Understanding U.S. Motorcycle Helmet Laws By State


US Motorcycle Helmet Laws By State InfoGraphic

In many state in the United States if you are of a legal age (18 years of age is the cut off in most states with an age requirement), wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is optional. Nevertheless, simply because you may ride without a helmet does not mean you should. 

Let us be clear: Wearing a helmet when riding is always a wise decision, even if it is just for a quick trip to the grocery store.  Overall, many motorcyclists still choose to ride without the need for any kind of headgear, especially for short rides around town, which ironically are associated with some of the highest percentages of accidents (quick trips within 5-miles of the drivers home). 

It should go without saying that there are countless benefits to wearing a helmet, whether or not the state you reside in mandates it but its not uncommon for a situation to arise where you need to make a decision. 

 Even if you always wear a helmet, it is a good idea to understand your state’s rules if for example you have a motorcycle passenger and don’t have another motorcycle helmet (say you are at a friend’s house for a visit and did not plan to give someone else a ride but one of your friends or acquaintances spontaneously asks to go for a short ride. 

This situation is not that rare and so if you would like to give them a little spin, your awareness of that state’s motorcycle helmet laws would come into play.  

Truthfully, the motorcycle laws across the different states in the United States are all over the place, which is why it can often be difficult for riders to understand the specific rules of their state or neighboring states. We will go over the laws state by state in brief detail.

First and foremost, it is essential to note that out of all the states in the US, just 18 states require universal helmet usage, irrespective of the age of the rider or any other criteria. Secondly, there are a few states where the passengers under a particular age (the most common age requirement is 18, followed by 21, and a small number of states use 19 or 17 as their age requirements) must wear a protective head gear and the riders above that age are given a free pass.   

Next, there are just 3 states that have no mandate about motorcycle helmets, which means bikers are allowed to ride without wearing any head gear. More importantly, the states which have strict laws in place might also require you to wear DOT certified helmets to ensure more safety. However, they may cost more and there are some very unregulated motorcycle helmets out there available, typically from oversees motorcycle manufacturers purchased through a website or online retailer of some sort. 

Keep in mind that many of the “smoking hot deals” on motorcycle helmets you may find may be that way because they are little more than head coverings and could offer you little of the protections that a “real” certified motorcycle helmet would provide you with in the event of an accident. 

So, with that, keep in mind that not only do some states have mandatory helmet certification levels (e.g., DOT certified) to constitute an acceptable level of headgear, but even if the state doesn’t explicitly demand such motorcycle helmet certifications, chance are if the helmet doesn’t have one that its not going to provide you with the protection your noggin will need in the event of collision or loss of control!! 

Having explained all that, we have put together this overview of motorcycle helmet laws by state to assist riders in determining if they should legally wear a safety head gear or not.


Motorcycle Helmet Usage Laws By State 

 Helmets are required by law in the majority of states for both riders and passengers.



Riders/Passengers Under This Age Need To Wear a Helmet 

Alabama  All riders/passengers 
Alaska  Under 18 
Arizona  Under 18 
Arkansas  Under 21 
California  All riders/passengers 
Colorado  Under 18 
Connecticut  Under 18 
Delaware  Under 19 
Florida  Under 21 
Georgia  All riders/passengers 
Hawaii  Under 18 
Idaho  Under 18 
Illinois  No law 
Indiana  Under 18 
Iowa  No law 
Kansas  Under 18 
Kentucky  Under 21 
Louisiana  All riders/passengers 
Maine  Under 18 
Maryland  All riders/passengers 
Massachusetts  All riders/passengers 
Michigan  Under 21 
Minnesota  Under 18 
Mississippi  All riders/passengers 
Missouri  Under 26 
Montana  Under 18 
Nebraska  All riders/passengers 
Nevada   All riders/passengers 
New Hampshire   No law 
New Jersey  All riders/passengers 
New Mexico  Under 18 
New York  All riders/passengers 
North Carolina  All riders/passengers 
North Dakota  Under 18 
Ohio  Under 18 
Oklahoma  Under 18 
Oregon  All riders/passengers 
Pennsylvania  Under 21 
Rhode Island  Under 21 
South Carolina  Under 21 
South Dakota  Under 18 
Tennessee  All riders/passengers 
Texas  Under 21 
Utah  Under 21 
Vermont  All riders/passengers 
Virginia  All riders/passengers 
Washington  All riders/passengers 
West Virginia  All riders/passengers 
Wisconsin  Under 18 

Under 18 


Motorcycle Helmet Requirements 

Motorcyclists are not required to wear a protective head gear under federal legislation at this time. This means that each state has its own set of bike helmet legislation. Between 1967 and 1976, the national government encouraged states to enact their individual bike helmet laws, but the laws are no longer in effect throughout all states because federal jurisdiction was revoked by Congress. Let us touch over that history briefly.  

