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 But Congress removed that requirement in 1976 and, in 1995, repealed financial incentives offered to states.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since 1995, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas have relaxed or repealed their mandatory, universal helmet laws.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.