The US seems to be gradually moving toward more liberal motorbike helmet laws allowing adult riders to choose for themselves whether they wear a helmet or not.
It seems strange to Australian riders since we were the first nation in the world to make helmets compulsory in 1961.
Most states in the US introduced compulsory helmet laws in 1967, but there is a growing movement toward “more freedom” for riders with a strong civil liberties lobby actively fighting the laws.
In recent years, states such as Michigan have relaxed their helmet laws and the latest to consider the move is Tennessee, despite the overwhelming evidence that helmets save lives.
As Dudley (William H Macy) tells Woody (John Travolta) in “Wild Hogs”: “62 per cent of all motorcycle fatalities could be prevented with the use of an approved DOT helmet.”
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for every 100 motorcyclists killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 could have been saved had they worn helmets. Yet, the use of motorcycle helmets in the US continues to decline to about half from 71% in 2000.
So the temptation when you visit America is to try some of that freedom for yourself.
I must admit to having tried it a few times, usually at slow speeds around town, but on one occasion at the speed limit on an Indiana highway.
While I felt very vulnerable, I have to admit it was absolutely exhilarating … but also deafening.
The wind in your hair is one thing, but the wind in your ears is another.
It also blows your hat off! I’m surprised Billy in Easy Rider could ride without getting his cowboy hat blown off.
If you’re planning to ride in the United States at Daytona Bike Week in March or the Sturgis Rally in August, don’t get too excited about not wearing a motorcycle helmet.
As soon as you get off the plane in California, you will have to wear a helmet to ride. In fact, 20 states, mainly on the west and east coasts of the US, have compulsory helmet laws.
The states with motorcycle helmet laws for all riders are: Alabama, California, DC, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
Only three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) have no helmet use law.
The remaining 28 states have varying laws requiring minors to wear a motorcycle helmet while six of those states require adult riders to have $10,000 in insurance and wear a helmet in their first year of riding.
About half the states also allow you to ride a low-powered motorcycle such as a 50cc bike or scooter without a helmet.