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Motorcycle Helmet Law Debate Rages On – How Would You Fix The Issue?

Where do you stand on whether or not helmets should be mandatory for motorcyclists?

Do you fall in the “I can decide for myself, thanks very much” camp? Are you firmly entrenched in the “you’ve got to wear a helmet and keep your brains off the public roads” gang?

We’re unsure of where to stand on this issue.  It’s hard to argue that personal freedoms aren’t being infringed upon where mandatory helmet laws are concerned, but it’s also a tough argument to make that motorcyclists shouldn’t be forced to bear their fair share of whatever social  and medical costs might arise from exercising the freedom to ride without a lid.

To this point, I haven’t read a single article which I believe addresses all the relevant points in a succinct way, so how about coming up with some ideas?

Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books which require all motorcyclists to wear helmets as of June 2011 .

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

Three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) have no helmet use laws whatever.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study covering 10 states found that when universal helmet laws applying to all riders were repealed, helmet use rates dropped from 99 percent to 50 percent.  Those kinds of numbers clearly indicate that there are a lot of riders who only wear a lid if the government says they must.

In states where those types of blanket helmet laws were reinstated, helmet use rates rose to above 95 percent.

The NHTSA’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey says motorcycle helmet use dropped to 54 percent in June 2010 from 67 percent in June 2009. At the peak, helmet use reached a high of 71 percent back in October 2000 and helmet .usage rates are higher in states which have universal laws to require all riders to use helmets.

In June 2010, 76 percent of motorcyclists in mandatory helmet law states wore them, and that represents a 10 percentage drop when compared to 2009. In states without universal laws, 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 West, at 75 percent, 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, respectively from 2009. The survey only counts helmets that comply with Department of Transportation standards.


Updated June 2011
Universal law Partial law (1)
Alabama X
Alaska 17 and younger (2)
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 (3)
Georgia X
Hawaii 17 and younger
Idaho 17 and younger
Indiana 17 and younger
Kansas 17 and younger
Kentucky 20 and younger  (3), (4)
Louisiana X
Maine 17 and younger (4)
Maryland X
Massachusetts X
Michigan X
Minnesota 17 and younger (4)
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 (5)
Ohio 17 and younger (6)
Oklahoma 17 and younger
Oregon X
Pennsylvania 20 and younger (7)
Rhode Island 20 and younger (7)
South Carolina 20  and younger
South Dakota 17 and younger
Tennessee X
Texas 20 and younger (3)
Utah 17 and younger
Vermont X
Virginia X
Washington X
West Virginia X
Wisconsin 17 and younger (4)
Wyoming 17 and younger

(1) Universal laws cover all riders; partial laws cover young riders or some adult riders.

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

(3) 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 either 1) can show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or 2) can show proof of  having a medical insurance policy.

(4) Motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin also cover operators with instructional/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.

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

(6) Ohio’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of licensing and all passengers of operators who are covered by the law.

(7) Rhode Island’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of licensing and all passengers. Pennsylvania’s motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first two years of llicensing unless the operator has completed the 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

(1) Based on surveys of motorcyclists using helmets meeting Department of Transportation standards. Surveys conducted in October for 1994-2000 and in June thereafter.

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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