Motorcycle riding remains a popular mode of transportation for both commuting and leisure. Many motorcyclists enjoy the feeling of freedom that a motorcycle has to offer along with the excitement and fun of travel on two wheels. Motorcycle enthusiasts view riding as a way of life and often partake in picturesque drives, group rides, and cruises through some of the country’s most scenic destinations.
However, when you are on a motorcycle ride, you must also consider the laws of the states in which you are traveling. Helmet use laws vary greatly depending on where you are. Understanding the purpose and existence of these laws across the U.S. can help to make your ride safer and more enjoyable.
Risks of Motorcycle Accidents in the U.S.
Motorcycle riders are not nearly as common as vehicle drivers along the road, yet they account for over 5,000 accident fatalities each year in the U.S. As a motorcyclist you are at greater risk of injury just by choosing to ride your bike, but you mitigate those risks with safe riding techniques and wearing a helmet and other protective gear.
Although it may appear simple, helmet use has been a divisive issue for many years.
The reality is that a helmet will not always save a motorcyclist’s life especially in accidents at high rates of speed, but they can offer protection and save a life in less impactful accidents that could otherwise result in a fatality.
Why Should You Wear a Motorcycle Helmet While Riding?
As a motorcyclist, you are exposed to many more hazards on the roadways than those traveling in automobiles. Your motorcycle offers little to no protection from elements that can cause you harm during your rides.
Motorcycle riders and passengers face dangers such as debris, unpredictable weather, and road conditions. Automobile drivers may not give a second thought to these everyday occurrences, but to a motorcyclist these dangers can result in catastrophic consequences.
Due to the design and unique operational needs of a motorcycle, minor accidents are uncommon. Motorcyclists must not only maintain intense focus at all times while riding but must also maintain control and balance of this often heavy machinery. What would be a minor fender bender in a vehicle can have fatal results when a motorcycle is involved. Any small obstacle on the road can lead to an unexpected fall or to be thrown off your bike.
An effective and relatively low-cost way to protect yourself while on a motorcycle, is the use of a motorcycle helmet. According to the CDC, helmets have been found to reduce the risk of death in a motorcycle accident by 37 percent and can reduce the risk of injuries by 69 percent. These statistics exemplify the huge difference wearing a helmet can make when a motorcyclist is involved in an accident or collision on the road. It is estimated that nearly 2,000 motorcyclists’ lives are saved each year because the rider wore a helmet.
Why Do Some Motorcyclists Choose Not to Wear a Helmet?
If helmets are proven to provide strong protections to motorcycle riders, why do so many individuals choose to ride without a helmet? The answer is complicated and ranges in answers from convenience and comfort to improved vision.
The chief complaint amongst motorcycle enthusiasts that choose not to wear a helmet is that the helmet in some ways impairs their senses while riding. They argue that while helmets do offer protection for your head they may also put you at increased risk of involvement in an accident. Due to the size and design of a motorcycle helmet, they claim that the helmet obstructs their vision and muffled sounds from the surrounding environment.
An international study asked motorcyclists who sought care in an emergency department after an accident why they chose not to wear a helmet.
The reasons provided by the motorcyclists for not wearing a helmet were as follows, respondents were allowed to give multiple reasons:
- 77 percent indicated the helmet was too heavy
- 71 percent indicated overheating as a problem
- 69 percent indicated neck pain and strain
- 67 percent indicated feelings of suffocation
- 59 percent indicated the helmet limited neck and head movement
While feeling restricted in their movement was one of the reasons provided for not wearing a helmet the vast majority of the complaints of helmets revolved around comfort. This seems to be one of the biggest driving forces behind individuals that choose to ride without a helmet. Motorcyclists that ride without a helmet, often choose to because it is more comfortable and convenient to do so.
Can You Legally Ride a Motorcycle Without a Helmet?
The answer to this question greatly depends on where you are riding. Motorcycle helmet laws have proven to be quite polarizing in some areas of the U.S. What is allowed in one state can be completely prohibited in another. When you ride your motorcycle, especially across state lines, you must understand the laws of the jurisdictions you will travel through.
Currently, 47 out of the 50 U.S. states have some motorcycle helmet laws in place. Only three states—Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire—do not impose any requirements to wear a helmet.
Of the states with motorcycle helmet use laws, just 18 require all riders to wear helmets at all times. The remaining 29 states have some form of requirement for helmet use dependent on age and some allow riding without a helmet under certain circumstances.
What Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Consider a Motorcycle Under?
Another differentiation between motorcycle helmet laws across the states is what is defined as a motorcycle under the law. While some states include all powered motorcycle-related vehicles in their motorcycle helmet use laws, others make exceptions depending on the type of vehicle you are riding.
