What States Have Motorcycle Helmet Laws?


What States Have Motorcycle Helmet Laws?
Motorcycle Helmet Laws by State


Riding a motorcycle is a feeling that is hard to beat. Twisting and turning through some great curvy roads with the “wind in your hair” and your worries left behind … there’s no feeling quite like it?

However, idyllic feelings need to be managed in moderation and we should never ignore basic responsibilities to observe key safety precautions such as wearing a motorcycle helmet! Still, many riders are opposed to wearing a helmet and prefer riding in states that allow for riders to exercise their discretion and allow for riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

We are going to be addressing this very topic in this blog. The helmet laws in the United States are muddled and this leads to confusion among riders on where they have to and don’t have to wear a motorcycle helmet.

It can be a surprisingly tricky topic as many states have very different laws (some even don’t have any laws regarding wearing a motorcycle helmet) so if you’ve ever been confused or found yourself looking for a guide, don’t worry, this article is hear to help you understand better and can particularly help you if you  are traveling across state borders.


Overview of Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Helmet laws are the source of significant debate in the United States. On one hand, it is undeniable that they help in protecting the rider in the event of an accident.

Many riders who support strict helmet usage laws do this because they help in keeping riders safe but because they also significantly reduce the burden on the US healthcare system to take care of riders after an accident (& save motorcycle riders’ loved ones the pain and challenges that go along with helping someone recover from a significant motorcycle accident).

One thing that must be noted when bringing up this debate is that motorcycles are not as safe as other vehicles.  Unlike an automobile, there are no seat belts, no steel frame around the passenger, or airbags to keep the rider/passenger safe in the event of a terrible accident.

Helmets are the only thing that, in essence, is capable of protecting a motorcyclist (setting aside for the moment the significant safety benefits from other motorcycle safety equipment such as armor enhanced jackets and riding pants, gloves, and boots).

However, on the other side of the coin, there are riders who do not support laws and regulations mandating motorcycle helmet usage. To them, wearing headgear is restrictive, it takes away from the joy of riding the motorcycle, and they believe it should be left to the rider’s personal choice whether to wear or not to wear a helmet.

To many, riding a motorcycle is a lifestyle choice that embodies freedom, an aura of rebellion, and its widely known to be more dangerous than operating an automobile so why not leave the choice up to the rider who is making the choice to ride a motorcycle already?! 

Think of other sports/hobbies that have a level of danger associated with them such as ATVing, boating, skydiving kayaking, etc, and so we could outright outlaw those activities or add so many safety precautions/requirements that it could either make those activities outright impossible or so cumbersome that they would be impractical to participate in. 

And so with that perspective in mind, many riders believe helmets should be left to the discretion of the rider and the government needs to focus its resources on other bigger problems.

These differing opinions and perspectives are some of the main reason why the US does not have national law covering the topic.  Instead the federal government has instead let the each state dictate its own laws and requirements on motorcycle helmet usage and so what we have today in the USA is a varied patchwork of motorcycle helmet laws … a vast array of regulations differing by state and impacted by other factors such as the age of the rider, the insurance they have, etc. 

For motorcycle riders who have no intention of traveling outside their home state, the challenge is lessened as they simply need to know the rules of their home state but most riders want to travel outside of their state and so they now have to do the research necessary to understand the motorcycle helmet laws of adjacent states and beyond. 


Helmet Laws By State

Owing to different states having different motorcycle helmet laws, riders have a difficult time determining whether their state mandates wearing a helmet or not. We have compiled below a table of the different states and the helmet laws they have in place.


Alabama All riders
Alaska 18 and younger
Arizona  18 and younger
Arkansas 21 and younger
California All riders
Colorado 18 and younger
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

As you can see, presently only 19 states have “universal” helmet laws in place. These states mandate wearing a helmet at all times, regardless of the age of the rider or any other factors. Such states include Nevada, New York, Oregon, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and others.

Similarly, there are other states that mandate wearing a helmet up to a certain age. Riders above that age can travel without helmets and will not face any penalty. For instance, in South Dakota, it is mandatory to wear a helmet if you are 17 or younger. Once you go above that age, you are free to not wear a helmet. Likewise, in South Carolina, it is mandatory to wear a helmet if you are 20 or younger.

There are presently only three US states with absolutely no helmet laws in place. Riders have no restriction when it comes to wearing any headgear. These states include Iowa, New Hampshire, and Illinois. Illinois did have a universal helmet law once but it was revoked in 1970. Similarly, there was a time when Iowa mandated wearing helmets for all riders, however, the law was revoked in 1976.


Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Have Anything To Do With Insurance?

Helmet laws and health insurance are not directly linked. However, when you are wearing a helmet, you can protect yourself from any severe injury which could significantly impact your insurance rates as a helmet would likely reduce the amount of medical costs you would incur (post a motorcycle accident) and therefore, you may not file a claim in the case of an accident (say you laid your bike over and felt the damages to you and/or the bike were minor and you chose to not file the claim to prevent your rates from going up) or your claim would be of a smaller value thereby reducing the chances of the insurance company raising your rates.

And, just like health insurance companies ask their customers if they smoke, what their height and weight are, and other indicators that will help the insurance company predict the likelihood and rates at which customers will need medical care, motorcycle insurance companies sometimes ask for riders to state how often they wear helmets or other safety gear as a way of predicting the safety conscientiousness  of the rider … riders deemed to be on the safer side will naturally be charged less than riders on the more risky side. 

So, wearing a helmet and proper safety equipment will not only protect your physical health and well being but also your financial health and well being too!

And also, if you purchase a top end and expensive motorcycle helmet, keep in mind that in most cases, these insurance policies have accessory coverage, which sometimes covers the helmet cost.


Pointers To Consider When Buying A Motorcycle Helmet

Whether or not your state mandates wearing a helmet, it is best if you do so if you want to protect yourself from a major head injury. However, purchasing a helmet is not an easy decision to make. With so many options available, it can be difficult for riders to pick a helmet they really like. But, don’t fret- we are here to help you out.

  1. Most states with universal helmet laws dictate that the rider should only wear a DOT-certified helmet. Not wearing a helmet that has been approved by the Department of Transportation can lead to you getting a fine. Hence, when buying a helmet, first make sure that it is DOT certified.
  2. If you are concerned more about safety than style, then we recommend you purchase a full-face helmet. They offer much better protection than half-face helmets. There are some states that mandate wearing other protective accessories like eye protection. Hence, look into the laws in your state and buy such accessories accordingly.
  3. Make sure the helmet fits you well and is not wobbly around your head which could cause the helmet to be improperly aligned on your head during an accident and thereby not offer the optimal protections it was carefully designed to do.  Because each kind and manufacturer of motorcycle helmets have their own size differences, we recommend that you try several before purchasing online.


Final Thoughts

Regardless of what the motorcycle helmet laws are of your state, be responsible and wear a helmet at all times. Not only can you safe yourself or that of a passenger in the event of an accident, but you can also save financially, and/or avoid the chances of loved ones or friends having to go through all the pain and suffering of helping your or grieving for your loss in the aftermath of a serious motorcycle accident.