Motorcycle Safety Overview


Motorcyclist Statistics  

Motorcycle rider wearing helmet.There were over 8.4 million registered motorcycles in the country in 2014, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Overall, the number of registered motorcycles in the U.S. has doubled in the past twenty years.  

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) there was a large increase in motorcyclist fatalities in 2015, from 4,594 in 2014 to 4,976 in 2015, a percentage increase of 8.3 percent.  This increase was higher than the overall fatality percentage increase of 7.2 percent in 2015. The overall proportion of fatalities that were motorcyclists has increased from 11 percent in 2006 to 14 percent in 2015.  

Motorcyclist Helmet Use

In states without a universal helmet law, 58 percent of motorcyclists who died in 2015 were not wearing helmets. This is in striking contrast with states with universal helmet laws, where only 8 percent of motorcyclists that died were not wearing helmets.  The overall use of helmets remained fairly static in 2015 according to the annual National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS); 60.7 percent of motorcyclists were observed wearing compliant helmets. Use of non-complaint motorcycle helmets increased from 4.8 percent in 2014 to 10.6 percent in 2015. Helmet use observed via NOPUS has varied between 54 and 67 percent since 2008.

current state motorcycle helmet laws

In 1975, helmets were mandatory for all riders in 47 states and in Washington, D.C., partly because federal highway funding was tied to having such laws. But Congress removed that requirement in 1976, and more recently, in 1995, repealed financial incentives offered to states in the early ’90s.

In response, since 1995, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas have relaxed or repealed their mandatory, universal helmet laws.

  • Currently, 19 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands still require all riders to wear helmets.
  • Another 28 states require helmet use for certain groups, typically those under age 21 or age 18.
  • The laws in Florida, Michigan and Texas exempt riders who carry a certain amount of insurance or who pass a safety course or both, despite evidence showing those exemptions have no safety benefit.
  • Three states—Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire—do not have any helmet requirements. Louisiana weakened its motorcycle helmet use law in 1999, but reenacted it in 2004. It is the only state to do so in the past decade.

NCSL Resources

State Bill Tracking

Other Resources