Motorcycle Helmet Laws By State: A Comprehensive Overview

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 4 mins

Motorcycle helmets work. Unlike vehicle occupants in car accidents, motorcyclists have no passenger compartment to protect them in a crash. Operators and passengers reduce their risk of head injury in motorcycle accidents by up to 69% when they wear helmets. As a result, helmeted riders are less likely to suffer death or incapacitating injuries.

States do not dispute these facts. When Texas repealed its universal helmet law, helmet use dropped 30%, while deaths jumped by 21%.

However, states question whether the government can require riders to wear helmets or if the risks and responsibilities of helmetless riding should fall on motorcyclists. This philosophy has won over legislatures in a majority of states. As a result, motorcyclists will find wide variation in motorcycle helmet laws by state.

Origin of Motorcycle Helmet Laws

In 1966, Congress passed comprehensive traffic safety laws to try to reduce road deaths. These laws took a new approach by setting mandates for the states and threatening to withhold the highway funding of any state that failed to meet them. One of these mandates required states to pass universal motorcycle helmet laws.

By the time Congress rescinded the government’s power to withhold highway funding, many states had already passed the required laws. States that disagreed with the idea of requiring riders to wear helmets began rolling back their statutes by adding exemptions or repealing the laws altogether.

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State Motorcycle Helmet Requirements

Motorcycle helmets reduce motorcycle deaths. As a result, most states have motorcycle helmet laws. However, these laws vary in scope from state to state.

Which States Can You Ride a Motorcycle Without a Helmet?

Only three states allow all riders to go helmetless. In other words, the police cannot cite operators or passengers in the following states for riding without a helmet:

  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • New Hampshire

Illinois and Iowa had universal helmet laws but repealed them. New Hampshire, following its state motto of “live free or die,” has never had a motorcycle helmet law.

Which States Have Limited Motorcycle Helmet Laws?

Over half of the states have laws requiring some motorcyclists to wear motorcycle helmets. These laws rely on age to determine whether a rider falls under its helmet mandate. Thus, riders up to the age cutoff must wear a helmet, while those over that age can choose not to wear one. The following states use these types of laws:

  • Alaska: Up to 18
  • Arizona: Up to 18
  • Arkansas: Up to 21
  • Colorado: Up to 18
  • Connecticut: Up to 18
  • Delaware: Up to 18
  • Florida: Up to 21
  • Hawaii: Up to 18
  • Idaho: Up to 18
  • Indiana: Up to 18
  • Kansas: Up to 18
  • Kentucky: Up to 21
  • Maine: Up to 18
  • Michigan: Up to 21
  • Minnesota: Up to 18
  • Missouri: Up to 26
  • Montana: Up to 18
  • Nebraska: Up to 21
  • New Mexico: Up to 18
  • North Dakota: Up to 18
  • Ohio: Up to 18
  • Oklahoma: Up to 18
  • Pennsylvania: Up to 21
  • Rhode Island: Up to 21
  • South Carolina: Up to 21
  • South Dakota: Up to 18
  • Texas: Up to 21
  • Utah: Up to 21
  • Wisconsin: Up to 18
  • Wyoming: Up to 18

While it may seem that these states have reached a fair compromise between safety and freedom, these laws are often unenforceable. Police officers cannot determine the age of a rider from afar. As a result, they may choose not to waste their time by pulling over helmetless riders.

What States Require Motorcycle Helmets for Everyone?

Only 17 states and Washington, D.C., have universal helmet laws. These states include:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Washington, D.C.

All motorcycle operators and passengers must wear helmets while riding on public roads. Some states only cover public roads and leave it to riders to decide whether to wear helmets while riding off-road or on private property.

How Helmet Use Affects Motorcycle Accident Claims

Riders who fail to wear helmets expose themselves to the risk of a serious or fatal head injury. More importantly, a reasonable motorcyclist knows these risks. Drivers involved in motorcycle crashes can argue helmetless riders bear the fault for their head injuries.

In personal injury law, states are split on the effect of a victim’s negligence. A minority of states use “contributory negligence.” Under this legal principle, any negligence by the victim will bar all injury compensation. A motorcyclist recovers nothing even if they bear only 1% of the fault and the other driver bears 99%.

Most states use “comparative negligence.” This legal theory is more forgiving of riders who choose not to wear helmets. Rather than barring all compensation, the law reduces their compensation in proportion to the rider’s share of the fault. Thus, a rider who bears 22% of the fault will be compensated for 78% of the losses incurred.

Learn More From ConsumerShield

ConsumerShield is dedicated to helping people understand their legal rights. Whether you were injured while riding helmetless or suspect your helmet was defective when it failed to protect you, we can refer you to a lawyer who can help you. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • In total, 47 states and Washington, D.C., have motorcycle helmet laws. Of these states, 17 and Washington, D.C., have universal helmet laws that require all riders to wear them regardless of age.

  • There are 30 states that only require some riders to wear helmets. The most common helmet requirement involves the rider’s age. Some states also base requirements on health insurance coverage. The most common age restriction requires riders 17 or younger to wear helmets — 18 states use this age cutoff.

  • Three states allow all riders to ride motorcycles without helmets. New Hampshire has never had a motorcycle helmet law. Iowa and Illinois had motorcycle helmet laws before repealing them.

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