Before you head out on the highway looking for adventure make sure it isn’t a ticket that comes your way. This guide details the helmet laws state by state to help riders follow the rules. Of course, the safest choice is to always wear a traditional (non-novelty) helmet that complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218.
Besides getting a ticket for not wearing a helmet in certain states, there is even more incentive—not properly protecting yourself could increase your risk of injury or even death. Just 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, have universal motorcycle helmet laws requiring usage despite the fact that studies show that helmets can help reduce your injury risk in a crash. They are about 37 percent effective in preventing deaths and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries from motorcycle crashes. (See our 10 safety tips for new riders.)
In states that institute laws, deaths and injuries from motorcycle accidents typically drop. Unfortunately, the opposite also proves true when such laws are repealed. Nearly 100 percent of motorcyclists riding in states with helmet laws were wearing them. In states without the laws, helmet use was about 50 percent.
Getting more riders to wear helmets is important: As more motorcyclists have taken to the road over the last few years, rider fatalities have grown even more rapidly especially compared to cars. In 2012, over 4,900 motorcyclists died on the roads--that is 15 percent of the total highway fatalities and an increase of 33 percent from 2003-2012.
Before embarking on a long-distance ride, check out our list of which states have universal laws requiring helmet use. The best move is to keep things simple and safe: Wear a quality, DOT-approved helmet even if it’s not the law in your state or wherever you are traveling.