Motorcycle Helmet Laws

An overview of the eye-and head-protection laws for motorcycle riders.

Motorcycle helmets are effective at reducing death and brain-injury rates in the event of an accident. However, many riders believe that helmets reduce vision and hearing abilities and that helmet laws infringe on their individual rights. This article gives an overview of motorcycle helmet and eye-protection laws.

Motorcycle Helmet Requirements

At one point, helmets were required almost everywhere in the United States. But over time, many states relaxed these laws and began allowing motorcycle operators to decide whether or not to wear a helmet. However, most states still have at least some helmet requirements for motorcycle operators and passengers.

Helmets Required for All Operators and Passengers

Roughly half of the states—including California, Georgia, and Oregon—require helmets to be worn by all motorcycle passengers and operators.

Age-Based Helmet Requirements

Most of the remaining states require helmets only for riders under a certain age. For example, Missouri requires a helmet for any rider with an instruction permit or who is younger than 26 years old. Most states that have age-based helmet laws require riders who are younger than 18 (Alaska and Arizona, for example) or 21 years old (Florida and Arkansas included) to wear a helmet.

States Without Helmet Requirements

Only three states—Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire—don't have any helmet requirements for riders or passengers.

Types of Helmet and Protection that Must be Worn

Each state is responsible for specifying the standards that helmets and motorcycle protective gear must meet. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has guidelines for minimum standards for helmets. Helmets that meet these minimum safety standards generally have a DOT sticker on them and are compliant with all state specifications.

Exceptions to Helmet Laws

Most states do not require full helmets for electric scooters and mopeds. Some states also provide exceptions for farm-use ATVs.

Eye Protection

Goggles do not protect a rider's head but do help ensure that debris and wind don't interfere with the operator's vision. For this reason, every state (except Iowa) has some sort of eye protection requirement. A helmet with a face-shield will satisfy the eye protection requirement, but otherwise, the driver must use glasses, goggles, or a windshield.

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