There were nearly 8.7 million registered motorcycles in the U.S. in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Since 1997, the number of registered motorcycles has more than doubled.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 4,985 motorcyclists were killed in crashes in 2018, compared to 5,229 in 2017 and a peak of 5,337 in 2016. Helmet use among motorcyclists on surface streets increased to 71% in 2018, up from 55% in 2017. However, motorcyclists still made up 14% of all traffic fatalities, with 42% of two-vehicle fatal crashes involving other vehicles turning left while the motorcycle was heading straight, passing or overtaking other vehicles.
Motorcyclist Helmet Use
In states without universal helmet laws, 57% of motorcyclists who died in 2017 were not wearing a helmet, compared to 8% in states with universal helmet laws. Helmets saved an estimated 1,870 lives in 2017 and if every motorcyclist had worn a helmet that year, NHTSA estimates that an additional 750 lives could have been saved. The number of annual motorcyclist deaths has gradually decreased since its peak in 2016.
Overall motorcycle helmet use has been on the upswing since 2005, according to the National Occupation Protection Use Survey (NOPUS). Specifically, in 2019, nearly 71% of motorcyclists were observed wearing U.S. DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets, compared to 54% in 2010. However, the use of non-compliant helmets increased from 9% in 2018 to 12.6% in 2019. Helmet use observed by NOPUS has ranged from 48% to 71% between 2005 and 2019. The greatest increase in helmet use in 2018 occurred in motorcyclists traveling in slow traffic, increasing from 44% to 69% over the prior year. NOPUS also reported that compliant motorcycle helmet use in 2017 in states that require all riders to wear a helmet was 87%, compared to 43.7% in other states.
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 But Congress removed that requirement in 1976 and, in 1995, repealed financial incentives offered to states.
In response, since 1995, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas have relaxed or repealed their mandatory, universal helmet laws.
- Currently, 18 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands require all riders to wear helmets.
- Another 29 states require helmet use for certain groups, typically those under age 21 or age 18.
- The laws in Florida, Michigan and Texas exempt riders over age 21 who carry a certain amount of insurance, pass a safety course, or both. In Missouri, motorcyclists over age 26 are exempted from helmet requirements if they are covered by a health insurance policy that provides medical benefits for injuries resulting from operating or riding on a motorcycle.
- Three states—Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire—do not have helmet requirements. Louisiana weakened its motorcycle helmet use law in 1999, but reenacted it in 2004. It is the only state to do so.
State Bill Tracking
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2018, September 2019, by Douglas Shinkle, Annie Kitch and Kevin Pula.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2017, June 2018, by Amanda Essex, Douglas Shinkle, Amanda Miller and Kevin Pula. See Appendix J: Motorcycle Helmet Use Requirements.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2016, April 2017 by Anne Teigen, Amanda Essex and Douglas Shinkle. See Appendix J: Motorcycle Helmet Use Requirements.
- Assessment of Fiscal Notes Connected to Motorcycle Helmet Legislation (July 2016)
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2015, February 2016, by Anne Teigen, Douglas Shinkle and Amanda Essex. See Appendix J: Motorcycle Helmet Use Requirements.