Driving You Crazy: Does the state lose federal funds since we don't require motorcycle helmets?

Posted at 8:06 AM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 10:06:02-04

Paul from Aurora writes, “What’s driving you crazy? Does the state lose out on any federal highway funds since we don’t require helmet use? If that’s the case, how much money would come to the state if we did institute a motorcycle helmet law?


Paul, the short, short answer I got from CDOT is, “No, Colorado has not lost out on any federal highway funding due to the lack of a helmet law.”


Colorado’s official motorcycle protective gear law says, “Although helmets are proven to save lives, riders age 18 and over are not required to wear helmets in Colorado. However, if the motorcycle operator or passengers are under age 18, they must wear DOT-approved helmets”.


You are not wrong about the federal government trying to influence states into creating a mandatory helmet law. In 1967, states were required to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds. By 1975 all but three states had complied and enacted universal motorcycle helmet laws. However, in 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws.


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According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are only 19 states, and the District of Columbia, that have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet, like Colorado, are in place in 28 states. There is no motorcycle helmet use law regardless of age in three states, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire.


In Colorado, if riders over 18 choose not to wear a helmet, they still need to wear eye protection. Another part of the Colorado motorcycle protective gear law says, “Some form of eye protection is legally required for all riders-drivers and passengers. The best eye protection comes from a visor on a helmet. Goggles or eyeglasses with lenses made from safety glass or plastic are also acceptable. A windshield is not considered adequate eye protection”.


Of the seven states that border Colorado, five (Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma & Wyoming) have the same helmet law, riders under 18 only. Utah requires helmet use for riders 21 and under. Nebraska is the only border state with the universal helmet law requiring all riders regardless of age, wear a helmet.


If you talk to just about any safety or insurance industry person they will tell you that wearing a helmet, whether it is required or not, is a great idea. According to CDOT, 101 motorcycle riders were killed last year on Colorado roads, a 20% decrease from 2016 (125). CDOT reports that most motorcyclist killed were not wearing helmets.


When you talk to riders about the issue, they say it is all about freedom. The American Motorcyclist Association, says they, “strongly encourages the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet”. However, they also believe, “that adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passengers”.


The AMA says many motorcyclists view the helmet as an accessory of personal apparel, and its use or non-use is connected with a chosen lifestyle and their right as adults to make their own decisions. 


When I used to ride I would always wear a helmet, mainly because I was worried I would be hit by someone else or have a car pull out in front of me. I stopped riding several years ago because the way Denver traffic has changed, I was concerned it was getting just too dangerous for me. 


Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, YouTube or Podbean