Helmet Laws All Over the Map

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

Laws vary widely state-by-state

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

Pete Brissette
Pete Brissette

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