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A motorcycle ride is a thrilling experience. Many enjoy the adrenaline and speed. Others enjoy the simplicity of taking in the scenery on the open road. If you’re a motorcyclist or hope to become one, it’s important that you know and understand the helmet laws where you live and anywhere you ride.

Motorcycles are more likely to be involved in an accident than cars according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Motorcyclists are largely unprotected in accidents, which often results in serious injury or death.

History of motorcycle helmet laws

The government required states to adopt universal helmet laws for motorcyclists in 1967 to qualify for funds for highway safety. All but three states did this by 1975. But in 1976, state helmet laws were reduced to laws that only apply to young or beginning riders. Why? That year Congress revoked federal authority to penalize states for not complying.

Today, approximately half of U.S. states require helmets for all motorcyclists. Universal helmet laws in those states prove to be highly effective. Other states either have conditional helmet laws or none at all. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association wants all states to enact universal motorcycle helmet laws and enforce them aggressively.

Which states have motorcycle helmet laws?

Just 19 U.S. states have universal motorcycle helmet laws requiring a rider of any age to wear a helmet. In those states, a DOT-approved helmet is required and can range from $150 to more than $500. Quality helmets greatly diminish the severity of injuries when accidents occur. 

It’s legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet in many other states as long as you’re at least 21 years old. Nine states require only some motorcycle riders to wear a helmet, usually applicable to riders below a specified age.

States with universal motorcycle helmet laws

All motorcyclists of any age are required to wear a helmet in Alabama, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

States with limited motorcycle helmet laws

Motorcycle riders of a specified age or younger are required to wear a helmet in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

States with no motorcycle helmet laws

There are no motorcycle helmet laws in Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

The impact of wearing a helmet on insurance 

According to Nasdaq, wearing a motorcycle helmet doesn’t directly impact your insurance rates. Yet it can mitigate the cost of future premiums because they reduce the severity of injuries. The insurance companies leave the decision of wearing a motorcycle helmet to the individual. Insurances do, however, take into account frequency, severity, and losses. Riders in states with helmet laws applicable to more riders typically have lower insurance rates. 

When a file is claimed by a motorcycle insurance claim, the insurance company may elect to raise the rider’s premiums. If the rider wears a helmet for protection, it can have a positive impact on decisions made by the insurance company.

Do helmets really work?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explains that helmets do reduce the chances that a motorcycle rider will sustain brain injuries or die in an accident. According to studies, motorcycle helmets can decrease chances of death by as much as 42%. Motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets are three times likelier to sustain serious brain injuries in crashes. 

It’s important that the helmet meet federal performance standards. Other helmets are merely novelty helmets that don’t offer much protection. Those wearing novelty helmets, according to studies, have double the chance of dying than riders with helmets that meet all standards.

While some claim helmets put riders at risk of neck injury and compromise hearing and peripheral vision, there’s no real evidence to support these claims. A 1994 study from McKnight & McKnight found that helmets don’t impact the rider’s ability to hear or see vehicles in adjacent lanes before making a lane change.