Motorcycle accidents are uniquely dangerous compared with accidents involving cars.
In a recent year alone, 5,014 motorcycle drivers died in traffic accidents, despite motorcycles making up a minuscule percentage of the total vehicles on the road in America. Due to this unusual danger, motorcycle riders are subject to numerous laws that directly target them in an attempt to make them safer from harm.
Among these laws include regulations on passengers, eye protection, headphone use, and daytime headlight usage. Arguably the most important, however, are the laws surrounding motorcycle helmets.
Why Are Helmets Important to Motorcyclists?
Just like riding a regular bicycle, motorcyclists use helmets to help protect themselves from harm. As mentioned previously, motorcycle accidents are no joke. As with bicycles, a motorcycle typically does not offer any protection to the operator that a car might, such as cushions, enclosed surroundings, and multiple airbags.
These safety features on cars reduce the number of fatalities and injuries caused during car collisions. With motorcycles, however, accidents are four times more likely to cause injuries and a shocking 29 times more likely to result in fatalities.
The primary reason helmet laws are so prevalent in America is because helmets have been identified as the top preventative tool in motorcycle accidents for injuries and fatalities. Helmets are worn for purely safety purposes, but often motorcyclists will put on special designs or have sleek looks to their respective helmets.
Riding a motorcycle will always hold a certain amount of danger no matter what, but wearing a helmet helps to alleviate this significantly. Motorcycle helmets generally reduce the number of head injuries by 69 percent and reduce the risk of a fatality in an accident by a substantial 42 percent in accidents. Head injuries are some of the most dangerous in vehicle accidents, and any tool that can prevent them brings a significant public benefit.
Motorcycle helmets thus prevent thousands of deaths and even more injuries yearly among motorcycle riders, justifying their generally accepted universal use in most U.S. states.
In addition to this, however, helmets prevent economic losses, including but not limited to:
- An estimated 17 billion dollars of societal harm yearly
- A saving of over $500 per registered motorcyclist yearly
- Millions of dollars in medical expenses
- Millions of dollars in insurance expenses
How Does the Law Differ From State to State?
Despite the numerous safety and economic benefits resulting from motorcyclists properly wearing helmets, there is no national mandate over helmet usage, and U.S. states substantially differ on this topic.
These distinctions generally fall within three categories: all drivers are mandated to wear helmets, age requirements on who must use motorcycle helmets, and no duty to wear motorcycle helmets. These three are mostly self-explanatory, with the first being all drivers needing a helmet, the second usually meaning only drivers 18 and under needing a helmet, and the very last being no helmets are required.
The overwhelming majority of states have some sort of legislation mandating motorcycle helmets. California, for example, requires anyone who rides a motorcycle to wear a helmet by law, according to Section 27803 of the Vehicle Code. This means anyone at all, including younger people.
On the other hand, Arizona only requires those who are younger than 18 years of age to wear a motorcycle helmet when operating or riding as a passenger, according to ARS 28-964. Purportedly, this is because younger people are more vulnerable to injuries and fatalities from accidents. In these states, not wearing a motorcycle helmet when mandated by law can result in misdemeanors and fines that can reach hundreds of dollars depending on the evaluation of the individual’s case.
Only three U.S. states allow the operation of a motorcycle without helmets no matter what—Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire. These states still generally require eye coverings such as goggles or glasses, but not full-on helmets.
What Satisfies the Requirements for a Motorcycle Helmet?
In addition to helmet laws, all states mandating helmets define what qualifies as a proper motorcycle helmet. For example, if someone rides with a plastic kid’s bicycle helmet on, they most likely won’t satisfy the law or manage to protect themselves.
In California, Vehicle Code Section 27802 defines a proper motorcycle helmet as one that complies with federal regulations, weighs at least three pounds, has a sturdy chin strap, limited protrusions, and a protective inner lining between the head and the helmet.
In Ohio Section 4511.53, the Ohio legislature relies entirely upon the qualifications of the United States Department of Transportation requirements. Different states will have different specific regulations, but generally, a helmet must conform to Department of Transportation standards.