Which States Have Motorcycle Helmet Laws? How Do They Impact Your Insurance?

Which States Have Motorcycle Helmet Laws? How Do They Impact Your Insurance?

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In most states, it is legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet as long as you're at least 21 years old.

Only 18 states and the District of Columbia have universal motorcycle helmet laws that require all riders to wear helmets.

Most of these states require that riders wear DOT-approved helmets, which can range widely in cost and quality.

Wearing a helmet while riding does not directly impact your motorcycle insurance rates, but helmets do reduce the severity of injuries and may save a rider from having to file claims that will cost them more later.

Motorcycle helmet laws by state

In three states, motorcycle helmets are entirely optional. Twenty-nine states require younger motorcycle riders to wear a helmet, with varying age limits. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have universal motorcycle helmets laws requiring helmets for all riders regardless of age. The same laws often apply to other two-wheeled vehicles, as well, such as mopeds and scooters.

Riders required to wear helmets
AlabamaAll riders
Alaska18 and younger
Arizona18 and younger
Arkansas21 and younger
CaliforniaAll riders
Colorado18 and younger
Connecticut17 and younger
Delaware18 and younger
District of ColumbiaAll riders
Florida20 and younger
GeorgiaAll riders
Hawaii17 and younger
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Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute

States with universal helmet laws might have cheaper medical-related claim costs, which can reduce insurance costs, but that savings likely has minimal or no impact on riders. Riders are typically not choosing which state to live in based on where they can save on motorcycle insurance. Whatever savings exists is a nice perk to those who happen to live in a state with universal helmet laws.

No matter how safe or experienced a rider is, the reality is that half of all motorcycle deaths involve only one motorcycle and no other vehicle.

Most motorcycle insurance policies have optional accessory coverage, which covers the cost of a helmet. This optional coverage is definitely worth considering, since helmets and other motorcycle gear can cost hundreds of dollars.

What to look for when buying a motorcycle helmet

In states where a motorcycle helmet is required to ride legally, the law often states the helmet needs to be DOT-approved, which means that it complies with the Department of Transportation's standards. There are both full-face and half-face motorcycle helmets that meet DOT standards, but full-face helmets offer superior protection in serious accidents.

DOT, Snell and ECE 22.05 are three of the most common standards in motorcycle helmet construction, each with their own rules for energy absorption, penetration resistance and retention.

Non-DOT motorcycle helmets may still protect you, but you would need to check your state's regulations to determine whether you would be driving legally when wearing one. In addition, many states will also require you to wear eye protection while on the road.

If you're concerned about finding the safest gear to wear while riding, you may want to consider finding a helmet that is also Snell-approved. Snell-approved motorcycle helmets tend to cost more than those that are just DOT-approved, but this is because Snell implements more rigorous standards than the DOT.

We also recommend you avoid buying used helmets, as it can be difficult to know how much wear and tear a used helmet has already seen. Brand-new helmets cost more, but the difference is far less than what you may save in medical costs for head injury.

Having a helmet that fits appropriately can be just as important as helmet quality. A helmet should fit snugly around your entire head. Since every style and brand of helmet can come with sizing quirks, we recommend you try some on in person before buying online.

How much does a motorcycle helmet cost?

The cost of a motorcycle helmet varies significantly based upon your preferred style, the safety standards it meets and whether you want any additional features, such as bluetooth speakers.

For a standard DOT-approved new motorcycle helmet, the cost typically starts around $125. However, a helmet that is also Snell-approved has MIPS energy management — to distribute impact in case of a fall — and additional features, such as speakers, can easily cost around $500.

When do you need to replace a motorcycle helmet?

Like motorcycles, helmets also require some upkeep to maintain their effectiveness.

The Snell Memorial Foundation, which has researched helmets for motorcycles and other vehicles since 1957, recommends that helmets be replaced every five years, not just after a crash.

Glues, resins and other materials used to make helmets can deteriorate, helped along by exposure to natural hair oils and cosmetics. While drops of a few feet shouldn’t usually ruin motorcycle helmets, they are technically one-use items that must be replaced after a crash or other significant trauma.

An example Snell lists is when a helmet falls off the back of a moving motorcycle. Such an impact could compromise the helmet's integrity and give you good reason to get a new one.

The impact of helmet use on motorcycle insurance rates

Your helmet habits don't impact your motorcycle insurance rates. When you request a motorcycle insurance quote online, carriers won't ask whether you own or wear a helmet. Whether or not a rider wears a helmet is up to the rider. Even in states that require all riders to wear helmets, insurers cannot police which policyholders are protecting themselves with a helmet.

Choosing to wear a helmet will not directly reduce your motorcycle insurance rate, but it can stop your future premiums from rising by preventing injury-related claims. Motorcycle insurance companies do consider the broad severity, frequency and total losses related to certain claims, and states with helmet laws — and more wearers — have relatively lower rates.

How wearing a helmet can save you money on motorcycle insurance

Wearing a helmet won’t reduce the cost of your motorcycle insurance premiums directly, but it might prevent your premium from rising. Wearing a helmet can reduce the severity of a motorcycle insurance claim related to medical treatment or even prevent a claim entirely.

Riders have to purchase motorcycle insurance every year, so if you’ve filed a claim, it is possible that your premium will go up. The amount of the increase can depend on the frequency and severity of the claims you file.

A helmet won’t protect your motorcycle from theft or falling trees, but it can reduce the extent of your injuries and medical bills. This in turn can reduce how much motorcycle insurers raise your rates at renewal.

Why the pool of helmet-wearing riders matters

Helmet use across a statewide population of riders definitely has an impact on motorcycle insurance rates. In 2012, Michigan went from having a universal helmet law to only requiring helmets for riders age 20 and younger. Following that change, the medical payments claim severity for motorcyclists in Michigan increased by 22%, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute.

Regardless of the cause, an increase in the cost of claims for any coverage within any line of insurance often leads carriers to raise their prices. This is especially true for motorcycle insurance, and higher losses due to a change in law can clearly affect a risk environment.

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