What States Do Not Require You To Wear A Motorcycle Helmet?


What States Do Not Require You To Wear A Motorcycle Helmet?


These days, many motorcycle riders choose not to wear helmets for a variety of reasons; the feeling of freedom and “wind blowing through their hair (or across their bald scalp),” a perception that motorcycle helmets restrict vision, to be rebellious, cost reasons, peer pressure or to “look tough,” etc.

However, this has also become a growing safety concern, in light of the increasing number of motorcycle accidents and fatalities. Compared to a four-wheeled vehicle, the motorcycle does not provide you any additional physical safeguard in the form of a metal enclosure or an airbag or a seat belt.

Many people in the United States who ride motorcycles are not aware of all the laws and regulations regarding the usage of helmets. If you’re planning to travel a long journey on your motorcycle, it’s recommended that you familiarize yourself with all the helmet laws of different states you will be going to as state laws can vary dramatically even for neighboring states. 


Can we ride motorcycles without using helmets?

The chances of a person getting injured during a collision increase dramatically if they are on a two-wheeler, like a motorcycle. The only way someone who’s riding a motorcycle can protect their head is by wearing a proper helmet. The available data shows that the usage of a helmet can decrease the possibility of death by one-third.

A helmet can also lessen the chances of an injury to the skull region by 69%. At present, we have enough substantial evidence, which proves that the use of helmets protects the skull region and often prevents fatalities. 

Surprisingly though, recent reports by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mark a 2% downfall in the usage of helmets among motorcyclists. The obvious explanation behind this can be a lack of strong imposition of helmet laws across all states.


Why do we need motorcycle helmet laws?

The laws for motorcycle helmets are analogous to regulations regarding the usage of automobile seat belts and airbags. Both of these have reduced deaths across the country. Depending on factors involved in the motorcycle accident (e.g., collision with a car or truck vs. sliding off the road, high or low speed, multiple vehicles involved, etc.).

Simply put, riders without a helmet, in the event of accident, endure a higher danger of fatality. Even if there is no fatality, individuals will need more recover time from an accident, and/or may have been injured so significantly that they may never recover from the tragedy.

The whole accident experience can also results in large financial expenses too with medical bills that can DRASTICALLY exceed the expenses associated with the damaged motorcycle.

National helmet laws in the United States support the WHO program launched in 1991 to encourage motorcycle helmet usage internationally. And, some motorcycle insurance companies are requiring helmet usage even in states that allow rider discretion to make the choice. 

Lastly, for those of you in the military, many branches require their service personnel to wear motorcycle helmets at all times when riding a motorcycle, regardless, again of the state’s laws and regulations pertaining to motorcycle helmet usage.


States with helmet laws for motorcyclists

A helmet is made mandatory by many states for both the motorcyclist and the person accompanying them on the motorcycle (passenger).

There are three main groupings of motorcycle helmet usage laws in the USA: 1) states requiring universal motorcycle helmet usage, 2) states requiring universal motorcycle helmet usage for riders below a certain age limit (sometimes other restrictions apply (years of riding experience, medical insurance, motorcycle safety course)), 3) states having no laws regarding motorcycle helmet usage (e.g., New Hampshire).


Penalties for not following motorcycle helmet laws

Since nearly every US state has different laws and regulations regarding motorcycle helmet usage and the penalties drivers will endure in the event these are not followed we can not cover the ins and outs of all 50 US states’ laws here.  However, to give you an understanding of the kinds of penalties various states have adopted, we will explain the penalties in two example states – California and Texas.


  • Penalties for violating motorcycle helmet laws in California

If you are riding in California on your motorcycle, you will have to ensure that you are wearing a DOT-certified helmet appropriately at all times of your journey. A helmet with DOT certification is generally approved to let you ride legally on the road.  You also have to ensure that the helmet is not loose or displaced. If you violate any of these rules and are cited by a police officer, you will be fined up to $250 dollars and receive a year of probation.

Additionally, if you are also cited for other violations of the law (e.g., excessive speed, reckless driving, etc.) the fine can/will go up and potentially your motorcycle can be impounded.  These higher level sanctions will be decided by a judge and it is likely that a judge will view your infractions to be more serious and you to be less responsible if you were violating these laws while not wearing a helmet. 

