November 5, 2010
MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAWS
By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst
You asked (1) for a brief history of Connecticut's motorcycle helmet laws and (2) which of our neighboring states have helmet laws.
Connecticut required anyone riding on a motorcycle, including any passenger, to wear an approved protective helmet until the law was repealed in 1976. There were no helmet requirements from 1976 until 1989. In 1989, the General Assembly enacted what is commonly known as a “partial” helmet law, which requires anyone under age 18 to wear an approved protective helmet when on a motorcycle. The law also requires all applicants for a driver's license with motorcycle endorsement to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle on a training permit.
Of the five other New England states and New York, three (Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont) require all riders to wear helmets. Maine and Rhode Island require helmets to be worn by certain riders and passengers. New Hampshire does not have a helmet law.
CONNECTICUT HELMET LAW HISTORY
Connecticut's Prior Helmet Law and Its Repeal
Until 1976, Connecticut law required anyone riding on a motorcycle to wear protective headgear meeting standards adopted by the motor vehicles commissioner in accordance with nationally accepted standards. At the time, federal law allowed the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary to impose financial sanctions against any state that did not comply with a national helmet use standard. The sanctions involved withholding 10% of a state's annual federal allotment of funding for highway construction. By 1976, only three states did not have a helmet law. Each was in the process of being sanctioned when Congress decided to remove the secretary's sanctioning authority. Several states, including Connecticut, repealed their helmet laws once the threat of sanction no longer existed.
The removal of the federal sanction was one of two main reasons why Connecticut repealed the helmet law. The other was the argument that the state should not infringe upon individual rights by forcing a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet.
Partial Helmet Laws
Connecticut adopted partial helmet laws in 1989 (PA 89-242, codified as CGS §§ 14-289g and -40a (b)).
CGS § 14-289g requires all motorcycle operators and passengers under age 18 to wear a helmet. Failure to do so is an infraction punishable by a fine of at least $90.
CGS § 14-40a (b) requires each applicant for a motor vehicle license with a motorcycle endorsement, regardless of age, to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle with a training permit. Failure to do so is an infraction, the fine for which is between $35 and $50 for a first offense and up to $100 or 30 days in jail for subsequent offenses.
Helmet Law Revisited
The helmet use issue has been revisited unsuccessfully many times, most recently in 2005. Bills to reinstate some form of mandatory helmet use were introduced in 1979, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 2003, and 2005.
HELMET LAWS IN OTHER NEW ENGLAND STATES AND NEW YORK
We obtained the following information about the other New England states and New York from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: http://www.iihs.org/laws/HelmetUseCurrent.aspx.
Massachusetts (Mass. Gen. Law., CH. 90, § 7, New York (N.Y. Veh. & Traffic § 381.6), and Vermont (VT Stat. Ann. Title 23 § 1256) require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.
Maine requires a helmet for (1) operators and passengers younger than age 18, (2) operators with a learner's permit or within one year of successfully completing a driving test, and (3) passengers of operators required to wear one (ME. R.S.A. Title 29-A § 2083). Rhode Island requires that helmets be worn by (1) operators age 20 or younger, (2) all operators within one year of getting their first license, and (3) all passengers (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 31-10.1-4 and 21-10.1-6.
New Hampshire does not have a helmet law.