In most states, it is legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet as long as you're at least 21 years old. Only 19 states in the U.S. have universal motorcycle helmet laws that require all riders to wear helmets, no matter their age. In states where a motorcycle helmet is required, you typically need to purchase a DOT-approved helmet in order to be compliant, which can cost around $150 to over $500, depending on the model you choose. Wearing a helmet while riding does not directly impact your motorcycle insurance rates, however helmets reduce the severity of motorcycle injuries and might prevent a rider from having to file claims that will cost them more later.
Motorcycle Helmet Laws by State
You don't have to wear a helmet to legally ride a motorcycle in every state. There are 28 states with laws that require only some motorcycle riders to wear a helmet—usually any rider under a certain age. Out of those 28 states, 19 have universal motorcycle helmets laws that require all riders to wear one. The District of Columbia also requires all riders to wear a helmet. The same laws often apply to other two-wheeled vehicles as well, such as mopeds and scooters.
|State||Riders Required To Have Helmets|
|Alaska||17 and younger|
|Arizona||17 and younger|
|Arkansas||20 and younger|
|Colorado||17 and younger and passengers 17 and younger|
|Connecticut||17 and younger|
|Delaware||18 and younger|
|District of Columbia||All riders|
|Florida||20 and younger|
|Hawaii||17 and younger|
|Idaho||17 and younger|
|Indiana||17 and younger|
|Kansas||17 and younger|
|Kentucky||20 and younger|
|Maine||17 and younger|
|Michigan||20 and younger|
|Minnesota||17 and younger|
|Montana||17 and younger|
|New Hampshire||No law|
|New Jersey||All riders|
|New Mexico||17 and younger|
|New York||All riders|
|North Carolina||All riders|
|North Dakota||17 and younger|
|Ohio||17 and younger|
|Oklahoma||17 and younger|
|Pennsylvania||20 and younger|
|Rhode Island||20 and younger|
|South Carolina||20 and younger|
|South Dakota||17 and younger|
|Texas||20 and younger|
|Utah||17 and younger|
|West Virginia||All riders|
|Wisconsin||17 and younger|
|Wyoming||17 and younger|
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.
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; Highway Loss Data Institute
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, meaning it complies with the Department of Transportation's standards. There are both full-face and half-face motorcycle helmets that meet DOT standards, but we recommend purchasing one with greater coverage in case of a serious accident. 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 helmets that meet both sets of standards are considered some of the safest.
We'd also recommend being wary of any used helmets, as seemingly minor drops and falls can significantly impact the safety of a motorcycle helmet. It may cost a bit more to buy a brand-new helmet, but the cost is far less than potential medical expenses if you're badly injured in an accident.
Having a helmet that fits appropriately can also be as important as having a high-quality helmet. A helmet that fits should be snug around a rider's entire head. There are many different sizes and styles of helmets so, while you can buy helmets online, but we recommend you try them on in person.
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?
Wearing a helmet protects riders and can help reduce the cost of or eliminate the need to file an injury-related insurance claim. 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. For those reasons, protecting your helmet itself is important. Most motorcycle insurance policies have optional accessory coverage, which would cover the cost of a helmet. This optional coverage is definitely worth considering, since helmets typically cost hundreds of dollars and other motorcycle gear can be equally as expensive.
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, issues quality standards abided by helmet manufacturers. It recommends replacing a helmet every five years, not just after a crash. Glues, resins and other materials used to make helmets, as well as natural hair oils and cosmetics, can cause them to deteriorate. Those things coupled with the natural wear and tear on a helmet can impact its performance after about five years.
Generally, dropping a helmet on the ground will not affect it. Falling a few feet to the ground shouldn’t ruin them, but helmets are technically one-use items and must be replaced after suffering a crash or other trauma. An exception Snell lists would be if a helmet fell off the back of a motorcycle while it was traveling very fast. This impact might be cause to get a new one.
Impact Helmet Use Has On Motorcycle Insurance Rates
Whether an individual owns or wears a motorcycle helmet does not impact their current motorcycle insurance rates. Motorcycle insurance policies do not include a factor—a data point used to price an insurance policy—related to helmet use. When gathering a motorcycle insurance quote online, carriers do not ask if you own or wear a helmet. Whether a rider chooses to wear a helmet is their decision. Even in states that require all riders by law to wear helmets, insurers cannot police which policyholders are protecting themselves with a helmet.
Choosing to wear a helmet will not directly reduce a bike owner’s insurance rates, but it can mitigate the cost of future premiums by preventing injuries. 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 inhibit the cost of your premium from rising. Wearing a helmet can reduce the severity of a motorcycle insurance claim related to medical treatment or even prevent one from being necessary.
Riders have to purchase motorcycle insurance every year, and if you’ve filed a claim, it is possible the cost of your premium will go up. Whether it increases and by how much can depend on the severity of the claim (or claims) you file. A helmet won’t keep someone from stealing a motorcycle or impact a comprehensive coverage claim, for example. But it might reduce the extent of your injuries and medical bills, and in turn reduce how much motorcycle insurers might raise your rates when you renew.
Why the Pool of Helmet-Wearing Riders Matters
Helmet use across a population of riders has an impact on motorcycle insurance rates. In 2012, Michigan went from a state with a universal helmet law to only requiring riders age 20 and younger to wear one. As a result, the medical payments claim severity for motorcyclists in Michigan increased 22%, according to a study by the IIHS Highway Loss Data Institute.
Regardless of the cause, an increase in the cost of claims for any coverage within any line of insurance can mean increased rates from carriers. This is especially true for motorcycle insurance, and higher losses due to a change in law can clearly affect a risk environment.