Which states have motorcycle helmet laws?

Motorcyclists often wonder which states have motorcycle helmet laws. Surprisingly, only 19 states have laws requiring a helmet to be worn while operating a motorcycle. All motorcycles must be approved by the DOT and should be regularly replaced to maintain safety standards. However, anyone who rides a motorcycle should always wear a helmet for maximum protection.

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Marc Shuman is a personal injury attorney and the founder of Shuman Legal, a Chicago, Illinois based law firm. Marc has over 34 years of experience in law and is an active member of the American Bar Association and the Illinois Workers Compensation Lawyers Association (IWCLA).  With a 95% success rate at trial that has generated millions of dollars in compensation, Marc J. Shuman has a passion...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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  • Wearing a motorcycle helmet is not required for drivers over 21 years old in the majority of the United States
  • Motorcycle helmets that are worn must be approved by the Department of Transportation
  • For the maximum protection, motorcyclists should always wear a well-fitting helmet regardless of the state law

In the United States, only 19 states have a law in place that requires all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet. Surprisingly, therefore, in most states, as long as you are 21 years or over, wearing a motorcycle helmet is an entirely optional choice for riders. 

Even if you don’t know which states have motorcycle helmet laws or not, wearing a helmet whenever you are on your bike is the smartest thing to do.

Keep reading to find out more about specific helmet laws. And to make sure you’re fully covered whenever you’re on your bike, use our free tool to find motorcycle insurance for you.

State Guide to Motorcycle Helmet Laws

So which states do not require motorcycle helmets? How many states have motorcycle helmet laws?

Well, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), 22 states have no stipulation regarding helmets, nine states require motorcycle riders to wear a helmet if they are younger, and 19 states (and the District of Columbia) hold a universal law that requires all riders to wear a helmet, regardless of their age. 

Check out the table below to find out the motorcycle helmet laws in each state.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws by State
Helmet Required: All AgesHelmet Required: 20 Yrs & YoungerHelmet Required:18 Yrs & YoungerHelmet Required: 17 Yrs & Younger
District of ColumbiaKentuckyColorado
MarylandRhode IslandIdaho
MassachusettsSouth CarolinaIndiana
New JerseyNew Mexico
New YorkNorth Dakota
North CarolinaOhio
TennesseeSouth Dakota
West Virginia
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As you can see, most states either require all drivers to wear a helmet when driving a motorcycle regardless of age. Teen drivers are widely regarded as inexperienced, high-risk drivers, and that fact is shown in how many states require young teenage drivers to wear a helmet while on a motorcycle.

19 states require drivers who are 17 years old or younger to wear a helmet while driving a motorcycle while only 9 states require those who are 18 or 20 years old to wear a helmet.

Almost all 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws about wearing a helmet while driving a motorcycle. However, there are currently no laws pertaining to motorcyclists wearing helmets in the states of Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

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Do helmet laws have any effect on insurance?

Your motorcycle insurance is not directly impacted by wearing a helmet. Helmets can, however,  reduce the severity of any injuries sustained and may consequently save a rider from even having to file a claim that could be more costly for them down the track.

States that enforce universal helmet laws may have some cheaper claim costs when it comes to medical expenses. This can reduce insurance costs, but it is unlikely that these savings will have any significant impact on riders. 

Most motorcycle insurance policies offer optional coverage for accessories, which is well worth considering. These extras can cover the cost of a helmet or other gear, which can be very expensive to replace.

What to Consider When Buying a Motorcycle Helmet

In most states where it is a legal requirement to wear a helmet when riding, the law will stipulate that the helmet worn must be DOT-approved. This means that it is in compliance with the standards outlined by the Department of Transportation.

There are a variety of both half-face and full-face motorcycle helmet options that meet DOT standards, but certainly, when it comes to serious accidents, full-face helmets offer far superior protection.

DOT, ECE 22.05, and Snell are the most common motorcycle helmet standards constructed, each with their own measurements for penetration resistance, energy absorption, and retention.

A non-DOT helmet may still provide adequate protection, but you would have to check the regulations for your state to determine whether or not you would be within the law to use one. Many states also require that eye protection be worn while riding a motorcycle.

If safety is your primary concern when it comes to investing in quality, safe riding gear, consider finding a helmet that is Snell-approved as well as DOT-approved. Motorcycle helmets that are Snell-approved tend to have a higher price-point than those only DOT-approved, but this is due to Snell implementing even more rigorous standards of safety construction than DOT.

Most experts strongly advise that you never buy a second-hand helmet, as it is impossible to ever truly know just how much wear and tear has affected its integrity.

Brand new helmets may cost you more upfront, but rather that than the hefty medical bills following an avoidable head injury, never mind the personal costs of enduring worse trauma.

It is also important to find a helmet that fits appropriately. A motorcycle helmet should snugly fit around your head. Every brand and style has its own unique sizing adjustments and quirks, so it is strongly advised that you try them on in person before purchasing.

How much do motorcycle helmets cost?

The cost of a new motorcycle helmet can vary significantly between styles and the safety standards that they meet. They can also come with additional features that can add to the cost, such as inbuilt Bluetooth speakers.

For a new motorcycle helmet that is DOT-approved, the price typically starts at approximately $125. For one that is also Snell-approved, with additional features and an MIPS energy management (to distribute fall impact), the price can easily be up nearer the $500 mark.

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When does a motorcycle helmet need replacing?

Like the motorcycles themselves, safety gear, including helmets, need some upkeep to ensure that they maintain their safety effectiveness. 

According to the Snell Memorial Foundation, which has done extensive research on motorcycle and other vehicle helmets for over 60 years, helmets should be replaced every five years, even if they have not suffered any impact.

Resins, glues and other materials used to construct helmets will deteriorate over time, and this can be accelerated by exposure to cosmetics and natural oils from skin and hair.

When it comes to dropping helmets, a drop of a couple of feet shouldn’t impact their effectiveness, but they should be considered strictly one-use items when it comes to replacing after a crash or any other significant trauma.

For example, if your helmet falls off the back of your motorcycle while moving, you would have good reason to question the integrity of the helmet and opt to replace it.

Wearing a Motorcycle Helmet Protects You

Regardless of the laws in your particular state, wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet is the best way to protect yourself as fully as possible when riding on the road, and there is certainly no law against wearing one no matter where you reside.

Another way to make sure you’re protected is to have motorcycle accident insurance coverage. Find out how much coverage will adequately protect your interests.

After all, it only takes one accident to be gravely regretting your choice to not fully protect yourself, so why wait until it’s too late? Use our free quote tool to make sure you’re covered by insurance when you’re riding your motorcycle, too.

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