Virginia is one of 20 states nationally to require all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Laws apply only to younger riders in some other states including Utah, Texas and Ohio. Although Virginia enforces helmet wearing more rigorously than many other states, it allows certain exemptions for riders of some lower powered motorcycles and three wheeled vehicles with roofs.
Just three states have no motorcycle helmet laws. They are Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire.
In the past the federal government has intervened in the issue, but it has since retreated. In 1967, the federal government moved to mandate states to enact universal motorcycle helmet laws to make them eligible for certain highway safety funds. But in 1975 the power to impose penalties for non-compliance was removed by Congress, leading to a relaxation of helmet laws in many states. The helmet issue has pitted issues of safety against riders’ choice for decades. Before the 1950s few riders wore helmets but an upsurge in head and neck injuries prompted government agencies to get in on the act.
One safety body that has developed without government intervention is the Snell Memorial Foundation that was founded in memory of William “Pete” Snell, a sports car racer who was killed in 1956.
The foundation rigorously tests helmets and has set the safety standard for riders ever since. “There is no manufacturer representative on the Snell Board of Directors. The Snell name and sticker on every certified helmet have become symbols of head protection assurance,” Snell states on its website.
Riders are also advised to wear helmets approved by the federal Department of Transportation. Standards of helmets riders should wear are written into the laws of some states, including Virginia’s.