Helmet laws are a bone of contention for many riders. Without a national law saying that helmets are or are not required (despite the CDC's efforts), we've ended up with a seemingly random set of laws that are different in whatever state you're in. If you wear a helmet you're always covered (literally and figuratively), but if you like to feel the wind in your hair it's hard to know where you can and can't do it legally. Let's straighten that out.

Some say every rider, everywhere, should be required to wear a helmet, for their own safety and to reduce the burden on our health care system. Others say helmets are good, but it should be the right of the individual to choose whether to wear one or not. Still others say there should be absolutely no helmet regulation at all. When I lived on the border between Massachusetts (a universal helmet law state) and New Hampshire (with no helmet laws at all), I'd always see motorcycles stopped at the state line. Northbound riders would be taking their helmets off, and southbound riders would put them on. If you're going to make the choice to remove your brain bucket, you should know where Johnny Law will allow you do it.

Helmet laws fall into four general categories: required for everyone, required for everyone under 21, required for everyone under 18, and not required at all. Many states have their own special stipulations for passengers, engines under 50cc, or the amount of health insurance a rider must carry to go without a helmet. Here's a listing of who has to wear a helmet, in alphabetical order by state.

Alabama: Everyone

Alaska: Under 18

Arizona: Under 18

Arkansas: Under 21

California: Everyone

Colorado: Under 18 (riders and passengers)

Connecticut: Under 21

Delaware: Under 19

Florida: Under 21

Georgia: Everyone

Hawaii: Under 18

Idaho: Under 18

Illinois: No helmet law

Indiana: Under 18

Iowa: No helmet law

Kansas: Under 18

Kentucky: Under 21

Louisiana: Everyone

Maine: Under 18

Maryland: Everyone

Massachusetts: Everyone

Michigan: Under 21

Minnesota: Under 18

Mississippi: Everyone

Missouri: Under 26*

Montana: Under 18

Nebraska: Everyone

Nevada: Everyone

New Hampshire: No helmet law

New Jersey: Everyone

New Mexico: Under 18

New York: Everyone

North Carolina: Everyone

North Dakota: Under 18

Ohio: Under 18

Oklahoma: Under 18

Oregon: Everyone

Pennsylvania: Under 21

Rhode Island: Under 21

South Carolina: Under 21

South Dakota: Under 18

Tennessee: Everyone

Texas: Under 21

Utah: Under 21

Vermont: Everyone

Virginia: Everyone

Washington, D.C.: Everyone

Washington (state): Everyone

West Virginia: Everyone

Wisconsin: Under 18

Wyoming: Under 18

It may surprise some people to see that only 19 states, plus Washington D.C., have universal helmet laws. Older riders may be particularly surprised since in 1967 the federal government required states to enact helmet laws to qualify certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds. Nearly all states had such laws by the early 1970s, but as the decade went on states managed to stop the Department of Transportation from denying funds over helmet laws.

Still, only three states — Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire —have absolutely no helmet laws whatsoever. The majority of states have laws requiring helmet use for younger riders (and, in Colorado, younger passengers).

Some states require riders to carry a minimum amount of health insurance coverage to go without a helmet. The qualifications are different in every state and constantly changing. Texas, for example, currently prohibits law enforcement from stopping a helmetless rider for the sole purpose of verifying that their insurance coverage meets the requirements, but the government is trying to change that.

We got our information for this list from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which keeps an up-to-date list of helmet laws on its website. If you're taking a ride through several states and wish to go bare-headed, check this list before you go so that you know where you can and can't do this legally — at least, for this week before the laws change again.

Source: IIHS

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