Voluntary Helmet Use

AMA Position in Support of Voluntary Helmet Use

The American Motorcyclist Association, as part of a comprehensive motorcycle safety program to help reduce injuries and fatalities in the event of a motorcycle crash, strongly encourages the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet the DOT standard.

The AMA believes that adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passengers.

The AMA asserts that helmet use alone is insufficient to ensure a motorcyclist's safety. There is a broad range of other measures that can be implemented to improve the skill of motorcycle operators, as well as reduce the frequency of situations where other vehicle operators are the cause of crashes that involve motorcycles.

The AMA opposes provisions conditioning adult helmet use choice on economic criteria such as, but not limited to, additional medical insurance coverage. This rationale is based on the negative and incorrect view that motorcyclists present a “social burden.” The AMA maintains that acceptance of such requirements is contrary to the long-term interests of motorcycling.

Helmet Use and Helmet Laws

The AMA notes there is a clear distinction between the voluntary use of helmets and mandatory helmet use laws. Some view the helmet solely as a mechanical safety device, similar to a seat belt. Many motorcyclists view the helmet as an accessory of personal apparel, and its use or non-use is connected with a chosen lifestyle and their right as adults to make their own decisions.

Mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes. Regardless of the protective equipment worn, any motorcyclist involved in a crash is at considerable risk. This makes it all the more vital to avoid a motorcycle crash in the first place, a strategy widely recognized and pursued in the motorcycling community.

The AMA is a strong advocate of voluntary motorcycle rider education, improved licensing and testing, and increased public awareness. All are measures that can reduce the likelihood of crashes and improve overall safety.

The AMA holds that a common principle should be applied when consideration is given to mandating personal safety, whether it be for motorcycling or some other risk-related activity: Adults are capable of making personal safety decisions for themselves. Society's role is not to mandate personal safety, but rather to provide the education and experience necessary to aid adults in making these decisions for themselves.

Responses to Claims Made by Helmet Law Advocates

Claim: Injured motorcyclists are uninsured and disproportionately rely upon the public to pay for their injuries.

Response: Motorcyclists are just as likely to be privately insured as any other road user.

A medical center study1 reported that injured motorcyclists in the trauma center relied on public funds a lower percentage of the time than did automobile drivers to pay their hospital bills during the same time period.

A university study2 reported that automobile drivers and motorcyclists have their medical costs covered by insurance at a nearly identical rate.

Conclusion: Injured motorcyclists are less likely than the general population to use public funds to pay for injuries sustained in crashes, and no more likely to be uninsured than other vehicle operators.

Claim: The costs associated with unhelmeted motorcyclist injuries and fatalities compel the enactment of mandatory helmet laws to save taxpayer dollars.

Response: The costs associated with the treatment of motorcyclist injuries account for a tiny fraction of total U.S. health care costs. A miniscule portion of these costs is attributable to unhelmeted motorcyclists, the majority of which are paid by privately purchased insurance.

Conclusion: Motorcyclists involved in crashes have an insignificant impact on U.S. health care costs.

Claim: Mandatory helmet laws are the most effective way to reduce motorcyclist injuries and fatalities.

Response: The most effective way to reduce motorcyclist injuries and fatalities is to prevent crashes from occurring. Helmets and helmet laws do not prevent crashes.

Conclusion: Mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes that injure or kill motorcyclists.

Comprehensive Programs That Promote Motorcycle Safety

In recent years, the number of motorcycle crashes has increased roughly in proportion to the increase in motorcycle sales and use. While a cause for concern, the AMA believes that a comprehensive solution, not a flawed “silver bullet” approach, will result in fewer crashes, injuries and fatalities:

Motorcycle safety programs that promote licensing and testing can further reduce motorcycle crashes. Slightly more than one of five motorcycle operators (22 percent) involved in fatal crashes in 2011 was operating with an invalid license.

More than one-third (37 percent) of all fatally injured motorcyclists had consumed alcohol. Alcohol awareness campaigns and intervention programs can drastically reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

About one-half (49 percent) of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. The most common crash involves the driver of the other vehicle turning in front of the motorcyclist (38 percent), followed by both vehicles colliding while going straight (23 percent). Motorist awareness campaigns and motorcyclist conspicuity programs can reduce the frequency and/or severity of these types of crashes.

Motorcycling Facts

  • There were more than 8.4 million registered on-highway motorcycles in use during 2011.
  • According to 2012 statistics, the average motorcyclist is 44 years old, married, college educated with a median household income of $64,130.
  • Nationwide, more than 450,000 novice motorcyclists completed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic RiderCourse (BRC) rider education program in 2012.
  • Forty-seven states have rider education programs designated through legislation.
  • The economic value of motorcycling in the U.S. was about $22.7 billion in 2012.


1 1988 Harborview Medical Center

2 1992 University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center

More Information

If you have questions regarding this information or other motorcycling issues, contact the AMA Government Relations Department at (614) 856-1900.


Additional References

­Traffic Safety Facts 2011 – Motorcycles. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 811 765.

­Traffic Safety Facts 2011 – Overview. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 811 753.

­2013 Motorcycle Statistical Annual. Motorcycle Industry Council, www.mic.org

­State Motorcycle Rider Education Programs – 2012. Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), www.msf-usa.org.

­The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2000. US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809 446.

More Information