Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Motorcycles are the least safe of all motor vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Since a low of 2,116 motorcycle fatalities in 1997, the number of motorcycle crash deaths has more than doubled. In 2013, 4,668 motorcyclists died in traffic accidents, and approximately 88,000 more were injured. It is because of the dangers that motorcycles present and the protection that helmets offer that most states have passed some form of motorcycle helmet laws.

One reason for the high fatality figures is that not all motorcycle riders wear helmets. The helmet is the most effective and vital piece of protective equipment they can wear. The NHTSA has estimated that 715 motorcycle riders wouldn't have died in 2013 if they had worn helmets. It also estimates that 1,630 motorcyclists survived because they wore helmets. Further evidence from the NHTSA suggests that motorcycle helmets significantly reduce serious head and neck injuries in crashes.

Mandatory Helmet Laws

As of September, 2016, 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets. These states include Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

There are only three states that have no motorcycle helmet laws: Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire. The other 28 states have laws in place that apply to certain motorcycle riders. Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming each have statutes that require motorcyclists under 18 years old to wear helmets.

Colorado, meanwhile, requires both riders and passengers aged 17 and younger to wear helmets. The law in Delaware applies to riders aged 18 and younger, and statutes in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas apply to riders aged 20 and younger.

The federal government has put pressure on states to pass universal helmet laws. States with such statutes as of 1967 qualified for specific federal highway construction funds and safety programs. But in 1976 states convinced Congress to prevent the Department of Transportation from levying penalties on states without the laws.

Failure to Wear a Helmet

When motorcyclists fail to wear helmets in states that have mandatory helmet laws, a number of issues can arise. In some states, motorcyclists may face criminal charges. Penalties vary from state to state, but they can include fines up to several hundred dollars and even jail time.

If a biker is injured in an accident with another motorist, the failure to wear a helmet could potentially have an effect on whether or not damages can be recovered. Some states with mandatory helmet laws treat the failure to wear a helmet as any other negligent act, similar to a failure to use turn signals or speeding. In such cases, the injured motorcyclist may be barred from collecting damages or may have the amount of damages reduced if a head or neck injury is sustained.

Other states may not specify how failing to wear a helmet contributes to the determination of negligence on the part of the motorcyclist. In these states, along with those that have no helmet laws, the effect is unsettled. This means that the failure to wear a helmet may or may not be considered negligence.

These complex motorcycle helmet laws justify the need for personal injury attorneys in cases that involve motorcycle crashes. Legal counsel is available for injured motorcyclists who need help navigating and understanding their state statutes as well as building strong cases to recover damages.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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