learn rules of the road, how to properly wear a helmet, other safety advice, and how to avoid injuries.

Implementation Considerations

As with other types of legislation, it may be challenging to pass helmet use laws in areas where there has not been broad support. In some cases, within states where there is currently no state law mandating helmets, it may be easier and take less time to implement local legislation around helmet use. In addition, some of the bicycle laws enacted in states and localities may not cover other types of transportation, such as skateboards, scooters, or electric bicycles. These modes of transportation can also pose risks for crashes and head injury. Rural communities may consider enacting local helmet laws and other safety training for these types of motorized and non-motorized vehicles.

Helmet use laws may be most effective when they are properly enforced and paired with education about the effects of head injuries. Universal helmet use laws can be easier to enforce by police officers compared with partial laws. Educational campaigns, distribution of helmets, and proper fitting can also improve effectiveness of these models in preventing injury. Local law enforcement and other local officials, as well as schools and parents can play an important role in helping ensure that children in the community learn about proper helmet use.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

All-Terrain Vehicle Hazards during Farm Work
Offers employers in the field of agriculture safety measures for consideration and training purposes to prevent injuries of employees operating all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Date: 7/2015

Farm Safety Check: ATV
Presents information and resources about operating all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) safely on the farm. Includes a printable ATV safety checklist that can be used to identify hazards, and a list of ATV safety training courses.
Organizations(s): Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center