Mandate helmets for bikers, get a drop in motorbikes theft

Note: analysis based on my Behavioral Orchestration and Analysis framework explained here.


“Mayhew, Pat, Clarke, Ronald V., and Elliott, David (1989), ‘Motorcycle Theft, Helmet Legislation and Displacement’, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 28, issue 1: 1–8.”

Quoted by David Halpern. “Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference.

Type & Context

This is an isolated natural experiment. In 1980, West Germany introduced fines for motorcyclist not wearing a helmet while riding. The side effect was a drastic drop in motorbike thefts. Simply because thieves couldn’t be bothered to plan to take a helmet with them when going out and most bikers were keeping their helmets with them.

Changes implemented

Choice Architecture

Choice ergonomics and usability

Although we could categorize this change under Incentives as well, this is mainly an illustration of the power of Ease as a driver of behavior. Of course, ease (or lack of) is a powerful incentive in itself.


From David Halpern’s book:

In the wake of the change, motorcycle thefts fell by 60 per cent, and stayed down. […]  Nor was it a peculiarly German phenomenon: they documented similar reductions elsewhere. Texas saw a reduction of 44 per cent in motorcycle thefts from 1988 to 1990 following the requirement to wear helmets, and Britain and the Netherlands saw comparable reductions in thefts of a third or more when laws were changed to require the wearing of helmets in the 1970s.


What this natural experiment shows is that the moment you add or remove the slightest degree of friction and increase/decrease the ease of doing a specific behavior, you get a much stronger impact than generally thought. This is one of the most interesting and powerful case studies showing the power of Ease as a BE tool.