For example, 17 states have a modified definition of what vehicles are exempted from the helmet use laws in their state. In general, most exceptions to motorcycle helmet provisions deal with motorized bicycles, mopeds, and three-wheel vehicles.
Can You Wear Any Helmet on Your Motorcycle?
When it comes to motorcycle helmets and protection, not all helmets are created equal. In fact, many states’ helmet use laws specify that the helmets used by motorcyclists must be approved and certified by the Department of Transportation. The DOT tests motorcycle helmets for their effectiveness at protecting a rider and will only certify those helmets that meet its stringent safety standards.
Motorcycle riders may not give too much thought about the type of helmet they use while riding but the helmet you choose can affect the outcome if you are involved in a collision as well as your vision and comfort while riding.
More and more companies are engaged in the sale of novelty motorcycle helmets. Attractive designs and modifications are appealing to many recreational riders, but the vast majority of these helmets have not been tested or approved for use by the DOT.
While novelty helmets are allowable in states that allow motorcycle riders to travel without a helmet if you are subject to mandatory helmet use you must ensure your helmet meets the standards set forth by your state. An unsafe helmet can be viewed as a violation of the helmet use laws of your state and you could be subject to fines or penalties by law enforcement.
Do You Need to Take Any Action If You Choose to Ride Without a Helmet?
Of the 29 states that allow motorcycle riders to ride without a helmet under special circumstances some have additional requirements that must be met to be allowed to do so under the laws. In many cases, the motorcyclists’ age and licensing stage is the deciding factor but in some jurisdictions, a motorcycle rider will also have to acquire specialized insurance coverage to bypass the helmet mandate.
For example, in the state of Florida, a motorcyclist can only ride without a helmet if they are older than 21 years of age and are covered by a minimum of a $10,000 medical benefits insurance policy that does not exclude motorcycle use. This law applies to all motorcyclists within the state regardless of their residency.
While each state may have different requirements, it is always in the best interest of a motorcyclist to acquire motorcycle insurance coverage that will cover liability to others as well as injuries to themselves.
Take note of policy limits and consider purchasing a policy with generous benefits to cover your needs if an accident should occur. A $10,000 policy may provide some benefit, but in most circumstances will not even scratch the surface of the damages you can incur as part of a motorcycle accident. It is also worth acquiring uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to help you recover losses if you are involved in an accident due to the fault of another driver.
Average Cost of a Motorcycle Accident
Motorcycle accidents can have disastrous outcomes which include severe injuries and fatalities. When a rider is not wearing a helmet at the time of the collisions they likely face worse outcomes and impacts. Survivors of motorcycle collisions will often deal with overwhelming medical expenses and impacts to their livelihood that affects their families and future. The costs associated with a motorcycle accident will vary greatly depending on the severity of the injuries and the circumstances of each accident.
While it can be difficult to provide an accurate estimate of costs for each motorcycle accident without the specifics of each case, there are universal impacts that most motorcyclists will suffer when they are involved in a motorcycle accident.
Motorcycle accidents can include losses such as:
- Medical expenses – These are often the greatest financial impacts after a motorcycle accident. Serious motorcycle injuries can take a long time for recovery and rehabilitation in many instances can leave permanent effects and disability on the injury victim which can require lifelong care.
- Income losses – Missed work after an accident is practically a given but what begins as lost wages for a few days can have much more costly implications. In cases of severe injury, you can’t always fulfill your work requirements in the future and your injury will ultimately impact your ability to earn an income.
- Pain and suffering – Motorcycle accident injuries are often horrific and painful for the individuals that survive. Not only must survivors deal with the pain and trauma of the accident itself but the continued suffering through treatment, procedures, and rehabilitation.
- Property damage – When a motorcycle is damaged in an accident, it often results in a complete loss or thousands of dollars in repairs.
- Wrongful death – The death of a loved one in a motorcycle accident is a devastating and painful loss. Beyond the emotional and mental suffering of the family left behind, many families also feel the financial impacts of the loss of their loved one.
Most Common Injuries in a Motorcycle Accident
The main purpose of a helmet and the helmet use laws in the U.S. is to protect the motorcycle rider. Motorcycle accidents and injuries are unpredictable. The inherent exposure of a rider while on a bike leaves them susceptible to severe injuries and death. Motorcycle accidents that result in a fatality can often be linked to a head or brain injury. Beyond the physical, emotional, and psychological ramifications of a motorcycle injury, many victims also face significant financial impacts and can require long-term care now and in the future.
The most common injuries in motorcycle accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Head, neck, and spinal injuries
- Fractures and broken bones
- Internal injuries to organs
- Road rash and burn injuries
- Crush injuries or loss of limb
If you or a loved one are injured in a motorcycle accident due to the fault of another, a motorcycle injury lawyer can discuss your legal options and what compensation you could recover under the laws of your state.