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Motorcycle Safety Guide: Motorcycle Deaths and Partial Helmet Laws

A Casualty

Photo: crashed red motorcycleOne Florida high school senior was planning to attend college to study business and landscaping on a scholarship. He was involved in his high school drama club, played on the basketball team, ran track, and was a member of the Students Against Destructive Decisions Club.

Hours before his high school graduation, while riding his motorcycle without a helmet, this teenager crashed and died. Under Florida’s partial helmet law he should have been wearing a helmet — he was, after all, under 21 years of age.

But like many other motorcyclists in states with partial helmet laws, he didn’t wear a helmet.

He paid the price with his life.38

Partial Laws - What They Limit

Age: Riders under a specific age, which ranges between 17–20 years, are required to wear helmets. Applies in all 28 states with partial laws.37

Passengers: Passengers are required to wear helmets if they are under a certain age or riding with drivers that are legally required to wear helmets. Applies in Colorado, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Alaska and Rhode Island require all passengers to wear helmets.37

Insurance: Florida, Kentucky, and Michigan require anyone without health insurance to wear a helmet. Texas requires either proof of insurance or proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training course to ride without a helmet.37

Licensing: Riders with an instructional or learner’s permit or those who are recently licensed are required to wear helmets, regardless of age. Applies in Alaska, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Michigan and Pennsylvania require recently licensed riders to wear a helmet, unless they have passed a motorcycle safety course.37

Partial Laws - Why They Don't Work

Research shows that partial helmet laws do not motivate riders to wear helmets.35,39 States with partial laws and states with no helmet law experience little difference in helmet use.40 Even though all partial helmet laws apply to minors, 60% of fatally injured minors were unhelmeted in partial helmet law states, compared to 22% in universal helmet laws states from 2008–2010.1 Among young riders who were hospitalized after a crash, the risk of suffering a serious traumatic brain injury was 37% higher in partial law states compared to universal law states.41 Only the universal helmet law is proven to increase helmet use.5

Compliance is low because partial helmet laws are difficult to enforce. Identifying partial law violations is problematic. As a result, partial helmet laws are typically only enforced when a police officer has pulled a rider over for another infraction, such as speeding.42


References are located on the Endnotes page.

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