Helmet Laws All Over the Map

Laws vary widely state-by-state

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The number one perennial hot-button item of discussion amongst U.S. motorcyclists has to be the mandatory helmet law issue. It has been for years, and will be ‘til the earth stops spinning.

While scouting around on the subject I ran across an interesting chart from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that compares state-by-state helmet laws for motorcyclists and bicyclists. During my cursory review of this chart I couldn’t find any pattern between states, or any logic to some of the laws. For example, why do some states require only a motorcycle passenger up to a certain youthful age wear a helmet but not the operator, or kids on bicycles, while other states mandate helmet use across the board?

Why will the helmet debate likely never go away? The short answer is because there isn’t, and probably won’t ever be, a universal (federal) law mandating helmet use. Essentially, it’s the same reason there isn’t a national U.S. driver license, at least not yet. The federal government, by virtue of its structure, leaves each state to create most of their own laws.

What most folks don’t understand about “rights” is that such are only granted by the federal government, and not states. States on the other hand grant “privileges.” In other words, you don’t have a right to drive in California, but have been given permission by the state of California to operate a motor vehicle within the state after meeting requirements set forth by California. For this same type of reason you don’t have a “right” to let your hair blow freely in the wind while riding in Cali, but in, say, Arizona you can go helmetless.

It’s been this way for decades and decades, and will be for some time to come. That’s just how the U.S. works: a nation made up of smaller governments. So until we see a national driver license, we probably won’t see any change in the helmet/no helmet issue.

Click here to see the chart compiled as of December 2008

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  • FZ

    Digging deep for that graphic there are ya Pete? I’m STILL wearing that black Icon. I sure hope these things don’t expire!

  • http://www.motorcycle.com PeteB

    Ha! I wish I could take credit for finding that image.

  • http://www.RoadWarriorService.com Sturdi

    Helmet laws are easier to defeat than most people think. It doesn’t take an army of bikers, a ton of money, gallons of gas, letters to the editor, or weeks of unproductive meetings.

    Instead, how about one Saturday morning in the fall? I’m not joking. Google “Road Warrior Service” and see how simple it really can be.

  • Just let’em choose

    Were all free minded thinking adults that made a big enough decision of riding a motorcycle, why not give us the choice of further protecting ourselves or not? I don’t see what the big deal is. Those who care enough will wear one, those who don’t won’t. Besides mandating helmets just leads to the half helmet crap that’s out there. Really…….is a half helmet going to protect anything? Useless law’s I think.

  • Christopher

    You said, “What most folks don’t understand about “rights” is that such are only granted by the federal government, and not states.” I just want to point out that the federal government does not grant rights. Rights are inalienable given to us by our creator. 1.) the right to free speech 2.) the right to bear arms and the list goes on… . These are listed as to remind the federal government that they are not to mess with them, leave them alone. Its just such an important concept.

  • Duke

    Missed the boat. The federal government _can’t_ grant rights. The Constitution specifically tells you what rights you have, period, on a federal level, then specifies that everything else is up to the states. It further goes on to state that any powers not specifically given to the fed are _denied_ to the fed, but as a nation, we seem to be ignoring that one a lot since the Boomers started voting.

  • Duke

    The article missed the boat, I mean. Not the previous poster. Mea culpa.