Thoughts on Motorcycle Helmet Laws (Updated)

Every now and then someone will comment on an older post. Like today, when a reader commented on this one, written 16 years ago. I couldn’t remember what I said back then, so I re-read the post. Hmmm … it appears my thoughts on motorcycle helmet laws have evolved.


My feelings are no longer mixed. Helmets should be mandatory for motorcycle riders and passengers in all 50 states.

When I wrote the original post, I still occasionally rode without a helmet, but those days are long gone. I always wear a helmet now, and have for years. As for making it a requirement for everyone, it’s what I said in the original post: riding a motorcycle on public roads is not a right. States impose all sorts of regulatory restrictions on vehicles and operators, and requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets is no different from requiring cagers to wear seatbelts.

Here’s the original post from September 2, 2004.
— Paul

Helmet laws suck. Helmets, on the other hand … I have mixed feelings on the issue of mandatory helmet laws. I don’t want the government to order me to wear a helmet, but if it does I’ll strap one on in order to continue riding.

I live in Arizona, a no-helmet-law state, and on weekend rides in the country I generally don’t wear a helmet. Frankly I’m glad I live in a state where I can choose.

However, I work on a USAF base, and in order to ride on base I must wear a helmet (plus full-finger gloves, over-the-ankle boots, long sleeve shirt, eye protection, and reflective vest). I don’t have any problem with that. I think the USAF is within its rights to require that of me.

If the Arizona legislature started talking about enacting a helmet law I’d fight it to the extent of writing my representatives to ask them to vote against it, participating in anti-helmet rallies, and signing ABATE petitions … but I wouldn’t fall on my sword over the issue, and if Arizona were to pass a helmet law I’d shut up and comply with it.

Why? Because riding a motorcycle on public roads is not a right. Going to the church of my choice is a right. Speaking my mind is a right. Voting for someone other than George W. Bush, no matter what Zell Miller thinks, is a right. Operating a vehicle on public roads is not a right. When I got my Arizona license I entered into a contract with the state, agreeing to comply with traffic laws and regulations, and I expect my fellow drivers to do the same.

As far as the safety side of the debate, there’s really no argument. Personally, if I were king (and had the sense of responsibility toward my people a king ought to have), I’d impose a universal helmet law and make sure it was enforced. Good thing I’m not the king, eh?

© 2020, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Motorcycle Helmet Laws (Updated)

  • Missing Link 09/06/04 4:07 AM

    Well, my take on such laws is that you ought to have the right to be an unsafe idiot insofar as it doesn’t endanger or cost anyone else. So I support helmet laws, because my taxes pay the salaries of the people who have to come and squeegee you off the road. By the same reasoning, I’d support seat belt laws, but not necessarily for passengers in the back seat.

  • the mess 09/09/04 7:28 AM

    I used to ride motorcycles, and might start again. A few years ago I decided to use spring break from grad school to ride to San Antonioto visit an aunt and uncle, and go on to Houston to visit inlaws and a college friend. I started by getting my bike serviced: new tires, change fork fluid and brake fluid, adjust about everything. I stopped in once to check status on my motorcycle, while I was riding my bicycle. The guy behind the counter gave me a load of shit because I was wearing a bicycle helmet while a child could see me, and was therefore being a public bad example. So I bought leather chaps and a new full-face helmet mail-order.
    Great ride to San Antonio – 1200+ miles in about 32 hours. And going to Houston was also great, except for the idiot who decided to slam on his brakes on I-10 for the hell of it, nearly causing a multicar pile-up that I would have been in the middle of. And then, riding from central Houston to southern Houston, it happened. I was on a 6-lane highway with ramps for access, riding in the left (high speed) lane because traffic in the other two was so heavy that there was less only about 40 feet between cars at 50 MPH. The highway changed from limited access to cross roads. A guy in the middle lane jumped in my lane to make a left turn and slammed on his brakes. He was only about 20 to 30 feet ahead of me when he pulled this bone-headed maneuver. Traffic sign left, cars right, so I lock my brakes and hit him. My bike acted like a catapult as it rotated around the front axle at the point of impact. I was like the guy shot out of a cannon, 270 degree flip, except that I landed on asphalt after a 20 foot fall, then two spins while sliding. Full leathers paid for themselves in three seconds.
    I never lost conciousness, as far as I know. An ambulance was there in about 5 minutes. Several hours later I hobbled out of a hospital. One broken bone in left wrist required surgery by hand experts a week later. No visible external damage, but lots of internal bruising and twisting. No concussion. The only remaining problem is that I can’t bend my left thumb quite as far as my right thumb.
    And there is this small black streak on the back of my helmet.


  • You certainly are not wrong. A car is so restrictive, a motorcycle gives you the freedom you need, as long as you play it safe all the way. Nice post.

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