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US moving toward liberal motorbike helmet laws

American helmet laws

The US seems to be gradually moving toward more liberal motorbike helmet laws allowing adult riders to choose for themselves whether they wear a helmet or not.

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

Most states in the US 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

If you’re planning to ride in the United States at 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.

The 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.


  1. Regardless of laws, I will always wear a full face helmet. But regardless, it shouldn’t be “law” because that requires time and funds to enforce. I’m not fond of any laws where the government feels the need to protect us from ourselves.

  2. Wearing a helmet has very little to do with YOUR safety.
    YOU are forced to wear a helmet to save me money.
    If you die/incapacitated/disabled from a crash you will :
    – no longer pay much tax (your income is much much lower)
    – no longer have as a productive life as before (just fact)
    – ask for government assistance (hospitals or cash)
    – no longer look after your dependents (possibly costing taxpayers more)
    – not be able to repay for society for your education and previous government assistance
    It’s not about YOU.

  3. I prefer to wear a helmet it helps with wind rain and noise.
    But I don’t think that the statistics tell the real story, sixty two percent would survive an otherwise fatal accident. Sounds too good to be true? Why? Because it doesn’t state how many of those survivors wish they hadn’t. The worst outcome of an accident is not death but total debilitation.
    The most likely places to suffer a severe brain injury is the bathroom then the kitchen and the toilet. How do you wash your hair with a helmet on?

  4. Personally, I’m an ATGATT rider, but at the same time I loathe the nanny state. For that reason I am against mandated helmet laws in the same way as I’m against mandated bicycle helmet laws. My safety is my concern, and my responsibility.

  5. Riding isn’t a right, but a privilege. You are license to ride/operate a vehicle by the state you live in, to ride on roads paid for by taxes. Freedom is a feeling one gets from riding – it;’s incredible, but it’s not a civil right, or a constitutional one. If you are single, have no parents, close siblings, or a significant other who could be made into an accidental caretaker in the event you are severely injured in an accident, then it’s your responsibility to minimize any factors that could lead to life changing injuries or death. That’s called being an adult. Wanting to ride without a helmet is risky, foolish and in many cases coping an attitude of entitlement. If laws are needed to save lives, I’m all
    for it

    There may be an emotional, or a patriotic reason for not wearing a helmet, but I’ve never heard of an intelligent one.

  6. I just would like California to at least adopt a better helmet law. 21 and over with 1 year class m1..Exempt ,cruiser style motorcycle exempt.

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