When you picture a stereotypical motorcyclist, you probably imagine them wearing some type of head protection, like those made by HJC helmets. If you live in a country with mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, you may have never seen a rider without one. The reality is a little bit more nuanced. Depending on where you live, motorcycle helmets are not legally required, and not all helmet laws are the same. American helmet laws are notoriously confusing, with only 19 states and Washington, D.C. having enforced universal helmet laws.
The landmark turning point occurred in 1967, when the federal United States government began providing financial incentives to states to enforce stricter helmet regulations. However, by the late 1970s, certain states were frustrated by the federal government infringing on their personal freedom, believing that informed choice should be respected. They lobbied the Department of Transportation to stop inflicting penalties on states who did not wish to punish helmet-free riders.
The current state of affairs
Today, the vast majority of states have laws in place requiring only some motorcyclists to wear helmets. But three anomalies exist in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Illinois, where no helmet laws are in place whatsoever.
Americans like to do things their own way, and motorcycle culture, with its emphasis on spirited adventure and thrill-seeking, is an example of just how much Americans value freedom. But with motorcycle fatalities in the US ranking in the thousands every year, it appears that freedom comes at a very steep cost.
Canada as a model of safety
In Canada, helmet laws are much more straightforward. Mandatory helmet laws were in place by the early 1960s, and they remain fairly consistent across all ten provinces and three territories. Riders, as well as their passengers, are required to wear secure helmets. And while full-face helmets and visors are typically not necessary, some motorcyclists use them for additional protection.
American riders, particularly those who reside in states without any helmet laws at all, might feel that Canadian legislation regarding motorcycle safety is unfairly strict. In the legal community, however, Canada’s laws are often upheld as the gold standard in motorcycle safety.
Each year, there are relatively few motorcycle deaths in Canada. In 2017, there were less than fifty nationwide. Canada takes motorcycle safety seriously and boasts an impressive record as a result.
In spite of the fact that a recent report from the University of Toronto revealed that Ontarians are three times more likely to be seriously injured on a motorcycle than in a vehicle, motorcyclists at not, by and large, dying in crashes on Canadian roads. A brain injury lawyer in Toronto is probably more likely to work with clients who suffered work injuries than serious motorcycle collisions.
How to keep yourself safe
Although many Americans mistakenly believe in their own invincibility and forego helmets out of a misguided sense of trust in their own abilities (or the abilities of other drivers), the history of American helmet laws is pretty gruesome. The statistics gathered in recent years tell a clear, tragic story: When helmet laws aren’t enforced, people die.
Riding motorcycles is a dangerous activity to begin with, and it is not arguably not a responsibility every American should have or even want. However, the appeal of being on the open road with the wind in your hair can drive many adrenaline junkies to invest in a motorcycle.
Whether you are a young rider or a hobbyist, buying your first motorcycle can be an exhilarating experience. The temptation to hit the road right away is understandable, but if you want to stay safe, don’t do it without first investing in a high-quality, durable helmet.