Is it Illegal to Ride a Bike Without a Helmet?

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Is it Illegal to Ride a Bike Without a Helmet?

Helmet laws in the United States are scattered, strange, and can be difficult to keep up with.

The main point of contention is that many of the states do not bother to enact bike helmet laws at all and instead, leave that up to municipalities to decide. This leads to a patchwork of bike helmet laws that vary wildly, depending on where you ride.

There are no overarching federal laws around bike helmets and very little commonality from state to state, save for the fact that even in the majority of the states where bike helmets are mandated, the lack of one is not admissible in court as a reason to decrease awards given in cases of injury or death.

As it stands now, there are twenty-eight states which do not have helmet laws and the other twenty-two do, with most of the difference boiling down to the age of the rider. (When we speak of ‘rider’ in this sense, we mean anyone on the bike – operator or passenger – unless dictated otherwise).

Within the ‘no’ states, there are plenty of cities, counties, and towns which enact their own bike helmet laws and the state is happy to let them do so.

For example, Alaska does not have any bike helmet laws, but Anchorage, Alaska certainly does (if you are a rider under the age of 15, you must wear a helmet while riding in any public space). If you do not, you get a warning and after that, a fine of $25.00.

We are going to do a quick breakdown of where it’s legal/illegal to ride without a helmet (and the ages) first and then look at bike helmet use in greater detail.

Bike Helmet Use By State:

Broadly speaking, here is where it is legal or illegal to ride your bike without wearing a helmet.

Remember, always check local law wherever you ride for their take on using or not using helmets. The state will generally bow down to municipal law when it comes to helmets.

StateHelmet LawsNotes
AlabamaYesOperators and passengers who are under the age of 16 must wear a helmet while on a bike or attached to the bike.
AlaskaNo 
ArizonaNo 
ArkansasNo 
CaliforniaYesOperators and passengers who are under the age of 18 must wear a helmet while on a bike or attached to the bike.
ColoradoNo 
ConnecticutYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
DelawareYesAll riders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
District of ColumbiaYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
FloridaYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
GeorgiaYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence when deciding on fault or liability.
HawaiiYesOperators under the age of 16 must wear a helmet, as must their passengers. There is no law prohibiting the failure to wear a helmet from being used against a cyclist in an injury, but there is a case where the lack of a helmet was not admissible.
IdahoNo 
IllinoisNo 
IndianaNo 
IowaNo 
KansasNo 
KentuckyNo 
LouisianaYesAll riders under the age of 12 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
MaineYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
MarylandYesAll operators or passengers under the age of 16 must wear a helmet.
MassachusettsYesAll riders under the age of 17 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
MichiganNo 
MinnesotaNo 
MississippiNo 
MissouriNo 
MontanaNo 
NebraskaNo 
NevadaNo 
New HampshireYesAny person under the age of 16 must wear a helmet.
New JerseyYesAll riders under the age of 17 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
New MexicoYesAll riders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one doesn’t limit or apportion damages in court.
New YorkYesAll riders under the age of 14 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action or reduce damages awarded.
North CarolinaYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
North DakotaNo 
OhioNo 
OklahomaNo 
OregonYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
PennsylvaniaYesAll riders under the age of 12 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
Rhode IslandYesAll riders under the age of 15 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
South CarolinaNo 
South DakotaNo 
TennesseeYesAll riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
TexasNo 
UtahNo 
VermontNo 
VirginiaYes (er, sort of)Virginia allows that any governing body over a city, county, or town may require that riders under the age of 14 wear a helmet. But failure to comply is not admissible as evidence and cannot be used as part of the calculation of damages. So, it’s a little weird.
WashingtonNo 
West VirginiaYesAll riders under the age of 15 must wear a helmet. But not wearing one is not considered contributory negligence and failing to wear one isn’t admissible in civil action.
WisconsinNo 
WyomingNo 

Source: BikeLeague

Even in states where it is illegal to ride without wearing a helmet, it is only illegal under a certain age. Adults who have achieved the age of majority never have to wear a helmet if they don’t want to (unless municipal law states otherwise of course).

Adult Cyclists and Helmets

So, you will not get into legal trouble if you are an adult and you are riding a bike without a helmet. However, this does not preclude getting into physical trouble.

Remember that while you are riding a bike, you are completely unprotected compared to vehicles, save for whatever protections you wear yourself. While cyclist deaths account for a very small fraction of deaths in the United States, they are some of the easiest to prevent.

In 2016, there were 835 cyclist deaths. Of those deaths, 51% (424) of riders who died were not wearing a helmet at the time. 16% of deaths (137 people) were wearing a helmet and 33% (274), it was unknown whether they were wearing a helmet or not. And these numbers are down from 1975, where 97% of cyclists who died (776) weren’t wearing a helmet compared to the 2% (19) who were and 1 unknown.

Wearing a bike helmet also reduces the chances of a head injury by 50%, serious head injury by 60%, a fatal head injury by 65%, and facial injuries by 33%. (Olivier J, Creighton P (2016-07-22). “Bicycle injuries and helmet use: a systematic review and meta-analysis”. International Journal of Epidemiology. 46(1), pgs 278-292).

But the debate rages on around the use of helmets. Opponents of mandated bike helmets say that forcing people to wear helmets will make it less likely they will ride their bikes (and thus more likely to drive, take cabs, go on buses, or take other forms of transportation) because helmets are inconvenient, uncomfortable and not fashionable.

Studies are also contradictory with some stating that the drop in injuries is due to increased wearing of helmets while others say the drop is from people not riding their bikes as much because they don’t want to be forced to wear a helmet. It’s also a pain to enforce helmet wearing and would take away from police resources to do so.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, however, we would still recommend wearing a helmet. Being injured or killed in an accident due to the lack of a helmet is a tragic waste that was easily preventable.

Nowadays, there are many attractive, comfortable, and yes, fashionable bike helmets that make it much easier to stay safe without worrying about how you look.

In a battle between a car and a bike or barricades and a bike, or just about anything and a bike (save for pedestrians), the bike and the cyclist generally comes off the worst, so protect yourself while you ride! That way, you can have fun and stay healthy for a long time.

We have a page here that lists all of our recommended bike helmets

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