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Motorcycle Helmet Laws: To Wear, or Not To Wear?

| Dec 2, 2013

Guest blog post by Attorney David Johnston

"Get your motor runnin'! Head out on the highway!"  But don't get a ticket while your "Lookin' for adventure in whatever comes our way"! 

Know the helmet laws of the state in which you ride! 

By the way, the biker's anthem quoted above is, of course, Steppenwolf's, "Born to be Wild".  The lyrics were actually penned by Mars Bonfire, brother of Steppenwolf's drummer. But I digress...

Must Know:   The two things you need to know about motorcycle helmet laws are:  1. Whether the law of the particular state in which you are riding requires you to wear a helmet.  2. Whether your helmet meets applicable manufacturing standards.

Below is a chart with state-by-state helmet requirements.  Note, it does not matter where you live or where you register your bike.  You must comply with each state's helmet law when riding within their borders or risk the ticket.  Just 20 states plus DC require all riders to wear a helmet.  The other 30 states require helmets for riders below a certain age.  Clearly, 3/5s of America's bikers aren't so willing to give up the feel of the wind in their hair!

Remember, too, that not just any helmet passes muster.  The safest and always-legal helmets comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218.  Your helmet came with literature, a pamphlet or sticker, stating its DOT rating.  Any helmet manufactured below standards - novelty helmets and such - and you are rolling the dice on getting a ticket for no-helmet and your safety.  Double-check your helmet's DOT rating .  Call a reputable dealer if you have questions.  Even worse than being ticketed for riding without a helmet would be to actually wear a helmet and get the ticket anyway! 

When In Doubt, Helmet Out.  The trickier legal questions about motorcycle helmet requirements are these:  Will riding without a  helmet in a particular state be counted against you in an accident, even when the other driver is at fault?  The answer depends on jurisdiction.  In South Carolina, foregoing your helmet for ages 21 and above is perfectly legal!  Therefore it cannot be counted as negligence against a biker who is otherwise not at-fault in an accident.  But other states differ.  Unless you have consulted with a lawyer in each state you ride, best to break out that helmet. 

Also keep in mind that some states such as Florida, Kentucky, and Michigan, require special insurance for bikers who choose to forego their helmet.  This is true even when going helmet-less is legal.  Not knowing the law won't get you out of the ticket.  But wearing the helmet will! 

A Word On Safety (I'm a personal injury lawyer; I can't help myself!)  The fact is, studies show that helmets reduce injury in a crash. In 2008, helmets saved over 1,800 lives.  Another 800 could have been saved if the injured rider had been wearing a helmet.  Granted, there are studies that indicate that the greater visibility and hearing enjoyed by non-helmeted riders makes it easier to avoid a crash.  But the bulk of the research indicates it is best to wear a helmet.

I know.  Beginning at age 12, I rode my Honda 65 up and down the Grand Strand beaches during the off-season.  Nothing on my head but salty hair.  I loved it!  But these days there are more cars getting more careless when it comes to us bikers.  I wear a helmet.

State

Motorcycle Helmet Required For

Alabama

All riders

Alaska

17 and younger

Arizona

17 and younger

Arkansas

20 and younger

California

All riders

Colorado

17 and younger riders and passengers

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

David C. Johnston, Esq. , is a personal injury attorney with George Sink, PA Injury Lawyers.  David has been riding since age 12 and currently enjoys his 1977 BMW R-100-S.  Please feel free to call David with questions, 24/7, at 843-225-3600.

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