Do you Have to Wear a Helmet on a Motorbike in America?

Ever since helmet laws came into force around the world, there have been endless debates about whether or not you should have to wear a helmet on a motorcycle.

From a legal standpoint it varies from country to country and state to state, however, arguably from a moral/self-preservation/sensible standpoint there is really only one answer:

Do you have to wear a helmet on a motorbike in America deserves a look at things in a little more depth.

* In the United States, helmet laws differ from State to State.
* Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire have no requirement for helmets.
* In the UK and EU, motorcycle helmets are compulsory.
* In Australia, it is mandatory for motorcyclists to wear helmets.
* Motorcyclists should wear a helmet on a motorcycle, regardless of whether the law says you have to or not.

Do you have to wear a motorcycle helmet in USA?  This young man is wearing motorcycle helmet.

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Do you Have to Wear a Helmet on a Motorbike in America?

In the United States, helmet laws differ from State to State. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), there are only 3 States now which have no laws at all regarding wearing a helmet on a motorcycle: Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire.

You can see a full list of every State and their helmet laws as of July 2021 from the IIHS website here. Some States require riders under the age of 17 to wear a helmet, whereas some say anyone 20 or under and some States require all riders to wear a helmet.

It is best to refer to the list and check your State’s laws before choosing to ride without a helmet, from a legal standpoint.

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In the United States, helmets are required to meet the Department of Transports helmet standards, the latest of which is DOT FMVSS 218. All helmets for sale as a protective helmet need to be DOT certified to be considered legal for road use.

In the United Kingdom and all countries in the European Union, it is law across the board that you have to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle.

This helmet needs to meet the Economic Commission for Europe’s helmet standards which are ECE 22.05 and the latest standard from June 2020, ECE 22.06.

The ECE standards also apply to all helmets in Australia where it is mandatory to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle.

Woman sitting on motorcycle holding helmet

Reasons Given For Not Wearing A Helmet

There are several reasons that people give when they choose not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, here are some of them:

  • Helmets are claustrophobic, I don’t like being closed in. It makes me uncomfortable.
  • They aren’t cool, I look stupid.
  • Nobody tells me what to do. I have the freedom to do whatever I want and wear what I want; riding a motorcycle is freedom. I’m not going to be told what to wear when riding it.
  • They are too expensive.
  • I have a big head (or a small head) and I cannot find one that fits.

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All of these reasons are easily disparaged as reasons why you would want to risk serious injury to your head, let’s take a look:

  • Feeling claustrophobic? Try an open-face or modular helmet. Even an open-face helmet offers a level of protection for your head that is much better than none at all.
  • Motorcycle helmets are cool! Why anyone would think otherwise I have no idea, every shape, design, color, possible exists, there is something for those who want to be low profile/understated and even Marvel helmets so you can pretend to be Iron Man for those more eccentric.
  • There are so many types of motorcycle helmet on the market that there will definitely be one out there that will suit your needs.
  • With helmets meeting legal standards of protection starting from around $50, I think the cost argument doesn’t really exist.
  • From XXS to XXXXXL and probably some more sizes either side, it might take a while but you will find a helmet that fits, go to a reputable store and try on as many as it takes.

Lastly, motorcycles are the ultimate symbol of rebellion, they do stand for freedom. It might be the most cliché statement in the world, but anyone who rides knows that motorcycling equals total freedom.

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However, rebelling and not wearing a helmet does not make you more free, you’re not sticking it to the system by not protecting your head, you just look ridiculous.

Bearded biker sitting on triumph motorcycle

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There is of course some pretty strong evidence as to why a motorcycle helmet should be considered an essential part of your riding experience:

“Since the state of Pennsylvania repealed its motorcycle helmet law in 2003, riders’ head injury fatalities from wrecks increased by 66 percent. Hospitalization for motorcycle-related head injuries increased by 78 percent.” Max Meyers Law

According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the US General Accounting Office (GAO) there is some compelling evidence as to why motorcycle helmets are important:

“GAO reviewed 46 studies of motorcycle helmets and helmet laws. Here’s what they found:
* Helmeted riders have up to a 73 percent lower fatality rate than unhelmeted riders.
* Helmeted riders have up to an 85 percent reduced incidence of severe, serious, and critical injuries than unhelmeted riders.”

In a report to congress the NHTSA confirmed:

“Motorcycle helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.
Unhelmeted motorcyclists are over three times as likely to suffer a brain injury as were those who were helmeted.”

Common Sense

After just glancing over some of the statistics of road traffic accidents involving motorcyclists and the number of fatal and life altering head injuries that could have been prevented from the use of a good motorcycle helmet; I think that without a doubt you should feel that you have to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle.

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If you care little about your own self-preservation then I suggest that you think about your spouse/children/loved ones who would undoubtedly prefer you to wear a helmet to increase your level of protection should you be involved in an accident.

After all they are the ones who have to pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences of your actions; whether that be dealing with you in a life-changing state or the worst situation of having to grieve your loss.

Choosing to wear a helmet, could boil down to whether you survive or not in the worst of situations.

So I implore you to use your common sense and be smart, for the sake of your kids if for no other reason.

Grieving death in a hospital

I hope we have covered the subject of ‘do you have to wear a helmet on a motorbike in America’ to your satisfaction. If you enjoyed this article, take a look at the related reads below for some more interesting reads!

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