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More pressure on American helmet laws

American helmet laws

Despite the US introducing helmet laws more than half a century ago, only 19 American states require all riders to wear helmets and now Missouri may relax their helmet laws.

A large proposed transportation bill before government includes a provision to allow riders aged 26 or more to ride without a helmet so long as they have medical insurance and proof of financial responsibility.

It is not the first time the bill has been attempted.

Missouri voted in May 2019 to repeal its helmet laws.

Governor Mike Parson vetoed the Bill in July 2019, but only because of a provision to confiscate licences of people who don’t pay fines for minor traffic offences.

The Governor had no qualms with allowing riders over 18 to decide whether they want to wear a helmet or not.

In fact, Parson supported repealing the helmet rule as a legislator.

Missouri is not the only American state considering a reversal of helmet laws. There have been several in recent years including Nebraska which last year finally rejected the idea.

American laws

crash accident helmet Sturgis insurance claim

US helmet laws were introduced in 1966 when the feds withheld 10% of states highway construction funds unless they introduced certain safety regulations, including helmet laws.

Within a decade, 47 states had complied.

But in 1975, Congress amended the Highway Safety Act to prevent the use of federal highway funding as leverage against states.

Despite evidence of helmets protecting riders form death and severe head injury, 28 states have repealed their helmet laws with more likely to follow.

It seems strange to Australian riders since we were the first nation in the world to make helmets compulsory in 1961.

Most American states introduced compulsory helmet laws in 1967, but there is a growing movement toward “more freedom” for riders with a strong civil liberties lobby actively fighting the laws.

In recent years, states such as Michigan have relaxed their helmet laws and the latest to consider the move is Tennessee, despite the overwhelming evidence that helmets save lives.


As Dudley (William H Macy) tells Woody (John Travolta) in “Wild Hogs”: “62 per cent of all motorcycle fatalities could be prevented with the use of an approved DOT helmet.”

Liberal helmet laws
Wild Hogs

According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for every 100 motorcyclists killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 could have been saved had they worn helmets.

Yet, the use of motorcycle helmets in the US continues to decline to about half from 71% in 2000.

So the temptation when you visit America is to try some of that freedom for yourself.

I must admit to having tried it a few times, usually at slow speeds around town, but on one occasion at the speed limit on an Indiana highway.

While I felt very vulnerable, I have to admit it was absolutely exhilarating … but also deafening.

The wind in your hair is one thing, but the wind in your ears is another.

It also blows your hat off! I’m surprised Billy in Easy Rider could ride without getting his cowboy hat blown off.

Liberal helmet laws
Motorbike Writer in Indiana

State laws

When you are again able to fly to the United States, maybe for Daytona Bike Week in March or the Sturgis Rally in August, don’t get too excited about not wearing a motorcycle helmet.

As soon as you get off the plane in California, you will have to wear a helmet to ride. In fact, 20 states, mainly on the west and east coasts of the US, have compulsory helmet laws.

American states with motorcycle helmet laws for all riders are: Alabama, California, DC, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Only three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) have no helmet use law.

The remaining 28 states have varying laws requiring minors to wear a motorcycle helmet while six of those states require adult riders to have $10,000 in insurance and wear a helmet in their first year of riding.

About half the states also allow you to ride a low-powered motorcycle such as a 50cc bike or scooter without a helmet.

State Riders Required To Have Helmets
Alabama All riders
Alaska 17 and younger
Arizona 17 and younger
Arkansas 20 and younger
California All riders
Colorado 17 and younger and passengers 17 and younger
Connecticut 17 and younger
Delaware 18 and younger
District of Columbia All riders
Florida 20 and younger
Georgia All riders
Hawaii 17 and younger
Idaho 17 and younger
Illinois No law
Indiana 17 and younger
Iowa No law
Kansas 17 and younger
Kentucky 20 and younger
Louisiana All riders
Maine 17 and younger
Maryland All riders
Massachusetts All riders
Michigan 20 and younger
Minnesota 17 and younger
Mississippi All riders
Missouri All riders
Montana 17 and younger
Nebraska All riders
Nevada All riders
New Hampshire No law
New Jersey All riders
New Mexico 17 and younger
New York All riders
North Carolina All riders
North Dakota 17 and younger
Ohio 17 and younger
Oklahoma 17 and younger
Oregon All riders
Pennsylvania 20 and younger
Rhode Island 20 and younger
South Carolina 20 and younger
South Dakota 17 and younger
Tennessee All riders
Texas 20 and younger
Utah 17 and younger
Vermont All riders
Virginia All riders
Washington All riders
West Virginia All riders
Wisconsin 17 and younger
Wyoming 17 and younger
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute


