Motorcycle helmet use

November 2014

Motorcycle helmet laws vary widely among the states and have changed a lot in the past half a century. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, known as universal helmet laws. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states. There is no motorcycle helmet use law in three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).

In the past, many more states had universal helmet laws, thanks to pressure from the federal government. In 1967, states were required to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds. The federal incentive worked. By the early 1970s, almost all the states had universal motorcycle helmet laws. However, in 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws.

Low-power cycle is a generic term used by IIHS to cover motor-driven cycles, mopeds, scooters, and various other 2-wheeled cycles excluded from the motorcycle definition. While state laws vary, a cycle with an engine displacement of 50 cubic centimeters or less, brake horsepower of 2 or less, and top speeds of 30 mph or less typically is considered an low-power cycle. Twenty-three states have motorcycle helmet laws that cover all low-power cycles. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have laws that cover some low-power cycles.

State Motorcycle helmets Does the motorcycle helmet law cover all low-power cycles?
Alabama all riders yes

Alaska 17 and younger1 yes

Arizona 17 and younger

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 1 1/2, or can attain speeds greater than 25 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Arkansas 20 and younger yes

California all riders yes

Colorado 17 and younger and passengers 17 and younger yes

Connecticut 17 and younger yes

Delaware 18 and younger2

all low-power cycles except motorized scooters are covered by the motorcycle helmet law; bicycle helmet acceptable for motorized scooter

District of Columbia all riders

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 1 1/2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Florida 20 and younger3

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph and all low-power cycles operated by those 15 and younger are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Georgia all riders

all low-power cycles are covered by the motorcycle helmet law except bicycle helmets are acceptable for electric assisted bicycles

Hawaii 17 and younger

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Idaho 17 and younger

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 5, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Illinois no law no law

Indiana 17 and younger yes

Iowa no law no law

Kansas 17 and younger

all low-power cycles except electric assisted bicycles are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Kentucky 20 and younger4

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Louisiana all riders yes

Maine 17 and younger5

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc or more than 1,500 watts are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Maryland all riders yes

all low-power cycles designed to travel at speeds exceeding 35 mph, scooters with with engine displacement greater than 50cc or brake horsepower greater than 2.7 and mopeds with an engine displacement greater than 50cc or brake horsepower greater than 1.5 are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Massachusetts all riders yes

Michigan 20 and younger6

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph and all low-power cycles operated by those 18 and younger are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Minnesota 17 and younger7 yes

Mississippi all riders yes

Missouri all riders

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 3, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Montana 17 and younger

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Nebraska all riders yes

Nevada all riders

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

New Hampshire no law no law

New Jersey all riders yes

New Mexico 17 and younger

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

New York all riders

all low-power cycles designed to travel at speeds of 20 mph or greater are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

North Carolina all riders yes

North Dakota 17 and younger8 yes

Ohio 17 and younger9 yes

Oklahoma 17 and younger

all low-power cycles are covered by the motorcycle helmet law except bicycle helmets are acceptable for electric assisted bicycles operated by those 18 and younger

Oregon all riders yes

Pennsylvania 20 and younger10

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 1 1/2, or can attain speeds greater than 25 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Rhode Island 20 and younger11

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 4.9 or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

South Carolina 20 and younger yes

South Dakota 17 and younger yes

Tennessee all riders yes

Texas 20 and younger12

all low-power cycles, except motor assisted scooters with an engine displacement less than than 40cc, are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Utah 17 and younger yes

Vermont all riders

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Virginia all riders

all low-power cycles operated at speeds greater than 35 mph or with an engine displacement greater than 50cc are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Washington all riders yes

West Virginia all riders

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Wisconsin 17 and younger13

all low-power cycles designed to travel at speeds exceeding 30 mph or a Type 1 motorcycle with an automatic transmission with an engine displacement greater than 50cc are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

Wyoming 17 and younger

all low-power cycles with an engine displacement greater than 50cc, brake horsepower greater than 2, or can attain speeds greater than 30 mph are covered by the motorcycle helmet law

1Alaska's motorcycle helmet use law covers passengers of all ages, operators younger than 18, and operators with instructional permits.

2In Delaware, every motorcycle operator or rider age 19 and older must carry an approved helmet.

3In Florida, the law requires that all riders younger than 21 years wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 years and older may ride without helmets only if they can show proof that they are covered by a medical insurance policy.

4In Kentucky, the law requires that all riders younger than 21 years wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 and older may ride without helmets only if they can show proof that they are covered by a medical insurance policy. Motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky also cover operators with instructional/learner's permits.

5Motorcycle helmet laws in Maine cover operators with instructional/learner's permits and operators in their first year of licensure. Maine's motorcycle helmet use law also covers passengers 17 and younger and passengers riding with operators who are required to wear a helmet.

6In Michigan, the law requires that all riders younger than 21 wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 and older may ride without helmets only if they carry additional insurance and have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years. Motorcycle passengers who want to exercise this option also must be 21 or older and carry additional insurance.

7Motorcycle helmet laws in Minnesota cover operators with instructional/learner's permits.

8North Dakota's motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers traveling with operators who are covered by the law.

9Ohio's motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of licensure and all passengers of operators who are covered by the law.

10Pennsylvania's motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first two years of licensure unless the operator has completed the safety course approved by PennDOT or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

11Rhode Island's motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers (regardless of age) and all operators during the first year of licensure (regardless of age).

12Texas exempts riders 21 or older if they can either show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or can show proof of having a medical insurance policy. A peace officer may not stop or detain a person who is the operator of or a passenger on a motorcycle for the sole purpose of determining whether the person has successfully completed the motorcycle operator training and safety course or is covered by a health insurance plan.

13Motorcycle helmet laws in Wisconsin cover operators with instructional/learner's permits.