Why Do Many States Have Seatbelt Laws But No (Or Less Restrictive) Helmet Laws For Bikers?


Why Do Many States Have Seatbelt Laws But No Helmet Laws For Bikers

The debate on the use of motorcycle helmets and the laws that enforce that usage, is one debate in America that never seems to be resolved as it has been a debate of the past several decades. One of the biggest reasons why motorcycle helmet laws are so controversial in the States is because of the varying number of opinions surrounding such laws. There are bikers who believe motorcycle helmets are absolutely essential and can protect a rider from a life-threatening accident.

On the other hand, there are bikers who believe the complete opposite; motorcycle helmets are of no use or minimal benefit and instead of offering protection, they do more harm.

This large amount of differing opinions has made the implementation of universal motorcycle helmet laws quite difficult across so many states. Presently, only 19 states have universal helmet laws. 3 states have no helmet laws in place while the remaining states have helmet laws that vary depending on factors like age, insurance, and the number of passengers.

While the controversy surrounding motorcycle helmet laws is an undeniable one, have you ever stopped to think why motorcycle helmet laws are so hard to impose but there are so many states that follow seatbelt laws? What difference is there between the two? We’ll uncover that in this article. Keep on reading.


Seatbelts VS Motorcycle Helmets: Why The Difference in the Safety Focused Laws?

Presently, seat belts are mandatory in 49 states in America. The only state which is the exception is New Hampshire, where only car occupants under 18 are required to wear a seatbelt. Of course, there are variations in these laws, taking into consideration the primary and secondary enforcement types.

On the other hand, as already mentioned, 47 states in the US have some form of motorcycle helmet laws. But, in terms of the universality and other factors dictating the laws, motorcycle helmet laws are far too nuanced to be viewed as a simple safety issue as they are in the eyes of most of the public when it comes to seatbelt laws.

The biggest reason is that seatbelts are believed to be much more useful and universally advantageous in the event of an accident than motorcycle helmets are. There are not that many arguments against seatbelt laws. The only colossal argument against seatbelt laws is that the government should not impose any laws regarding how an individual should carry himself/herself. The argument states that no law should force an individual to wear a seat belt; it should rather be a personal choice, more than a mandatory one.

For some Americans, seat belt laws amount to imposing on their free will and overall freedoms. Many live or immigrate to this country, start a family, and/or a career in America because they have the freedom to do so in the manner they choose. Without that free will, a person becomes the state’s property. For such people, seat belts are restrictive and thus should not be mandated by law.

But, other than the freedom aspects to seatbelt laws, statistics are clearly in favor of the use of seatbelts when it comes to safety, making them more acceptable to citizens and viewed as a small sacrafice of a freedom. A study by NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) showed that from 1960 to 2012, seatbelts saved 329,715 lives, to be exact.

It is believed that in a collision, seat belts prevent the pelvis from rotating and the body from moving forward, protecting the internal organs. Seat belts also reduce head contact as well as extreme neck motion, reducing the risk of neck and head injuries.

The thing is, over the past six decades, seat belts have prevented accidents and injuries, and outright saved lives. Their effectiveness has been fairly well documented and studied. The justification for using a seat belt is almost regarded as indisputable and also very compelling for the safety benifits.

There is and always will be controversy over whether the government has the ethical authority to tell citizens what to do concerning their own safety and health. However, according to data on automobile safety, wearing a seat belt has allegedly prevented countless numbers of fatalities and saved endless amounts of money on health insurance costs.

But, on the other hand, the arguments against motorcycle helmet laws are far too many. Furthermore, the factors dictating motorcycle helmet laws are a different ball game altogether. Although it has been demonstrated time and time again that motorcycle helmets can save lives and help avoid injuries, the justifications against helmets can be compelling for a lot of people.


Arguments Against Motorcycle Helmet Laws

So, what are the arguments against motorcycle helmet laws? Well, similar to seat belts, the primary argument against helmets is that the state should not hold the power to dictate anything regarding an individual’s decision on health and safety.

