Wearing a helmet is always a good idea. Even cheap motorcycle helmets can save your life in the event of an accident. However, just because it’s a great safety measure doesn’t mean it’s a legal obligation.

Laws requiring motorcyclists wear a helmet have drastically changed over the past 40 years. This is mostly the result of a shift in policy by the federal government.

Universal Helmet Laws

In the 1970s, the Department of Transportation implemented a policy that punished states that didn’t have a universal helmet law. Universal helmet laws require all riders of motor-driven cycles wear a helmet, regardless of the type of vehicle they’re riding. This means even low-powered vehicles like the following were covered:

  • Mopeds

  • Scooters

  • Electric bikes

States that didn’t comply faced financial penalties.

State Lobby

Unhappy with the set-up, the states lobbied to have control over their own helmet laws. Congress eventually agreed. In 1976, the states were able to implement their own legislation without worrying about losing federal funding for highway construction or safety programs. This means that requirements for the best head protection now vary across state lines.

Current Helmet Laws

The difference between state laws can be extreme nowadays. According to Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, only 19 states plus Washington, D.C., have universal helmet laws. Three states have no helmet laws at all and 28 have laws that only require certain riders to wear helmets.

What does this mean for you? Basically, if you want to avoid a ticket, you should look up your state’s laws to determine if your vehicle is considered a motor-driven cycle that requires a helmet. If you’re planning to go on a trip, you need to check every state you’ll be riding in.

Whether or not your state mandates a helmet, wearing one is still the best protection if you’re in a collision. Invest in your safety buy getting a helmet today.