Our state of Illinois holds the distinction of being one of only three states with no helmet laws for motorcycle riders. Nineteen states (including the District of Columbia) currently have universal helmet laws requiring riders and passengers of all ages to wear a helmet. The remaining states hold laws mandating that motorists under a certain age wear a helmet while operating the vehicle. Only Iowa and New Hampshire stand alone with Illinois in an absence of any state-wide motorcycle helmet laws.
Unfortunately, this is not a distinction we can be proud of. Although there are legitimate arguments that the choice to wear a helmet lies with the rider, safety experts strongly advise that all motorcycle riders wear a helmet, regardless of age or experience. Even the most experienced biker can be struck by a negligent motorist. In the majority of cases, a helmet serves not to protect the rider from their own errors, but from the error of others.
A Brief History of Illinois Helmet Legislation
How did our state become one of the remaining three without helmet mandates? Many people may be surprised to learn that there was once a short-lived period in our history in which all motorcyclists were required to wear helmets on the roads and highways of Illinois.
Below is a brief timeline of Illinois helmet laws:
- Prior to 1966 – No state in the U.S. had ever enacted a motorcycle helmet law.
- 1966 – The federal Highway Safety Act of 1966 was passed, requiring each state to create its own highway safety program that met a number of specified standards, including motorcycle safety.
- 1967 – Illinois was one of 22 states to institute universal helmet laws for all motorcycle riders. The next year, 14 more states added similar legislation in response to The Highway Safety Act.
- 1969 – Illinois’ helmet law was repealed after it was deemed unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in the case The People v. Fries. Mandating the use of protective headgear by state government was ruled “to be beyond the police power of the legislature.” The law requiring riders to wear protective eyewear was not amended.
- 2009 – Illinois Senate Bill 1351 was proposed to “amend the Illinois Vehicle Code to require every operator and passenger on a motorcycle, motor driven cycle, or motorized pedalcycle to wear a helmet that meets federal safety standards.” The bill was rejected by a vote of 49-14.
Since 2009, there has not been a successful legislative proposal to reinstate any form of helmet regulations for motorcycle riders and passengers in the state of Illinois.
Illinois Motorcycle Crash Statistics
Do Illinois helmet laws affect our state’s injury and fatality rates? The most recent Illinois Crash Facts & Statistics report published by the Illinois Department of Transportation indicates just how dangerous it can be to ride a motorcycle in our state. Keep in mind that these statistics were gathered in 2020, a year during which the state was locked down for several months to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Since 2020, state and nation-wide statistics have risen to even more staggering numbers.
In 2020, in Illinois:
- There were 2,991 motorcycle crashes.
- A total of 2,404 motorcyclists were injured in traffic crashes, meaning that very few crashes occurred without injury or death. This number represented a 15% increase over 2019.
- A total of 152 motorcyclists were killed in traffic crashes. This is over 10% higher than the previous year, despite fewer miles traveled.
- Motorcyclists were represented by disproportionately high numbers in fatal crash statistics. While only 1.2% of all crashes involved a motorcycle, 14.1% of all fatal crashes involved a motorcycle.
- A higher percentage of traffic deaths involved motorcycles than tractor-trailers, despite there being three times more tractor-trailer crashes than motorcycle crashes.
- Nearly four times more motorcycle injuries and fatalities occurred in high-traffic urban areas than in low-traffic rural areas. This indicates that other drivers are the greatest threat to motorcyclists.
Across the nation, motorcycle accident, injury, and fatality rates are higher than they have ever been. According to National Safety Council (NSC) statistics, motorcyclist death rates have increased by 27% over the last decade. At the same time, helmet use nationally decreased from about 80% in 2019 to about 65% in 2020, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.
Does Wearing a Helmet Really Make a Difference?
In 2021, Syracuse University published a study titled “Motorcycle Fatality Rates Due to Head Injuries are Lower in States with Helmet Laws.” As evidenced by the title, researchers found substantial evidence to prove that death rates are lower in states with helmet regulations than in states without them. It was determined that, during the 20-year period of study between 1999 and 2019, states with helmet laws experienced head injury-related fatality rates 33% lower than other states. Researchers found that helmet laws not only saved lives but also protected riders from serious cognitive impairments. Helmet laws further served to lower a state’s social costs, the study concluded.
Last year’s Syracuse-published research was not the first of its kind to provide fact-based evidence for the efficacy of protective headgear. Even a quick glance through facts published by agencies such as the CDC makes it difficult to deny that helmets really do make a big difference in motorcyclist safety.
- Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.
- In a single year, helmets saved 1,872 lives and could have saved 749 more if they had been worn by more riders.
- The U.S. could save $1.5 billion a year in economic costs if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
- Motorcycle helmets are 37% effective at preventing operator death and 41% effective at preventing passenger death.
Expert Legal Advocacy for Motorcycle Riders in Illinois
Whether or not state law requires it, it’s always safest to wear a helmet. But even if you make the right choice to wear a helmet, it doesn’t mean other motorists will always choose safety over recklessness.
A serious accident caused by a negligent driver can result in physical injuries, property damage, and emotional anguish. Prince Law Firm in Marion, IL advocates for injured riders in Illinois. If you were hurt because a car driver was distracted, speeding, intoxicated, or careless around the more vulnerable motorcycles on the road, we can help.
Contact our office by phone or here on our website to learn more about your legal options. A free case evaluation with a qualified motorcycle accident attorney is waiting for you.