Bicycle Helmet Laws in Chicagoland – Part I

Given the profound impact that helmets have on the reduction of serious injury and fatality, the Bicycle Accident Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. encourage the use of helmets for all bicyclists, and support legislative efforts that would make helmet use a requirement for children. As legal professionals and bicycle enthusiasts ourselves, we take note of some confusion regarding helmet use laws which are shared by many Illinois residents that reside in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Presented in two parts, we first address general concerns and possible reasons for misconceptions of the law. To view information regarding bike helmet use laws in specific Chicagoland communities, see Part II.

Distinguishing between state and local law
In order to understand the law regarding the use of helmets while bicycling, it is necessary to consider both state and local laws. Currently there is no statewide law requiring the use of helmets in Illinois. However, pursuant to Illinois Vehicle Code sec.11-208(8), local authorities have the power to regulate the operation of bicycles with respect to the streets and highways under their jurisdiction. Nearly a dozen communities have enacted local laws regarding helmet use.

Prior attempts to enact statewide legislation
Efforts to make the use of helmets, for certain minors, a requirement under state law, have been ongoing in Illinois for well over a decade. For many, such efforts may have contributed to confusion regarding the current status of the law, particularly in light of widespread discussion and media attention on the topic. Further, support by community activist groups is ongoing, and it is very likely that the issue over bicycle helmet laws will be revisited in the (near) future.

Lack of compiled data (local law)
Locating state law pertaining to helmet use can be found in Illinois Vehicle Code. Determining the status of pending laws can be found at www.ilga.gov. However, ascertaining the bike helmet laws, if a particular city, town, village, or municipality has enacted any, requires review of the ordinance/code in each individual area. We feel that our communities would benefit greatly if the state were to compile accurate statewide data, and make such information available through reliable and/or government-affiliated resources.

Improper information
In conjunction with our contention in the previous paragraph, although some online resources have attempted to compile statewide data, the problem is that many provide inaccurate or outdated information, or fail to provide updated information. For example, in discussing ‘safety laws,’ the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles misstates the law regarding helmet use requirements. Further, many other online resources have failed to incorporate amendments to local law.

Ongoing Improvement
While the lack of data and/or resources that provide current, complete, accurate, and reliable information is certainly troubling, we find this issue will become more problematic, as many more Chicago area cities implement regulatory revisions that extend from community development efforts related to bike planning, safety, and infrastructure.

To continue reading more on this topic, as well as find information on helmet-use laws in your community, see ‘Bicycle Helmet Laws in Chicagoland – Part II.’