Is it a requirement to wear a helmet while riding your motorcycle or bicycle? While it’s always good for your safety, most states require it, at least for some groups of people. Some states have universal laws, meaning everyone operating a motorcycle must wear a helmet.

Other states have partial helmet requirement laws. In those cases, helmets are usually required for those drivers who are under 18 or 21 years of age, and/or who have only had a motorcycle driver’s license for a short amount of time (often less than one or two years). The exact details of these types of partial helmet laws may depend on state or jurisdiction.

Generally, those who only have driver’s permits must wear helmets. Some states also have laws requiring passengers to wear helmets, or requiring drivers who are underinsured to wear helmets. In many cases, helmets must be models that are approved by the state Department of Transportation, and thus have certain safety features that may be lacking in non-approved helmets.

Which States have Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws?

The following states have universal motorcycle helmet laws that apply to all persons operating a motorcycle:

  • Alabama;
  • California;
  • Washington DC;
  • Georgia;
  • Louisiana;
  • Maryland;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Mississippi;
  • Missouri;
  • Nebraska;
  • Nevada;
  • New Jersey;
  • New York;
  • North Carolina;
  • Oregon;
  • Tennessee;
  • Vermont;
  • Virginia;
  • Washington; and
  • West Virginia.

Which States Do Not Have Motorcycle Helmet Laws?

  • Illinois;
  • Iowa; and
  • New Hampshire.

The remainder of states in the U.S. have partial motorcycle helmet laws, which may be based on age or licensure requirements, as described above. You should check the law in your state to be sure you are aware of helmet laws. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse and will not prevent a person from facing a violation of state vehicle laws.

If you are at all unsure about the motorcycle or bike helmet laws in your region, you should contact a legal professional who can explain to you what the requirements are, and what your rights are under local laws.

Which States Require Bike Helmets for Minors?

Currently, there are no states requiring that adults wear helmets while riding a bicycle. However, on the other hand, many states require minors (under the age of 16 or 18 depending on the state) to wear helmets while riding a bike. These states are:

  • Alabama (under 16);
  • California (under 18);
  • Connecticut (under 16);
  • Delaware (under 16);
  • Washington D.C. (under 16);
  • Florida (under 16);
  • Georgia (under 16);
  • Hawaii (under 16);
  • Louisiana (under 12);
  • Maine (under 16);
  • Maryland (under 16);
  • Massachusetts (under 17);
  • New Hampshire (under 16);
  • New Jersey (under 17);
  • New Mexico (under 18);
  • New York (under 14);
  • North Carolina (under 16);
  • Oregon (under 16);
  • Pennsylvania (under 12);
  • Rhode Island (under 16);
  • Tennessee (under 16); and
  • West Virginia (under 15).

In addition to state motorcycle laws, many local ordinances may require bicycle helmets. This means laws created by counties, cities and townships. They may apply to both adults and minors, so you should always check these local laws to determine if they require wearing bicycle helmets, even where state law does not.

Remember, you can be pulled over by the police and ticketed for not wearing a bike helmet. While the law is not always enforced, the enforcement is up to the individual officer’s discretion.

What are the Legal Penalties for Not Wearing a Helmet?

Depending on state laws, motorcyclists (and sometimes their passengers) may face legal penalties and consequences for failing to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle. They can also sometimes face penalties for failing to wear a helmet that is approved by the Department of Transportation.

Law enforcement officers may often have the right to charge an individual with an equipment violation or other similar penalty. Consequences for such violations may range from a $10 fine to fines of up to $250. Again, this may depend on state law.

In some areas, the penalty for not wearing a helmet can also include probation or other similar corrective measures. Also, the exact citation and corresponding legal consequence or punishment may simply depend on the discretion of the officer who made the stop.

Thus, in order to avoid a penalty, fine, or other legal consequence, it is in your best interests to ensure that you wear a state-approved helmet any time you are operating a motorcycle. You should also ensure that your passengers are wearing a safety helmet as well.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Facing a Penalty for Not Wearing a Helmet?

If you get stopped while riding a motorcycle or bike without helmet where it is required, you may get pulled over and get a ticket. If you have questions about traffic laws in your area, you should contact a criminal attorney to ensure you are in compliance with the law in your state.

If you are accident with a car while operating a motorcycle or bicycle, and are in violation of helmet laws, it may impact your ability to recover damages from the driver of the car. An attorney can discuss this issue with you, as well.