Motorcycle helmet laws: When the novelty wears off

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In May 2015, the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed updated rules for motorcycle helmets. The proposal included a clear definition of what differentiates a “novelty helmet” from a helmet that's certified by Department of Transportation for its capability to protect a rider. As of press time, NHTSA is no closer to finalizing those rules than the organization was in May 2015.

The rules are meant to curb the use of novelty helmets, which motorcyclists often opt to wear even though the helmets are marked clearly as unsafe to be used on the road.

Governors Highway Safety Association spokesperson Kara Macek tells Consumers Digest that individual states’ control over the use of helmets by motorcyclists might make the passage of new federal mandates unlikely. Only 19 states have universal helmet laws, which apply to anyone who rides on a motorcycle. Twenty-eight other states have laws that require only certain riders to wear a helmet. Those are based on the rider’s age or whether he/she is a passenger or driver.

Another obstacle, Macek says, is that lobby groups that represent motorcyclists on Capitol Hill that oppose helmet laws of any type are “very influential.” Macek believes that that influence adds to the complications of enacting federal legislation that involves helmets.

NHTSA representatives declined our request for comment further on the matter.