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Motorcycle Helmet Laws

posted on Tue, May 13 2014 4:24 pm by Western Region

The federal government estimates that per mile traveled in 2011, the number of deaths on motorcycles was over 30 times the number in cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.

A university medical investigator’s office recently contacted the Network to request information on motorcycle safety helmet laws in all 50 states. Laws regulating the use of helmets on motorcycles and other similar vehicles (such as scooters and all-terrain vehicles) vary widely by state. The Network identified four resources that provide comprehensive information on laws in each state.

The Network’s Table of Motorcycle Helmet Laws is a comprehensive list of laws in all 50 states and Washington D.C. The table includes information on which states have specific motorcycle helmet laws, the specification of these laws and the potential punishment for not following the law.   

The Summary Chart of Key Provisions of State Motorcycle Safety Laws, published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, includes information on whether a state requires helmet use universally or by age, whether there are exceptions to helmet use laws (such as when riding in parades), what sorts of penalties one may incur for infractions, and whether eye protection is required.

The third resource, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, provides several tables and maps on helmet laws and summarizes key historical developments related to the laws as well. For example, in the early 1970s, almost all states had universal helmet laws. But in 1976, states successfully pushed Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from penalizing states without helmet laws.

The Current State Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Fatality Rates map published on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures combines information about helmet laws with data on motorcycle deaths, and illustrates the percentage of people killed in motorcycle crashes in 2011 who were not wearing helmets is higher in states without a mandatory helmet law.