  1. Dying is one thing, living like a vegetable for 20 years is another. I’ll stick with helmets.

  2. I have ridden and come off while trail riding without a helmet and didn’t even get so much as a bump so the question is how long is a piece of string?
    There are so many factors in any accident that on occasion you’re better off without a helmet. Helmets can actually kill you the same as seatbelts and airbags, it is hoped that the accidents where that outcome happens are far outnumbered by the ones where they save you, unfortunately in many of those incidents you might prefer not to be saved.
    Helmets mostly reduce the risk of brain damage and keep the road from grinding away at bits you see in the mirror especially if you use a full face helmet.
    How they kill is most often by snapping the neck off at the base of the skull something few survive and even fewer wanted to, the question here is would you survive and want to if you weren’t wearing a helmet and surprisingly in most of the accidents types where this occurs is yes as it is the mass and leverage of the helmet that does the damage not any impact.
    But considering about 99.999% of accidents involve smacking your head on the road or a windshield I think I will wear my helmet even if I don’t have to.

    1. These comments are uninformed and about thirty-five or forty years out of date. Some of the early full-face helmets had issues with neck damage, but evolving design has meant that hasn’t been the case for a long time. You are never better off without a helmet; there might be the odd, rare occasion when a helmet has exacerbated a particular injury, but other injuries in the vast majority of cases would be far worse.

      1. Correct, thanks Graeme. Some myths are not easily dispelled. Countless studies demonstrate that helmets are highly effective in preventing injury and saving lives. The US authorities know it, but, as with their gun laws and approach to impaired driving, common sense doesn’t always prevail.

  3. It makes about the same amount of sense as the idiocy of the numbskulls protesting about laws designed to protect them from dying from Covid-19. If they want their “freedom” so badly, let them die and if they crash without wearing a helmet, refuse to treat them in hospital.

    1. Refuse to treat them in hospital ? Wow . That’s a big call . Where do we draw the line in society about when we refuse to treat risktakers in hospitals ? How about all those pesky rockclimbers , footballers , recreational fishermen , jetski users , etc etc etc . What about if a non helmet wearing motorcyclist is rear ended at a stoplight by a P Plater on their mobile , do we refuse to treat them then ? The intrusion of Government at all levels in peoples’ lives has increased exponentially over the last 70 years , whole generations have grown up expecting their elected representatives to make more and more decisions on their behalf .

  4. I could half condone those that want to exercise their right to choose, as long as would not impact me as a taxpayer, because in the end it’s others that have to pay for the hospital bills and pension for brain injured riders. But no such discrimination could ever exist to not offer free care to those that choose to not wear helmets, except US where there is practically little to none public heath anyway.

    1. Koko, do think that riders “don’t” pay tax?? Tax wise, smokers would pay for the hospital system, with the amount of tax that the Gov puts on smokes, yet non smokers still use the hospital system.(by your way of thinking , this would be wrong). We still have that right of freedom of choice. I don’t like wearing seatbelts in vehicles, it should be my choice to use a helmet or to use the seatbelt provided. I am old enough to make my own decisions and do not need others to do this for me….The Gov is always pushing their “stats” in helmet use or seatbelt use to push revenues, sorry fines under the name “safety”. How about producing the “stats” on how many are killed or injured whilst wearing a seatbelt or helmet. My life ,my choice …… you or anyone else drives or rides is of no interest to me unless you endanger mine…….

      1. Grant, not sure where you live but here in Australia the tobacco tax is a very good example. The Government worked out that smokers were a burden to society and costed a lot of money in medial bills. They increased the tax on tobacco products dramatically in part to cover the medical bills, in part to dissuade new smokers to take up the habit. It worked: very few people still smoke in Australia…
        Now, if the Government could work out a way to tax heavily the non-helmet riders I would have no objections for the freedom of choice. But until then I am the one that contributes to the added burden of brain damage on top of body injuries from a motorcycle accident. Just like seat belts in cars, helmets do help riders come out of an accident with fewer head injuries. And I do believe in research and statistical data, BTW…

  5. “so long as they have medical insurance” -I’m surprised any insurance company would cover a rider who does not have a helmet (although it is the USA and maybe that answers my question – ha ha)

  6. I have ridden for many years as a kid on the Farm and never owned a helmet. I also spend several years in the late 70s early 80’s on the road with out one. I don’t deny their ability to protect but I will say using a helmet is a little like a condom….it’s still fun but not quite the same.
    I would like to be able to choose, and I probably would wear one most of the time, but open face only for me.

  7. Obviously the anti helmet crowd have already landed on their heads, just cant remember it due to the intercranial damage caused by not wearing a helmet and dont realise how lucky they were.

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