Motorcycle Helmet Laws

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

Updated 3/10/2021

Motorcycle helmets are designed to prevent serious injury or death in the event of an accident. Most states require or at least encourage riders to wear protective equipment. But some riders argue that helmets are uncomfortable, obstructive, or not aesthetically pleasing. This article explains what protective gear is required and what is only recommended by state laws.

Motorcycle Helmet Requirements

In the 1960s, the federal government tried to mandate motorcycle helmets by tying federal funds to state compliance with helmet requirements. Almost all states complied until 1975, when the federal act was repealed. Over time, some states relaxed these laws and began allowing motorcycle operators to decide whether or not to wear a helmet. But most states still have helmet requirements on the books, especially for younger drivers and passengers. Depending on the state, failure to wear a required helmet will generally result in a fine of $50 to $200. A violation might also result in traffic violation demerit points.

Helmets Required for All Operators and Passengers

Less than half of states require helmets to be worn by all motorcycle passengers and operators. California, Georgia, and Oregon are among the states that have these types of laws.

Age-Based Helmet Requirements

Most of the remaining states require helmets for younger riders or riders with limited experience. For example, Missouri requires a helmet for any rider with an instruction permit or who is younger than 26 years old. However, it's most common for states that don't mandate helmets for everyone to require a helmet if the driver or passenger is under the age of 18 or 21.

States Without Helmet Requirements

Presently, only three states—Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire—don't have any helmet requirements for riders or passengers. However, in several other states, there's legislation pending that, if passed, could eliminate helmet requirements.

Types of Helmet and Protection That Must be Worn

Each state specifies the type of helmet or protective gear that must be worn by motorcycle riders and passengers. Fortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has established universal safety standards for motorcycle helmets. Helmets that meet these minimum standards have a DOT sticker on them and meet or exceed all state requirements.

Exceptions to Helmet Laws

Small mopeds and electric scooters are often exempt from helmet requirements. But these exceptions typically vary based on the engine size and operator age. Some states also provide exceptions to helmet requirements for farm-use ATVs.

Eye Protection

Of course, goggles won't protect your head in the event of an accident. But protective eyewear can guard against injury from debris and improve visibility for motorcycle riders. For these reasons, every state (except Iowa) has some sort of eye protection requirement. These requirements may require the use of glasses, goggles, or a windshield, but a helmet with a face-shield will always satisfy the eye protection requirement. An eye protection violation will typically result in a fine of $25 to $50 and sometimes results in license demerit points.

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