Motorcycle Helmet Laws
Helmet laws throughout the country are surprisingly varied, and their history is filled with philosophical differences. The evidence supporting helmet effectiveness is substantial, yet only 19 states, including the District of Columbia, currently have so-called universal laws which require all operators and passengers to wear helmets. In fact, several states have no helmet laws at all.
Introduction of Helmet Laws
Prior to the 1960s state helmet laws were virtually non-existent. Helmets were not developed with a strong understanding of rider safety. However, as public awareness grew of the terrible injuries that often follow accidents involving motorcyclists, the federal government took notice. In 1967 federal funding for safety programs and highway construction was offered to states that enacted laws regarding use of helmets. The purpose of the incentive was to encourage the use of helmets without federal legislation, since highway traffic laws are largely viewed as state issues.
The result was that in the early 1970s nearly all of the 50 states had passed universal helmet laws. While one would not imagine rider safety to be a controversial issue, lobbyists pressured state legislatures to request that the Department of Transportation cease penalizing states that opted not to require helmets.
Reform of Helmet Laws
The result of this push was that the federal government ceased its incentives, which were seen by some to impose financial penalties on those states which decided not to continue universal helmet law requirements. In short order states began repealing or reforming their helmet laws. In many cases states that eliminated the law altogether later passed legislation that was less restrictive. Still others returned to a universal requirement.
One need only look at a few examples to see how the controversy over helmet laws affected state laws since their inception:
- Kansas: Kansas passed a universal law in 1967, only to reduce the helmet requirement three years later to affect only riders age 20 and younger. In 1972, however, the universal requirement was reinstated, followed by yet another reform four years later which required those riders who are age 15 and younger to wear helmets. This requirement was reformed again to cover those who are age 17 and younger.
Louisiana: All Louisianan riders were required to wear helmets as of July 31, 1968. In 1976 this requirement was reduced to covering those riders age 17 and younger. Six years later the universal requirement was reinstated. Seventeen years after this, in 1999, the law changed again to exempt motorcyclists who were over age 18 and had medical insurance. Finally, in 2004 the universal requirement was reinstated yet again.
- Maine: Maine passed its universal law on 10/07/67, but then repealed it altogether ten years later, in 1977. In 1980 a helmet requirement was enacted for those who are age 14 and younger, and then in 2009 this age was raised to 17 and younger. Currently those who must wear helmets in this state are motorcyclists age 17 and younger, anyone with an instruction permit, those who have been licensed for less than one year, and any passengers of riders who are affected by the law.
Helmets Save Lives
Statistics historically have shown that motorcyclists who wear helmets are much less likely to die in accidents than those who do not. Some riders dislike helmets, and unfortunately state legislators in the majority of states have allowed certain lobbies to push for less restrictive helmet laws rather than focus on saving lives.
A good illustration of the effectiveness of helmet legislation is observable in the State of Florida. In 2008 legislation was passed in the state requiring the use of helmets once again. In the next year deaths in motorcycle accidents declined by a full 24%. Unfortunately, the helmet law was then repealed in 2010, and in 2011 fatalities rose by 50%. Today only motorcyclists age 20 and younger and those who are 21 and older who do not carry medical insurance with at least $10,000 in coverage are required to wear helmets. One can imagine the difficulty for officers who stop motorcyclists who are not wearing helmets. Not only do they need to determine the age of the rider, but they need to find out whether he or she has medical insurance.
It seems only logical to have in place a law that has proven to save lives so effectively. There is no disputing the factual evidence. When California introduced a universal helmet law in 1992 fatalities dropped 36% in the first year alone. The need for helmets is evident simply from the fact that when a collision occurs, motorcyclists have virtually nothing to protect them, unlike drivers of cars. And when a rider crashes he goes down. A person’s unprotected head hitting the pavement at, say, even 35 mph is a gruesome thought to consider. Motorcyclists often suffer severe head injuries, including traumatic brain injury.
According to Motorcycle accident injury lawyer Jeffrey Nadrich, managing partner at Nadrich & Cohen, “There is no doubt that motorcycle helmet laws lead to a decline in deaths, plain and simple. When these laws are not in effect, there is an increase in deaths from motorcycle accidents. State helmet laws lead to the largest declines in motorcycle fatalities.”
Motorcyclists are strongly encouraged to wear helmets and other protective gear. Any discomfort or inconvenience is worth it if your life is saved. If you are injured in an accident because of another’s negligence, it is very important that you consult an attorney, for you may have grounds for a claim. Call Nadrich & Cohen, LLP today.