Motorcyclists in Washington state may soon be able to ride without helmets again. The recent Senate Bill 5007 aims to repeal the current helmet law (covering all riders) and allow those over the age of 21 to ride without a helmet during a three-year pilot program, if not longer. Some motorcyclists passionately support this idea of what they’re calling “helmet choice”, but some believe repealing the helmet law would be a devastating mistake.
No matter which side of the debate you’re on, it’s important to be educated on Washington’s helmet law history so you can understand the significance of the future of these helmet safety laws.
A History of Washington’s Helmet Law
In June of 1967, the original universal helmet law took effect in the state of Washington and many other states, due to pressure from the federal government. The government made it mandatory for states to enact helmet use laws in order to qualify for certain federal safety programs and highway construction funds, and it worked. By the early 70s, almost all states had universal motorcycle helmet laws.
But in 1976, states successfully lobbied Congress to stop the Department of Transportation from assessing financial penalties on states without helmet laws, and Washington’s universal helmet law was repealed the next year. Ten years later, in 1987, Washington state reinstated motorcycle helmet laws for people 17 years old and younger, and in 1990, the universal helmet law was reinstated and has been in effect ever since.
Today, helmet laws vary widely around the United States. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws that require all riders (operators and passengers) to wear a helmet, also known as universal helmet laws. In 28 states, there are laws that only require some motorcyclists to wear a helmet. There are no motorcycle helmet use laws in three states – Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.
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