It’s no secret that helmets can greatly reduce the risk of injury in the case of motorcycle accidents, however, helmets are not required by federal law. Each state has a different law about motorcycle helmet use.

According to a data analysis of fatal motorcycle accidents and helmet use by Salter, Healy, Rivera & Heptner, in 2019 Iowa was the state with the most unhelmeted fatalities at 80%. This correlates with Iowa being one of the three states where no helmet laws exist. Conversely, Massachusetts brings up the rear of the list with 0% of fatalities being unhelemeted – in other words, all motorcyclists who died wore a helmet. This also correlates with Massachusetts being one of the states where all riders must wear a helmet.

For the motorcycle accidents that result in injury lawsuits, how do these helmet laws come into play? Are motorcyclists more liable for their injuries if they didn’t wear a helmet? Keep reading to find out.

Helmet Laws Vary By State

Below is a list of helmet laws by state, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). If a helmet is required to be worn, it must be a DOT-compliant helmet, meaning that is has been approved by the Department of Transportation. If you are caught not wearing a helmet in a state where one is required, you will receive a ticket, which could entail a fine and/or probation.

Who is Required to Wear a Helmet

No Law 17 and Under 18 and Under 20 and Under 25 and Under All Riders
Illinois Alaska Delaware Arkansas Missouri Alabama
Iowa Arizona Florida California
New Hampshire Colorado Kentucky District of Columbia
Connecticut Michigan Georgia
Hawaii Pennsylvania Louisiana
Idaho Rhode Island Maryland
Indiana South Carolina Massachusetts
Kansas Texas Mississippi
Maine Utah Nebraska
Minnesota Nevada
Montana New Jersey
New Mexico New York
North Dakota North Carolina
Ohio Oregon
Oklahoma Tennessee
South Dakota Vermont
Wisconsin Virginia
Wyoming Washington
West Virginia

Do Helmet Laws Affect Liability?

You may be concerned that you can’t sue for a head injury after a motorcycle accident where you weren’t wearing a helmet. The short answer is – it depends. The long answer is – it depends on your state, whose fault the accident was, and a number of other factors.

Different states have different negligence laws. For example, most states use comparative negligence which means that if either party contributed at all to the accident, their compensatory damages may be reduced. So if a car turned left and hit a motorcycle they didn’t see, but the motorcyclist was texting, then they will probably share liability. If the motorcyclist is found to be 10% at fault, for example, any damages they receive from the lawsuit will be reduced by 10%.

It’s unlikely that helmet use would be a factor in determining negligence, because whether or not the motorcyclist was wearing a helmet does not affect the crash. If the motorcyclist is suing for a head injury, however, especially in a state where helmets are required, the judge or jury may assign partial blame. Helmet use affects compensation and damages more than it affects liability.