Helmet restrictions altered drastically in the late 1960s, particularly in 1967. Helmets had previously been associated with “the losers.” Nobody looked “cool” riding a bike while wearing protective gear. That quickly changed in 1967, once states were compelled to enact legislation requiring the usage of helmets in order to be eligible for national safety policies and highway development funding.

Within a few years, in the beginning of 1970s, practically every state had enacted a universal bike helmet legislation. That remained steady until 1976, after states successfully pushed Congress to prevent the Department of Transportation from imposing financial penalties against states that did not have helmet legislation in place. 

 If you check the bike helmet rules in each state, you will discover that a few demand a D.O.T. approved helmet, some only demand a head gear for particular ages or situations, and a few do not demand any helmet at all. It is perplexing, so let us glance at the circumstances you will face when riding across the nation:


Mandated by law – A helmet is required by legislation in a couple of states when riding a motorcycle. You must be using a D.O.T. approved helmet- that implies it has undergone impact resistance, puncture, and durability testing. This standard was just updated in 2013, therefore in case you have any particular question about what is covered, see the NHTSA site.

To indicate that it has been approved to fulfill the safety rules, the authorized helmet should bear the company’s name, brand, the wording FMVSS218 and DOT. These regulations normally apply to both motorcycle drivers and passengers. 


Mandated by legislation with age limits – A few states simply require the usage of a helmet until a specific age. It typically occurs when a person is between the ages of 17 and 20. Additionally, it might or might not apply to both the rider and the passenger. 


Mandated by legislation with requirements — In addition to wearing a safety head gear, a few states mandate a reflectorized head gear. “Reflectorization” refers to the use of reflective material, decals, or substances to assist the helmet shine out and visibly capture your attention. 


Not mandated at all– Only three states do not mandate riders to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Because they are situated in the center of the country, you might need a headgear to get there before you may remove it and allow your tresses to fly in the wind.


Why You Should Always Wear A Helmet, No Matter What Your State Law Says 

 Although the facts above can assist you in identifying the legal prerequisites for bike helmets in many states, you must consider wearing one regardless of whether your state legislation requires it or not.  

The truth is that, no matter how carefully you ride your motorcycle, bikers do not get the luxury of protection that a car gets. This leaves you more vulnerable to harm in the event of poor road situations, poor weather, or perhaps an incident with a reckless motorist.

Similarly, keep in mind that brain injuries are prevalent and often fatal amongst injured bikers, and that the best way to protect oneself is to wear a helmet. A bike helmet can not only spare you your life, but it can also prevent you from suffering from irreparable mental retardation as well as some serious injuries that motorcycle riders can suffer. 


What to Look for When Purchasing a Motorcycle Helmet 

In case you intend to ride your bike while wearing a helmet, make sure it fulfills the highest standards of safety. Using a DOT certified headgear is already required in some areas, so it is essential to check for headgears that satisfy this bare minimum right away. 

Although purchasing helmets does not need to be a time-consuming or unpleasant experience, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the variety of alternatives available. Then again, there seem to be full-face bike helmets, half-face helmets, visored helmets, as well as a plethora of helmet “designs” to pick from. 

To begin, we suggest narrowing your selection to solely DOT certified helmets, followed by a consideration of the sort of headgear you consider aesthetically attractive. Furthermore, think about if you need your full face hidden or shielded, or if the covering of the sides of the head will suffice. 

Also keep in mind that with regards to purchasing a motorcycle head gear, you can invest as little or as much as you like. The pricing of DOT-approved helmets starts from $50. However, these prices can rise depending on the degree of safety you demand from the helmet.

It is not uncommon to invest $500 or even more for a durable helmet that is supposed to last you years. Do not get alarmed as you do not need to spend such a big amount. In case you are a beginner rider or only use your motorcycle for commuting, then you can get a perfectly functioning DOT certified helmet for $100.


Final Thoughts: Is It Necessary to Wear a Helmet When Riding a Motorcycle? 

 If you enjoy winding roads as well as the feel of “the wind in your hair,” owning a motorcycle can be a wonderful experience, but do not overlook the safety aspect and the significant risk you take on for that “wind in your hair” feeling! 

For many riders who take the time to make a well reasoned decision on helmet usage, you will actually be more comfortable and enjoy your ride more when you know that you are covered by good insurance and are using all the appropriate motorcycle safety gear;  foremost, a motorcycle helmet! 

Wearing helmets each time you travel with your motorcycle is a crucial step, regardless of what the state legislation says. 

Furthermore, ensure that any companions on your motorcycle are using a proper helmet, which can help drastically in the event of a motorcycle helmet.  Having that extra layer of protection and technology on, in the event of a crash, could mean the difference between life and death or serious post-accident impairment!