Riding a bike without a helmet is dangerous, but is it against the law? If you’re wondering, “is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet?” the answer depends on your state. A bicycle helmet law doesn’t exist on a federal level in the U.S. Some states have introduced laws requiring minors to wear bike helmets. Some states have local bike helmet laws, while others have none.
This article will tell you what you need to know about bicycle helmet laws in the U.S. You’ll also learn how these laws vary by jurisdiction and the age of cyclists in different states.
U.S. Bicycle Helmet Laws
According to the Cleveland Clinics, around 800 bicyclists die in bike accidents yearly in the U.S. Another 500,000 bicyclists end up in the emergency room with injuries. The majority of bike deaths happen as a result of head injury. However, the same article claims that 85% of these accidents could have been prevented if the cyclists wore bike helmets.
A study conducted in 2012 concluded that only 29% of adult cyclists wear helmets when riding a bike in the U.S. When it comes to children, only 42% wear bike helmets. Another article claims that bike helmets can prevent head injury by 50% and face and neck injury by 33%.
As grave as these statistics may be, they do not encourage cyclists all over the U.S. to wear helmets. Not only do cyclists choose not to wear this protective gear when they ride their bikes, but they may not even wonder, is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet?
There could be many reasons why people don’t wear a helmet when they go bike riding. For example, they might find them uncomfortable; they don’t want the helmet to ruin their hair, or they just don’t remember to put it on. However, the main reason many cyclists don’t take bike helmets seriously is that there is no federal bike helmet law in the U.S.
Instead, only 22 states and 202 localities require you to wear a helmet when riding a bike. Some of these states and localities include California, Texas, Oregon, Alabama, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kansas, New Mexico, Alaska, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Montana, West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tennessee, Nevada, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia. In other words, it is illegal to ride a bike without a helmet in these states.
The states where bike helmet laws do not exist include South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, Arkansas, Minnesota, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Indiana, North Dakota, Vermont, and South Carolina.
In 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggested that all 50 states adopt statewide bike helmet laws, but this hasn’t happened yet, nor is there a sign it will happen in the near future.
Also, note that these laws only apply to wearing helmets when riding a standard bicycle. When it comes to mountain bikes, e-bikes, skateboards, scooters, and similar transportation vehicles, different laws apply, if they even exist.
Bicycle Hemet Laws According to Age
Not only do state and local bike helmet laws vary based on the region, but they also depend on the cyclist’s age. So naturally, these regulations are stricter for minors. Unfortunately, most bike helmet laws mainly apply to people under 18. When it comes to adult cyclists, fewer laws require them to wear protective gear when riding a bike.
In California, you must wear a helmet when riding a bike if you’re 18 or younger. The same applies to scooters and skateboards. The bike helmet laws are the same in Delaware and New Mexico. In New Jersey and Massachusetts, bike riders under 17 are required to wear helmets.
Bike riders under 16 must wear helmets in Connecticut, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Alabama, Rhode Island, Oregon, Georgia, and the District of Columbia. In West Virginia, cyclists under 15 are required to wear bike helmets. Bike riders under 14 in New York must do the same.
In Pennsylvania and Louisiana, bike helmet laws are less strict. Only children up to 12 years old need to wear helmets when riding a bike.
Remember that even though these are statewide laws, in some cities, cyclists must wear a bike helmet regardless of age. These include the following.
- Chico and Bidwell Park (California)
- Black Mountain and Boone (North Carolina)
- Oklahoma City (Oklahoma)
- Starkville and Jackson (Mississippi)
- Homewood and Montevallo (Alabama)
- Extreme Park, Louisville (Kentucky)
- Kensington Metropark (Michigan)
- Chicago (Illinois) *This law only applies to messengers
- Rockland County, Greenburgh Erie, and County parks (New York)
- Sykesville (Maryland)
If you live in any of these localities, you must wear a helmet when riding a bike, no matter how old you are.
When it comes to fines for not wearing a bike helmet, they vary by location as well. For example, you will pay a $25 fine in California if you ride a bike without a helmet.
Is It Illegal to Ride an E-Bike Without a Helmet?
Now that we’ve covered whether or not you’re legally required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle let’s discuss electric bikes. Since e-bikes have only become popular recently, laws surrounding e-bike helmets have been introduced in the past few years.
The first electric bicycle helmet law was passed in Connecticut in 2018. This law requires e-bike cyclists of all ages to wear bike helmets.
Statewide and local helmet laws vary depending on the speed of the e-bike. An average e-bike can travel at a speed of 20 miles per hour, unlike regular bikes, which can usually go at a speed of 30 miles per hour. They’re otherwise known as Class 1 e-bikes. Class 2 e-bikes have the same maximum speed; they’re just throttle-controlled.
Most e-bike helmet laws apply to Class 3 e-bikes, pedal-assisted bikes that can travel at a speed of 28 miles per hour. These legislations are promoted by the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association and PeopleForBikes.
Like regular bikes, e-bike helmet laws vary based on the state and the cyclist’s age. For example, in Alabama, you need to wear a helmet for all three classes of e-bikes, regardless of age. However, some states, like Indiana, West Virginia, and Colorado, require e-bicyclists to wear helmets if they’re 18 or younger.
Statewide e-bike helmet laws in Maryland, Maine, Rhode Island, and Hawaii apply to all three classes and e-bicyclists under 16. Mississippi, Alaska, Wisconsin, Montana, Nevada, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma have local bike requirements only. Wyoming, Utah, Minnesota, and Vermont don’t have any laws for wearing helmets when using an e-bike.
The Legal Requirements of Bike Helmets
Many cyclists wonder, “Is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet in the U.S.?” Whether or not you’re legally obligated to wear a helmet when riding a bike depends on where you live and how old you are.
Riding a bike without a helmet in 22 states and 202 localities is illegal. In most of these states, bike helmet laws only apply to minors, whereas certain localities require cyclists of all ages to wear helmets when riding a bike.
In the other 13 states, no similar laws exist. But the statistics speak for themselves. Helmets save lives.