Motorcycle and bicycle helmet use laws


Why not standardize the laws?  Hot topic but we believe in ATGATT

(All The Gear All The Time)

December 2011


  • Laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 20 states and the District of Columbia
  • Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 27 states
  • There is no motorcycle helmet use law in 3 states (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire)
  • Some bicyclists are required by law to wear a helmet in 21 states and the District of Columbia
  • There is no bicycle helmet use law in 29 states

The history of motorcycle helmet laws in the United States is characterized by change. In 1967, to increase motorcycle helmet use, the federal government required the states to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds. The federal incentive worked. By the early 1970s, almost all the states had universal motorcycle helmet laws. Michigan was the first state to repeal its law in 1968, beginning a pattern of repeal, reenactment, and amendment of motorcycle helmet laws. In 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws.

No state has a universal bicycle helmet law. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have statewide bicycle helmet laws, and they apply only to young riders (often riders younger than 16). Local ordinances in a few other states require bicycle helmets for some or all riders.

Low-power cycle is a generic term used by the Institute to cover motor-driven cycles, mopeds, scooters, and various other 2-wheeled cycles excluded from the motorcycle definition. While state laws vary, a cycle with an engine displacement of 50 cubic centimeters or less, brake horsepower of 2 or less, and top speeds of 30 mph or less typically is considered a low-power cycle. Twenty-two states have motorcycle helmet laws that cover all low-power cycles. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have laws that cover some low-power cycles.

State Motorcycle helmet use governs: Does the motorcycle helmet law cover all low-power cycles? Bicycle helmet use governs:
Alabama all riders yes 15 and younger
Alaska 17 and younger1 yes no law
Arizona 17 and younger some no law
Arkansas 20 and younger yes no law
California all riders yes 17 and younger
Colorado 17 and younger and passengers 17 and younger yes no law
Connecticut 17 and younger yes 15 and younger
Delaware 18 and younger2 some 17 and younger
District of Columbia all riders some 15 and younger
Florida 20 and younger3 some 15 and younger
Georgia all riders some 15 and younger
Hawaii 17 and younger some 15 and younger
Idaho 17 and younger some no law
Illinois no law no law no law
Indiana 17 and younger yes no law
Iowa no law no law no law
Kansas 17 and younger some no law
Kentucky 20 and younger4 some no law
Louisiana all riders yes 11 and younger
Maine 17 and younger5 some 15 and younger
Maryland all riders some 15 and younger
Massachusetts all riders yes 1–16 (riding with children younger than 1 prohibited)
Michigan all riders some no law
Minnesota 17 and younger6 yes no law
Mississippi all riders yes no law
Missouri all riders some no law
Montana 17 and younger some no law
Nebraska all riders yes no law
Nevada all riders some no law
New Hampshire no law no law 15 and younger
New Jersey all riders yes 16 and younger
New Mexico 17 and younger some 17 and younger
New York all riders some 1–13 (riding with children younger than 1 prohibited)
North Carolina all riders yes 15 and younger
North Dakota 17 and younger7 yes no law
Ohio 17 and younger8 yes no law
Oklahoma 17 and younger some no law
Oregon all riders yes 15 and younger
Pennsylvania 20 and younger9 some 11 and younger
Rhode Island 20 and younger10 some 15 and younger
South Carolina 20 and younger yes no law
South Dakota 17 and younger yes no law
Tennessee all riders yes 15 and younger
Texas 20 and younger11 some no law
Utah 17 and younger yes no law
Vermont all riders some no law
Virginia all riders some no law
Washington all riders yes no law
West Virginia all riders some 14 and younger
Wisconsin 17 and younger12 some no law
Wyoming 17 and younger some no law

1Alaska’s motorcycle helmet use law covers passengers of all ages, operators younger than 18, and operators with instructional permits.

2In Delaware, every motorcycle operator or rider age 19 and older shall have in their possession a safety helmet approved by the Secretary.

3In Florida, the law requires that all riders younger than 21 years wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 years and older may ride without helmets only if they can show proof that they are covered by a medical insurance policy.

4In Kentucky, the law requires that all riders younger than 21 years wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 years and older may ride without helmets only if they can show proof that they are covered by a medical insurance policy. Motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky also cover operators with instructional/learner’s permits.

5Motorcycle helmet laws in Maine cover operators with instructional/learner’s permits and operators in their first year of licensure. Maine’s motorcycle helmet use law also covers passengers 17 years and younger and passengers if their operators are required to wear a helmet.

6Motorcycle helmet laws in Minnesota cover operators with instructional/learner’s permits.

7North Dakota’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers traveling with operators who are covered by the law.

8Ohio’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of licensure and all passengers of operators who are covered by the law.

9Pennsylvania’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first two years of licensure unless the operator has completed the safety course approved by PennDOT or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

10Rhode Island’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers (regardless of age) and all operators during the first year of licensure (regardless of age).

