Illinois remains one of only three states that does not have a motorcycle helmet law; Iowa and New Hampshire are the other two states. The rest of the US states currently have some sort of motorcycle helmet law in place.
Yet the degree of these laws vary from state to state, with some requiring only a limited population of motorcycle riders to wear helmets. For example, over the past ten years Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Texas have all changed their motorcycle helmet laws so that they only apply to younger riders.
However, not all states are going from strict to lenient laws, Louisiana recently moved from a partial to a universal motorcycle helmet law. Currently only 20 states require universal helmet use 100% of the time, while the other 27 states enforce laws covering only some motorcycle riders.
As the helmet laws change researchers are able to obtain data to study the effects of state laws on motorcycle helmet usage and the associated instances of motorcycle deaths and head injuries. While having universal helmet laws reduce death and serious injuries from motorcycle accidents, the same doesn’t hold true for partial helmet laws. This is in part because these partial laws are widely disobeyed. Weakening or repealing motorcycle helmet laws results in a sharp reduction in helmet use, which is then followed by a significant increase in injuries and deaths.
Texas is a perfect example of this trend. Between 1968 and 1977, Texas’s universal helmet was estimated to have saved 650 lives. However, it was later amended to cover only motorcycle riders younger than 18 years-old. That weakening in its law was followed by a 35% increase in motorcycle fatalities.
There is a strong resistance to imposing helmet laws in Illinois. In the absence of any state law governing motorcycle helmets, Illinois defaults to the manufacturer and distributor standards for those helmets that are in use. These standards are included in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, 218.
Issues of motorcycle safety in Illinois have sometimes appeared before Illinois courts. In 1968, Illinois did have a helmet law requiring riders to wear protective head gear motorcycles as a way of safeguarding for their personal safety in the event of a motorcycle accident, but it was challenged in the Illinois Supreme Court, People v. Fries, 142 Ill.2d 446 (1969). The Court found that the Illinois motorcycle helmet law was an abuse of police power and was unconstitutional. A later 1986 Illinois Supreme Court decision overturned the Peoples v. Fries ruling, but no helmet law has since made its way into law (Peoples v. Kohrig, 113 Ill.2d 384). A more recent case, People v. Henninger, found that it was not unconstitutional to ride as a motorcycle passenger without glasses, goggles or transparent shield.