A large group of riders acknowledge the statistical benefits of motorcycle helmets and might even choose to wear one themselves but they are against the mandatory imposition of helmet laws. According to several riders, mandatory motorcycle helmet laws violate riders’ civil liberties.

But, even keeping aside the infringement of the government aspects of this debate, not a small number of riders believe that helmets are actually responsible for doing more harm than good. A lot of motorcyclists claim that helmets block peripheral vision and inhibit general perception.

Other than perception, anti-helmet believers think that helmets also restrict hearing, causing riders to get involved in accidents more easily due to the inability to distinguish sounds and noises. Moreover, helmets are believed to be almost useless when a rider is involved in a high-speed impact.

But, other than the government’s unnecessary intrusion, vision and hearing issues, and other arguments, perhaps the biggest argument against motorcycle helmet laws is that they are restrictions on individual rights. Motorcycles are the epitome of freedom and any law that threatens to take away that freedom is often seen as an unnecessary one.

Furthermore, motorcycle helmet laws apparently discourage the riding of bikes, making it look like a dangerous task.

Another reason why seatbelts are perhaps more accepted than motorcycle helmets is that cars come equipped with seatbelts in them but helmets are an added purchase that a lot of bikers do not like bearing. In the case of a car, you need not buy a seat belt separately; it is covered in the total cost of the vehicle.

On the contrary, helmets can be an expensive buy, and more importantly, they need to be replaced every five years or so but the same is not needed for seat belts.

Yet another factor that makes motorcycle helmets a less convincing choice is that it is only self-protection device. On the contrary, seat belts do not only protect the driver but also the people around the driver. A seat belt allows the driver to be in control of the vehicle and if an accident does occur, a seat belt helps the driver to regain control.

Last but not the least, the reason why so many states have yet not been able to implement universal motorcycle helmet laws is that motorcycles are generally regulated less than cars in America. Additionally, it is believed that motorcycle accidents are not a threat to society since motorcycles are only a small percentage of registered vehicles.


Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives

That was all about the arguments against motorcycle helmet laws. Even though these arguments can be convincing for certain people, there is no denying that the amount of research and study that suggests that helmets save lives is too overwhelming. Motorcycle helmets cut the chance of sustaining brain injuries by over 70%, based on extensive research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that statistically examined years’ worth of accident statistics.

Motorcycle helmet regulations lower fatalities, severe cognitive impairments, and social impacts. For instance, between 1999 through 2019, states with helmet legislation had a 33% lower head-related casualty rate than states without such laws.

Of course, much like seat belts, you do not and cannot get the guarantee that you will 100% survive a motorcycle accident and come out without any scratches. Wearing a safety helmet, however, can boost your chances of surviving even a serious motorcycle accident.

The above data on motorcycle helmet laws show how important helmets are. It is blatantly obvious that as their usage increases, fewer people die in accidents. These figures are particularly stark because bikes are the riskiest type of motor vehicle. Motorcycle riders are much more likely to suffer a fatal accident without the safety net provided by passenger cars.

It is essential that you always wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Motorcycles, by nature, are less safe than cars. They do not have the luxury of cars and if you want to ensure your safety then the best way to do so is by wearing helmets.


Final Thoughts

No matter what laws your state has regarding seat belts or motorcycle helmets, both are extremely essential in keeping you safe on the road. Neither of the two-safety equipment guarantees absolute safety but they both lower the chances of major injuries. It is true that due to the strong opposition of certain motorcyclists, motorcycle helmet laws have not yet been accepted the way seat belt laws have.

But, that does not mean that they’re any less important. If anything, motorcycle helmets are often more important than seat belts because motorcycles do not have a closed enclosure like cars provide their occupants. The bottom line is that, when all points are considered, we believe you should wear a motorcycle helmet no matter what.