MANDATORY MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAWS IN THE COURTS AND IN THE LEGISLATURES

The status of motorcycle safety helmet laws at the Federal level and in each state was determined, and court decisions involving challenges to helmet law constitutionality were analyzed. With a single exception, every state court of last resort that considered the issue has upheld headgear legislation as a valid exercise of state power. The courts are not in agreement, however, as to what is the public benefit justifying the constitutionality of headgear legislation. Some have pointed to indirect social benefits such as lowered welfare costs and insurance rates; other courts have chosen to stress more direct benefits, principally the avoidance of multivehicle crashes due to loss of vehicle control by unhelmeted cyclists struck by a flying object. The almost unanimous conclusion of the courts, that states may constitutionally enact headgear legislation, establishes the narrow legal principle that there exists no constitutional prohibition against passing and enforcing helmet use statutes. The judicial opinions do not necessarily establish whether it is wise or politically advantageous to enact such legislation. No reported cases involving challenges to headgear legislation have been decided since 1977. In 1976, Congress passed legislation prohibiting the Department of Transportation from withholding highway safety funds from states without mandatory helmet use laws. Within two years of the congressional action, a majority of states repealed or weakened their helmet use statutes; the trend toward repeal has since diminished. Legislative interest in headgear statutes remains high, as efforts to strengthen or weaken them are being considered in more than half the states. Debate at the state level has focused on the cyclist's liberty and privacy on one hand, and the resulting losses on the other. For that reason, the constitutional arguments formerly considered by the courts remain important social and political issues.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • Conference held in Washington, D.C., 18-23 May 1980. Also published in HS-029 702, International Motorcycle Safety Conference Proceedings. Volume 3, p 1383-97.
  • Corporate Authors:

    Motorcycle Safety Foundation

    780 Elkridge Landing Road
    Linthicum, MD  United States  21090
  • Authors:
    • Ruschmann, P A
  • Publication Date: 1980

Media Info

  • Features: References;
  • Pagination: 15 p.

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00390524
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Report/Paper Numbers: HS-029 722
  • Files: HSL, USDOT
  • Created Date: Nov 30 1984 12:00AM