The mandatory wearing of helmets by motorcyclists is governed by individual states; there is no federal law covering the entire country. Trike drivers -- those who drive a three-wheeled vehicle -- can be included in the legal definition of a motorcyclist in state driving laws. States can also apply mandatory helmet laws to younger or novice drivers while allowing older or more experienced drivers to go without if they prefer.
Legal Definition of a Trike
A trike is generally defined by state law as a three-wheeled motorcycle for Department of Motor Vehicle and other legal purposes. Individual state motor vehicle departments, for example Alabama and Alaska, specifically include trikes in their definition of a motorcycle, which covers any motor vehicle having a seat or saddle for the driver and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground.
Governance of Trike Drivers
Trike driver licensing is performed by the Department of Motor Vehicles in individual states. Trikes are generally grouped with motorcycles for licensing purposes and logically should be included in the helmet laws. However, helmet laws for individual states can be inspected closely to see if the law specifically states that a three-wheeled vehicle is included in the motorcycle definition. If it is not, then the argument can be made that the law does not apply to the trike driver.
There are exemptions to the wearing of helmets even in states that include trikes in helmet laws. For example, the California Vehicle Code Section 27803 states that drivers and passengers riding in trikes that are fully enclosed, not less than seven feet long and four feet wide and weigh 408 Kilogram or more are exempt from the wearing of helmets.
States with Mandatory Helmet Laws
The wearing of helmets is mandatory for all motorcyclists in Alabama, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
The states of Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas require motorcyclists aged 20 and younger to wear helmets. In all other states with the exception of Illinois and Iowa, motorcyclists aged 17 and younger must wear helmets.
Only Illinois and Iowa have no law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.
The standard of helmet to be worn can also be specified by the state. For example, California requires a helmet to pass or surpass Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218 (49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218). This standard lays down testing parameters for helmets such as minimum impact speeds for testing and penetration tests. Standard 218 also covers labelling requirements for helmets.
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