Motorcycle Helmet Laws – What You Need to Know


For this post, I had a colleague of mine from The Clark Law Office look it over and add some suggestions.  We decided to give a brief history about helmet laws to start off with…..  Motorcycle helmet laws are characterized as being in a constant state of flux.   Since motorcycle injuries are so severe, this issue is highly contested and debated. The first laws were implemented in 1967 by the federal government which placed mandates on states to institute helmet use laws. There is ongoing discussion about whether or not helmet laws are necessary or effective. Proponents of the laws feel that helmets save lives whereas opponents of the laws feel that they can lead to an increase in injury and a decrease in visibility. At the current time there are only 19 states that have universal helmet laws that cover all riders with no age restrictions.

The history of helmet laws dates back to the 1960’s and there have been changes and repeals of the laws over the years. Congress has placed sanctions on states with no helmet laws, only to overturn those restrictions. Most recently, the laws in place in the early 1990’s were lifted by Congress in 1995. At that time, sanctions and incentives were ceased and states were given the freedom to repeal motorcycle helmet laws. Many states took advantage of that freedom, but kept helmet mandates in place for younger riders. The only states without any helmet laws are New Hampshire, Illinois and Iowa. Maps are available online that specify which regulations are in effect in which states so that interstate motorcyclists can have the most up to date information for their travels.

This can all be very confusing and the debate on the issue is as heated as ever. There is a lot of information that suggests that universal helmet laws not only increase helmet use, but that motorcycle related deaths and serious injuries are much lower in states with mandated helmet regulations. Proponents of the restrictions also claim that helmet use translates into billions in economic savings in states with universal laws. A large portion of this savings is purportedly related to health care costs for head injuries related to motorcycle accidents.

Of course there is another side to the debate. Many people feel that universal regulations are unconstitutional and that they restrict the freedom of the rider. Another argument relates to the fact that at high rates of speed, a helmet is not likely to save someone’s life. Those against the restrictions argue that the only person harmed by not wearing a helmet is the rider himself. They do not feel that it is a public health issue that the government needs to concern themselves with.

Motorcycle helmet laws are likely to continue to be under debate, and on both sides of the argument, there are boisterous advocates. However, we live in a country where many personal freedoms are regulated and these regulations are likely to change again. When compared with mandatory seat belt laws which exist in every state but New Hampshire, helmet mandates seem to be lenient and in favor of freedom of choice. It is unclear where this argument will eventually lead, but to be sure, it will continue. In the meantime, motorcyclists are well advised to know that the laws change from state to state and to be aware of what they are.