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.
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Despite evidence of helmets protecting riders form death and severe head injury, 28 states have repealed their helmet laws with more likely to follow.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.”
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.
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|
|Alaska||17 and younger|
|Arizona||17 and younger|
|Arkansas||20 and younger|
|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|
|Hawaii||17 and younger|
|Idaho||17 and younger|
|Indiana||17 and younger|
|Kansas||17 and younger|
|Kentucky||20 and younger|
|Maine||17 and younger|
|Michigan||20 and younger|
|Minnesota||17 and younger|
|Montana||17 and younger|
|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|
|Pennsylvania||20 and younger|
|Rhode Island||20 and younger|
|South Carolina||20 and younger|
|South Dakota||17 and younger|
|Texas||20 and younger|
|Utah||17 and younger|
|West Virginia||All riders|
|Wisconsin||17 and younger|
|Wyoming||17 and younger|