Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Universal motorcycle helmet laws require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, regardless of the rider’s age or experience. Ideally, the helmet should meet federal safety standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Universal helmet laws are different from partial helmet laws, which typically apply only to riders below a certain age.1

Effectiveness and Use of Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Motorcycle helmets are highly effective in protecting motorcyclists’ heads.1,2 They greatly reduce deaths and serious head injuries, including traumatic brain injury, in crashes.1-3 A Cochrane systematic review of studies through 2007 found that motorcycle helmets reduce rider fatalities and head injuries.2 Motorcycle helmet use was estimated to have saved the lives of 1,872 motorcyclists in 2017 alone. An additional 749 lives could have been saved that year if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.4

A Community Guide Systematic Review of studies through 2012 and a corresponding Community Preventative Services Task Force Finding found that universal motorcycle helmet laws are effective at increasing helmet use and thereby reducing crash-related deaths, injuries, and healthcare costs.5-7 The inverse was also found to be true; states that have repealed universal helmet laws have seen significant drops in the use of motorcycle helmets and increases in motorcyclist deaths, injuries, and healthcare costs.5,6 More recent research has found similar results.8,9

In 2020, observed compliant motorcycle helmet use was 84% in states with universal helmet laws and only 54% in states without such laws.10

Recent or Current Legislation by State

You can visit the universal motorcycle helmet laws webpageexternal icon on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website for up-to-date information on motorcycle helmet laws by state.11,12 The Governors Highway Safety Association also maintains information about universal motorcycle helmet laws on their state laws by issue – motorcyclists webpageexternal icon.13

Costs of Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Time to Implement

Implementation costs of universal helmets laws are minimal after the legislation is enacted. These laws often receive significant attention before they are passed and therefore do not often require substantial publicity expenses once they are enacted.1 Additional costs related to enforcement are also minimal. Helmet use is easily observed, so the laws can be enforced during regular traffic patrol operations.1

A universal helmet law can be implemented quickly as soon as it’s enacted.1

Other Issues and Resources

You can read Chapter 5, Section 1.1 of NHTSA’s Countermeasures that Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Officespdf iconexternal icon (Tenth Edition, 2020) to learn more about the topics above or other issues related to motorcycle helmets, such as opposition to motorcycle helmet laws and use of noncompliant helmets.1

More information can also be found on The Community Guide’s webpage covering Motor Vehicle Injury – Motorcycle Helmets: Universal Helmet Lawsexternal icon.14

You can read the RAND Corporation’s final reports for MV PICCS 1.0/2.0external icon and MV PICCS 3.0external icon for more information about how effectiveness and costs were incorporated into the MV PICCS tool for this intervention.


No U.S. state had a motorcycle helmet law in 1965.15 The federal government started requiring states to enact universal motorcycle helmet laws in order to access certain federal transportation funds through The Highway Safety Act of 1966.15 By 1975, universal motorcycle helmet laws were in effect in 47 states and the District of Columbia.1,11,15

After federal penalties for states without universal motorcycle helmet laws were eliminated in 1975, half of the states either eliminated their laws entirely or weakened them so that they applied only to young riders.1,11,15 Several states have reinstated, weakened, or otherwise changed their motorcycle helmet laws since then.1,11,15 As of 2021, 18 states and the District of Columbia had universal motorcycle helmet laws, 29 states had laws requiring helmets for certain riders, and three states did not have any motorcycle helmet laws.13 See above for current legislation.


  1. Venkatraman, V., Richard, C. M., Magee, K., & Johnson, K. (2021). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices. (Report No. DOT HS 813 097). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/2021-09/15100_Countermeasures10th_080621_v5_tag.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
  2. Liu, B. C., Ivers, R., Norton, R., Boufous, S., Blows, S., & Lo, S. K. (2008). Helmets for preventing injury in motorcycle riders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1), Cd004333. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004333.pub3/fullexternal icon
  3. Weiss, H., Agimi, Y., & Steiner, C. (2010). Youth motorcycle-related brain injury by state helmet law type: United States, 2005–2007. Pediatrics, 126(6), 1149–1155. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/126/6/1149/64985/Youth-Motorcycle-Related-Brain-Injury-by-Stateexternal icon
  4. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2019). Lives and costs saved by motorcycle helmets, 2017 (Traffic Safety Facts Crash•Stats Report No. DOT HS 812 867). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812867external icon
  5. Peng, Y., Vaidya, N., Finnie, R., Reynolds, J., Dumitru, C., Njie, G., . . . The Community Preventive Services Task Force. (2017). Universal motorcycle helmet laws to reduce injuries: A community guide systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(6), 820–832. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379716307103external icon
  6. Peng, Y., & Community Preventive Services Task Force. (2017). Motorcycle helmet laws prevent injury and save lives: Recommendation of the Community Preventive Services Task Force. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(6), 817–819. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379716307115external icon
  7. Community Preventive Services Task Force. (2016). Motor vehicle-related injury prevention: Use of motorcycle helmets, universal helmet laws: Task force finding and rationale statement. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/sites/default/files/assets/MVOI-Motorcycle-Helmets-Laws-Mandating-Use_1.pdfpdf iconexternal icon.
  8. Olsen, C. S., Thomas, A. M., Singleton, M., Gaichas, A. M., Smith, T. J., Smith, G. A., . . . Cook, L. J. (2016). Motorcycle helmet effectiveness in reducing head, face and brain injuries by state and helmet law. Injury Epidemiology, 3(1), 8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4779790/external icon
  9. Carter, P. M., Buckley, L., Flannagan, C. A. C., Cicchino, J. B., Hemmila, M., Bowman, P. J., . . . Bingham, C. R. (2017). 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, 107(1), 166–172. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303525external icon
  10. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2021). Motorcycle helmet use in 2020 – Overall results. (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 813 143). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/Publication/813143external icon
  11. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, & Highway Loss Data Institute. (2021). Motorcycles. https://www.iihs.org/topics/motorcyclesexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
  12. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, & Highway Loss Data Institute. (2022). Motorcycle helmet use laws by state. https://www.iihs.org/topics/motorcycles/motorcycle-helmet-laws-tableexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
  13. Governors Highway Safety Association. (2021). State laws by issue: Motorcyclists. https://www.ghsa.org/state-laws/issues/motorcyclistsexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
  14. Guide to Community Preventive Services. (2020). Motor vehicle injury – Motorcycle helmets: Universal helmet laws. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/motor-vehicle-injury-motorcycle-helmets-universal-helmet-lawsexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
  15. Ulmer, R. G., & Preusser, D. F. (2003). Evaluation of the repeal of motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky and Louisiana. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/kentuky-la03/TOC.htmlexternal icon