Universal motorcycle helmet laws

Universal motorcycle helmet laws require all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear a helmet. Such laws are established statewide, and may also include mopeds and scooters (CG-Motor vehicle injury).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced fatal and non-fatal injuries

  • Increased helmet use

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced head injury

  • Reduced health care costs

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that universal motorcycle helmet laws substantially increase helmet use and reduce fatalities and injuries (CG-Motor vehicle injury, ) across all age groups and genders (CG-Motor vehicle injury). Such laws are more effective than laws that apply only to young or novice riders, often referred to as partial laws (CG-Motor vehicle injury, ).

States with universal motorcycle helmet laws have lower rates of motorcycle-related fatalities (CG-Motor vehicle injury, , , ) and appear to have lower rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) than states with partial laws (, , ). When states repeal universal laws or replace them with partial laws, helmet use decreases and fatalities and injuries increase (CG-Motor vehicle injury, , Carter 2017, , ). A Louisiana-based study suggests that reinstating a universal law that has been repealed can reverse this trend, decreasing the number of fatal motorcycle crashes ().

Universal laws are easier to enforce than partial laws as police officers can more easily identify offenders (CG-Motor vehicle injury). In 2017, nearly all motorcyclists wore helmets in states with universal laws, while about half wore them in states without universal laws (NHTSA-Li 2018). Universal laws that include mopeds are associated with increased helmet use among adult moped riders ().

Economic benefits of universal laws substantially outweigh costs. Following implementation, studies have demonstrated savings of $29 to $96 million per 100,000 registered motorcycles in averted productivity losses and health care expenses per year (CG-Motor vehicle injury). Health care costs are greater for injured motorcyclists who were not wearing helmets at the time of injury than those who were (, ).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of September 2018, 19 states and Washington DC have universal motorcycle helmet laws, 28 have partial laws, and three (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) have no motorcycle helmet law. In 12 states, universal laws also include all mopeds and scooters (IIHS-Motorcycle helmets 2018). Many states have repealed universal helmet laws or replaced them with partial laws in the last few decades (CG-Motor vehicle injury). 

Some states require helmets that meet federal performance standards (CG-Motor vehicle injury). In 2017, 87% of motorcyclists in states with universal laws wore helmets that meet the federal standards (NHTSA-Li 2018). Laboratory testing has demonstrated that “novelty” helmets, which do not meet federal standards, do not adequately protect motorcyclists (IIHS-Motorcycle helmets). 

Implementation Resources

IIHS-Motorcycle helmets - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcycle helmets.

NCSL-Motorcycle safety - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Motorcycle safety overview.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CG-Motor vehicle injury - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Motor vehicle injury prevention.

Byrnes 2012* - Byrnes M, Gerberich S. Motorcycle helmet use and legislation: A systematic review of the literature. Minnesota Medicine. 2012;95(1):60-65.

NHTSA-Li 2018 - Li R, Pickrell TM. Motorcycle helmet use in 2017-Overall results. Report No. DOT HS 812 512. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US Department of Transportation (US DOT); 2018.

Hassan 2017* - Hassan A, Jokar TO, Rhee P, et al. More helmets fewer deaths: Motorcycle helmet legislation impacts traumatic brain injury-related mortality in young adults. American Surgeon. 2017;83(6):541-546.

Testerman 2018* - Testerman GM, Prior DC, Wells TD, et al. Helmets matter: Kentucky motorcycle crash victims seen at a Tennessee trauma center. Southern Medical Journal. 2018;111(1):8-11.

Lee 2017c* - Lee J, Abdel-Aty M, Wang J-H, Lee C. Long-term effect of universal helmet law changes on motorcyclist fatal crashes: Comparison group and empirical bayes approaches. Transportation Research Record: Journal of Transportation Research Board. 2017;2637:27-37.

Lee 2018* - Lee JM. Mandatory helmet legislation as a policy tool for reducing motorcycle fatalities: Pinpointing the efficacy of universal helmet laws. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2018;111(October 2017):173-183.

Carter 2017 - Carter PM, Buckley L, Flannagan CAC, et al. The impact of Michigan's partial repeal of the universal motorcycle helmet law on helmet use, fatalities, and head injuries. American Journal of Public Health. 2017;107(1):166-172.

Saunders 2018* - Saunders RN, Adams NS, Chapman AJ, et al. The impact of the repeal of Michigan's universal helmet law on traumatic brain injury: A statewide analysis. American Journal of Surgery. 2018;215(3):424-427.

Adams 2017* - Adams NS, Newbury PA, Eichhorn MG, et al. The effects of motorcycle helmet legislation on craniomaxillofacial injuries. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 2017;139(6):1453-1457.

Boone 2018* - Boone EM, Rossheim ME, Krall JR, Weiler RM. State helmet laws and helmet use among fatally injured moped riders in the United States, 2011-2015. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2018;19(3):270-273.

Kim 2015b* - Kim C-Y, Wiznia DH, Averbukh L, Dai F, Leslie MP. The economic impact of helmet use on motorcycle accidents: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature from the past 20 years. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2015;16(7):732-738.

Dua 2015* - Dua A, Wei S, Safarik J, Furlough C, Desai SS. National mandatory motorcycle helmet laws may save 2.2 billion annually: An inpatient and value of statistical life analysis. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2015;78(6):1182-1186.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CG-Motor vehicle injury - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Motor vehicle injury prevention.

IIHS-Motorcycle helmets - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcycle helmets.

IIHS-Motorcycle helmets 2018 - Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Motorcycle helmet use: September 2018.

NHTSA-Li 2018 - Li R, Pickrell TM. Motorcycle helmet use in 2017-Overall results. Report No. DOT HS 812 512. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US Department of Transportation (US DOT); 2018.

Date Last Updated

Sep 18, 2018