Are You Required to Wear a Motorcycle Helmet in Utah?

Many states have adopted laws that make it mandatory for motorcyclists to wear helmets.  In this article, Salt Lake City motorcycle accident lawyer Darwin Overson explains Utah’s helmet requirements for motorcyclists, looks at the statistics on helmets and head injury prevention, and revisits the history of helmet legislation in the United States.

Is There a Federal Motorcycle Helmet Law?

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There are currently no federal motorcycle helmet laws.  However, in 1967, the U.S. government began requiring states to create their own helmet laws in order to remain eligible for federal highway construction funding.  Non-participating states stood to lose as much as 10% of their highway funds, a major blow to commerce and transportation.

Most states complied with the measure, though some, including Maryland, Kansas, New York, Virginia, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania — all supporters of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE), an anti-regulatory group founded by Easyriders editor Lou Kimzey — fought or rejected the incentive, citing government infringement on personal freedoms.  In 1969, for instance, the Illinois Supreme Court found the state’s then-new helmet law unconstitutional, leading to its repeal (which still stands today).

California also resisted initially, joining Illinois as the only other state to not have a helmet requirement in place by 1974.  However, California eventually adopted helmet requirements in 1991, when then-Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill into law, telling the New York Times, “I am signing this bill today because, simply put, this law will save lives.”

Today, the only states without motorcycle helmet laws are Illinois, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

Utah Motorcycle Helmet Requirements for Minors

Utah is one of 47 states to have adopted motorcycle helmet laws since their introduction during the 1960s.  These laws can vary dramatically from one state to the next, so if you ride a motorcycle (or plan on purchasing one), it’s important to familiarize yourself with helmet requirements where you live.  If you’re planning an interstate trip, it’s worth brushing up on your neighboring states’ laws, too.

Utah’s motorcycle helmet law — which is somewhat unusual, as you’ll see in just a moment — can be found under Utah Code § 41-6a-1505, which makes it mandatory for all minors to wear a helmet.

Additionally, helmets must meet certain standards.  Under Utah Code § 41-6a-1505(1), “A person under the age of 18 may not operate or ride [a motorcycle] on a highway unless the person is wearing protective headgear that complies with [federal] specifications” outlined under 49 C.F.R. § 571.218, also known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.  Helmets must meet FMVSS 218’s requirements before they can be sold (though unfortunately, defective products still manage to occasionally reach the consumer market).  However, if you’re curious to see the technical specs for yourself, you can view them through the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

You may have noticed that the language of Utah’s helmet statute specifically refers to highways, which is where the law gets interesting.  Utah is unique in that its helmet laws, unlike those of other states, apply only to roads with speed limits exceeding 35 mph.

How Effective Are Helmets at Preventing Death or Brain Injury in a Crash?

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We’d like to emphasize that every motorcyclist should always wear a motorcycle helmet, regardless of age, terrain, or experience level, even if doing so is not explicitly required by law. When you’re traveling at high speeds with no airbag to cushion you and no seatbelt to restrain you in the event of a crash or collision, the importance of protective headgear is impossible to overstate.

There are mountains of research supporting the efficacy of helmets in preventing injury or wrongful death in the event of a motorcycle accident.  According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), “An unhelmeted motorcyclist is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and 15% more likely to suffer a nonfatal injury than a helmeted motorcyclist when involved in a crash.”  Additionally, “NHTSA estimates that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37%.”

Annual crash reports from the Utah Department of Public Safety — which also shed light on the most common causes of motorcycle crashes — can help give us a snapshot of state trends in helmet use among motorcyclists.  According to the 2014 report, the most recent available version, more than 60% of Utah bikers who escaped a crash without any injuries were wearing a helmet when the accident occurred.  Conversely, about 60% of fatal accident victims were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

Get Legal Help Fighting for Motorcycle Accident Compensation. Contact an Attorney in Salt Lake

If you were injured in a motorcycle crash in Utah, you may be able to recover compensation, even if you were partially at fault or were not wearing a helmet when the collision occurred.  Under Utah Code § 41-6a-1505(5), “The failure to wear protective headgear does not constitute contributory or comparative negligence on the part of a person seeking recovery for injuries.”

If a loved one suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by another vehicle, or if a family member was killed in a motorcycle accident, you need aggressive legal representation and support from a knowledgeable, experienced personal injury lawyer.  If you think your accident was caused by a defective motorcycle part or product, a Salt Lake City product liability lawyer may be able to help.

To talk about your accident claim in a free legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 895-3143.  Attorney Darwin Overson has more than 33 years of experience helping crash victims fight for injury compensation.

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