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The Comprehensive And Utterly Huge Guide to Motorcycle Helmet Laws

If you ride, and of course you do, you need to know which states require you to wear some kind of protection for your gooey – and delicate – grey matter. This little missive is our attempt to let you know where and when you’ll need to slap on a DOT-approved motorcycle helmet and stay on the correct side of John Law.

If you decide to go rogue and not wear a helmet, laws be damned, then it’s sure to cost you some American Cash Money at some point. The fine for violating California’s helmet law, for instance, can be anything from $10 and the agony of going through “proof of correction” up to $250.00 and a year’s probation.


The only times you’re sure not to need a helmet at all are when you’re riding down Lakeshore Drive, just outside of  Iowa City or in the Live Free or Die State.  Those three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) have no helmet use laws – period – and you’re free to put your noggin at risk in all of them.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets as of June 2011.

In 27 states only people under a specific age ( generally those between 17 and 20) are required to wear helmets.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study covering 10 states found that when universal helmet laws which pertain to all riders were repealed, helmet use rates plummeted from 99 percent to 50 percent. In states where the universal law was reinstated, helmet use rates rose to somewhere around 95 percent.

According to NHTSA’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey, motorcycle helmet use plummeted to 54 percent in June 2010 from 67 percent in June 2009. Helmet use reached a high of 71 percent in October 2000.

Usage rates are. of course, higher in states that have universal laws that require all riders to use helmets. In June 2010, 76 percent of motorcyclists in states with universal laws actually wore them, and that represents 10 percentage points less than in 2009. In states without universal laws? As you may well guess, usage was down 15 percentage points, dropping from 55 percent in 2009 to 40 percent in 2010.

Motorcycle helmet use in 2010 was highest in the western states, at 75 percent, but even that was down from 83 percent in the previous year, and lowest in the Midwest, at 43 percent, down from 67 percent in 2009. Helmet use was 54 percent in both the Northeast and the South, down by 7 percentage points and 11 percentage points from 2009.

The DOT uses less eccentric - and more scientific - testing methods than this one...

The survey only takes into consideration helmets which comply with Department of Transportation standards.


As of 2011:
Universal Some Requirements
Alabama X
Alaska 17 and younger
Arizona 17 and younger
Arkansas 20 and younger
California X
Colorado 17 and younger and their passengers 17 and younger
Connecticut 17 and younger
Delaware 18 and younger
District of Columbia X
Florida 20 and younger
Georgia X
Hawaii 17 and younger
Idaho 17 and younger
Indiana 17 and younger
Kansas 17 and younger
Kentucky 20 and younger
Louisiana X
Maine 17 and younger
Maryland X
Massachusetts X
Michigan X
Minnesota 17 and younger
Mississippi X
Missouri X
Montana 17 and younger
Nebraska X
Nevada X
New Hampshire
New Jersey X
New Mexico 17 and younger
New York X
North Carolina X
North Dakota 17 and younger
Ohio 17 and younger
Oklahoma 17 and younger
Oregon X
Pennsylvania 20 and younger
Rhode Island 20 and younger
South Carolina 20  and younger
South Dakota 17 and younger
Tennessee X
Texas 20 and younger
Utah 17 and younger
Vermont X
Virginia X
Washington X
West Virginia X
Wisconsin 17 and younger
Wyoming 17 and younger
  • Alaska’s motorcycle helmet use law covers passengers of all ages, operators younger than 18, and operators with instruction permits.
  • In Florida and 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.
  • Texas exempts riders 21 years or older if they can show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or can show proof of  having a medical insurance policy.
  • Motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin also cover operators with instructional or learner’s permits. Maine’s motorcycle helmet use law also covers passengers 17 years and younger and passengers if their operators are required to wear a helmet.
  • North Dakota’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers traveling with operators who are covered by the law.
  • Ohio’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of having a license and all passengers of operators who are covered by the law.
  • Rhode Island’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of having a license and all passengers. Pennsylvania’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first two years of having their license – unless the operator has completed a safety course approved by the Department of Transportation or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute.

Year Percent Year Percent
1994 63 2005 48
1996 64 2006 51
1998 67 2007 58
2000 71 2008 63
2002 58 2009 67
2004 58 2010 54

These figures were based on surveys of motorcyclists using helmets meeting Department of Transportation (DOT) standards.

Sources: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Occupant Protection Use Survey, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

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