11Texas exempts riders 21 years or older if they can either show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or can show proof of having a medical insurance policy. A peace officer may not stop or detain a person who is the operator of or a passenger on a motorcycle for the sole purpose of determining whether the person has successfully completed the motorcycle operator training and safety course or is covered by a health insurance plan.

12Motorcycle helmet laws in Wisconsin cover operators with instructional/learner’s permits.

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10 thoughts on “Motorcycle and bicycle helmet use laws

  1. RichardM December 23, 2011 / 4:37 AM

    Thank you for compiling this information in one spot. I am also pro helmet on both bicycles and motorcycles especially after hitting gravel in a steep downhill corner on my bicycle. I don’t think I would be here now.

    • advgrrls December 23, 2011 / 4:40 AM

      we were shocked to see how many motorcyclists did NOT wear helmets or gear when we traveled across the US in 2010. I mean we saw many doing speeds up to 160KM per hour and almost naked on their Harley’s and sport bikes. We stood out like a sore thumb riding through these states as we always wore our gear even in the Hottest, humid summer on record in the States that summer. makes no sense to me but whatever…it’s their life.

  2. Tom Hill December 23, 2011 / 7:05 AM

    I am a full believer in wearing proper personal protection in everything I do. I promote it as much as I can. However, I am not a strong believer in laws that regulate personal choice and relieve people of the responsibility of thinking through the impact of their choices. To me, that’s government over-reaching.

    Merry Xmas

    Tom

  3. AlanI December 23, 2011 / 8:07 AM

    Just a quick comment regarding Tom’s post. If all people acted responsibly there wouldn’t be a need for laws. Unfortunately, all too many wouldn’t even know the meaning of the word and in cases where their action/inaction places a burden upon other individuals or institutions etc then it is right and proper that as a consequence they forgo their right to personal choice.
    In my profession I see far too many cases of serious head injuries that could have been mitigated had adequate protection been worn. These individuals place both a financial burden upon the health system, consume resources that could be put to better use elsewhere and often cause someone on the waiting list for non-urgent surgery to be put back on the list.
    So yes, in the ideal world we wouldn’t require laws that regulated personal choice. Sadly, the world is anything but ideal and the intelligence of humankind is still in the developing stages.

    • advgrrls December 23, 2011 / 8:29 AM

      same here…I work in healthcare…but even laws are amended..how many drug addicted folks do I see in a given week..in ICU only to be released back into the chaos with our own community offering needles, free drugs and supervision to continue their addiction despite their chronic heart disease that has been as result of the same drug use our society seems to be condoning. Off topic but seriously, laws mean squat in the end if there is no personal accountability and self respect. Without that no one really gives a damn about the costs associated with poor decision do they?

  4. Don Plummer December 23, 2011 / 9:49 AM

    While I am a full gear rider almost all the time now, I would probably not be a rider at all if ATGAT were mandatory when I was young. There’s just no way I could have afforded it back then. (Now I have a set of gear for every season) Today I enjoy the freedom to hop on my antique Honda and ride around home in jeans and t-shirt. I even rode completely naked once. Mid ’70’s, streaking had just been invented, I was in high school… (oops, off topic.)
    Politically I believe that the states should have more authority. Smaller groups of people governing themselves is better than a central government deciding for everyone.
    I don’t ride a bicycle so I’ll duck that argument. Like the mandatory seat belt, air bag argument. I don’t own a cage so I don’t give my, unsolicited, opinion on that topic.
    Perhaps the fact that there are sooo many different, very strongly held, opinions on the subject of motorcycle safety gear is indication that the government should just butt out.

    • advgrrls December 23, 2011 / 10:05 AM

      would be interesting if there were no laws governing helmets in general…wonder if this would change human behaviors just because they had choice and no consequences other than being unprotected and possibly catastrophically hurt.

  5. twotiretirade December 24, 2011 / 5:00 AM

    For many motorcyclist riding is an extension of their freedom. They feel that their ability to choose their own destiny is limited when forced to wear a motorcycle. For these folks, any law that limits our own choice is negative. Others believe that helmet laws will lead to other restrictive laws. Personally I always wear a helmet but I like the fact that it is my choice.

    • advgrrls December 24, 2011 / 6:22 AM

      just curious then…why have laws?

      • Don Plummer December 24, 2011 / 7:19 AM

        Laws protecting you from me i.e. Traffic laws, laws pertaining to the discharging of firearms in public, are needed to maintain society. Laws protecting you from yourself can easily start becoming invasive. This is just one of the many sides to this argument that IMO is valid.

        On the other hand is the argument that helmets are actually dangerous because they limit visibility, hearing and cause your neck to break. This argument IMO is complete crap and I can’t believe it’s actually used by lobbyists to repeal helmet laws.

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