For these and other reasons, riders need to be observe California motorcycle helmet laws and wear and approved helmet at all times (operating the motorcycle or as a passenger).


  • Penalties for violating motorcycle helmet laws in Texas

In Texas, there is a fine for breaching the helmet requirement. Texas has a limited restriction instead of the total helmet rule. The rule applies to anyone under the age of 21. What this means is that authorities won’t be pulling over a motorcyclist simply to verify if the individual is of the proper age to decline to wear a helmet as violating the Texas motorcycle helmet law is considered a breach of the rule but is not a “primary offense.” 

However, if you violate other traffic laws, law enforcement can/will then determine if you were in compliance of applicable motorcycle helmet laws and if you are not, you will pay a penalty up to $50.


States with no motorcycle helmet laws for motorcyclists

Although there are only three such states, there are these hold out states who are quite an exception in that they simply don’t have laws addressing any mandatory helmet usage for motorcycle riders. This means in these states, you can freely ride your motorcycle without any requirement regarding helmet usage.  At the time of this blog, these states include Iowa, New Hampshire, and Illinois.

However, it has not always been like this. For example, the motorcycle laws used to exist in both Iowa and Illinois at one point in time.  These states, like all others, were complying with federal government incentives (in the form of receiving federal funds for highway maintenance) to have their own state level universal motorcycle helmet mandates. 

However, the laws were taken back in 1976 and 1970 respectively and as a result these three states chose to not establish laws requiring riders/passengers to wear helmets (some have related motorcycle riding laws (e.g., eye protection requirements)).  The three states and their related motorcycle laws are described below:


  • Helmet laws for motorcyclists in Illinois

If you are riding a motorcycle in Illinois, you’re not required to wear a helmet as a mandatory rule. However, state law still demands you to protect yourself sufficiently by wearing eye shielding glasses or putting shockproof glass protection on the front part of your bike.


  • Helmet laws for motorcyclists in Iowa

Iowa hasn’t enforced any restrictions regarding the usage of motorcycle helmets in the state. You are not legally obliged to wear a motorcycle helmet or any protective gear while riding on roads.


  • Helmet laws for motorcyclists in New Hampshire

There are no particular rules and regulations regarding helmet usage for motorcyclists in New Hampshire. People are free to decide for themselves if they wish to wear a motorcycle helmet or not.


Final thoughts

The mishmash of state-by-state helmet legislation that motorcyclists face, particularly while traveling outside of their state of residence, can leave riders wondering if they need to wear a motorcycle helmet or not. Riders usually don’t keep up on changes of laws of other states and so they risk being subjected to sanctions and fines if/when they travel to another state and really can’t answer the question – “Do I have to wear a motorcycle helmet in state [x]?”. Click here to see all states helemt laws.

These law breaches can easily be avoided with a little bit of prior knowledge. That being said, you should always use a motorcycle helmet irrespective of the law. It is crucial to limit the trauma your head (or passenger) will experience in the event of an accident.



Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions related to motorcycle helmets and the state laws:

How do laws requiring motorcycle helmets increase safety?

Here are a few reasons why helmets are encouraged by state laws:

  • In an accident, motorcycle helmets lower the death toll.
  • Motorcycle helmets help to lessen the extent of a crash’s effects on the rider/passenger’s head/brain.
  • If helmets were mandated by state legislation, more motorcyclists would wear them and fatalities would be reduced.
  • One study found that when helmet restrictions were eliminated in a certain state, the number of motorcycle rider deaths eventually rose by 20%.


What is a DOT certificate and what does a DOT certification imply?

Helmets that have been approved by the Department of Transportation are intended to safeguard the rider’s skull in the event of a motorcycle accident. Such helmets are tested under settings that replicate a simulated “moderate impact” collision which is described as one that endures an impact strength of 250 times the force of gravity.

DOT certified helmets must be built to withstand that level of force thereby be able to provide a certain level of protection to the rider/passenger’s head. 

If you’re looking for a step up in terms of level of protection, then you would want to look for a helmet that has earned the an additional logo – the Snell Certification.  The Snell Memorial Foundation label indicates that the helmet has undergone further examination and performed at higher levels of impact. 

So if helmet safety is a high priority for you and you’re willing to pay for a higher performance helmet, we suggest you set your sites on a Snell certified helmet!