We've been wearing them as compulsory gear since 1973. But all over the world, there are places where you are not required to protect your head with a helmet.

Take Michigan, for example. It repealed part of its helmet law in 2012, allowing riders over 21 to ride sans helmets if they so wish. A decision which had its consequences.

Since the repeal, more and more people are riding without helmets. And more and more people are injuring their heads as a result. A study by the  American Journal of Public Health showed a 24-27% decline in helmet use among riders in crashes in the 12 months following the repeal compared to the 12 months before it. It also reported a 14% increase in head injuries. The number of mild concussions decreased, but the number of skull fractures rose. 

Interestingly, it saw no increase in the number of fatalities. Though it did state that bikers without helmets were nearly twice as likely to die in a crash compared to helmeted riders. And they were three times more likely to suffer a head injury.

For those riding under the influence of alcohol, the rate of helmet use decreased further – to about 35% in one data set and 47% in another. 

Hospital figures back this data up. One Michigan hospital reported that deaths and head injuries had risen sharply in the three years following the repeal. 

Deaths at the crash scene more than quadrupled, and deaths in the hospital tripled, the American Journal of Surgery study found.

One part of the promotion for the repeal was that it would increase motorcycle tourism in Michigan. It's surrounded by states which have partial or no helmet laws, whose occupants might not want to travel someone where they have to wear a helmet. State representative, Peter Pettalia, was a sponsor and promoter for the repeal. He died in a motorcycle crash in Septemeber, though he was wearing a helmet at the time. 

Back in the UK, the public remains split about whether wearing a helmet should be mandatory. The Motorcycle Action Group is still firmly opposed to it. Dedicating a page on its website to Fred Hill, the man who famously defied helmet wearing in the 80s and 90s. Hill rode everywhere in a beret, collecting hundreds of tickets and refusing to pay the fines. The 31 custodial sentences he was given for this are commended on the MAG site.

Top Gear's ex co-presenter, James May, has also made his position clear to the public. In a 2008 article One helmet law for all he claims that, even though he never rides without his helmet, 'it's my business'. He even makes a bet with Jeremy Clarkson on whether he can get away with riding in London with no helmet. You can read the result in May's humorous follow-up article I fought the law. 

It's not that May, or MAG for that matter, are anti helmet-wearing. It's just that they are both pro-choice. 

When the “Motor Cycles (Wearing of Helmets) Regulations 1973 (S.I., 1973, No. 180), dated 7th February 1973” was enacted, it was seen by many as being a gross infringement of personal liberty. And it still is today. 

Everyone knows that helmet wearing increases a rider's safety. But figures from Michigan show that, given the choice, fewer people would wear them. The potential strain this could cause on the NHS is a whole other debate. One that must include the countless other 'choices' people make that impact their health. Treating alcohol-related injuries, for example, costs the NHS over £3 billion a year. 

Why should some self-inflicted injuries be prevented by law and others not? The debate goes on, and we're sure it will continue for a long time yet. 

We'd love to know where you stand on compulsory helmet wearing. Let us know by emailing


30/12/16 - It's one of those things that is so common sense there shouldn't need to be a law requiring it, yet people still given half a chance refuse to wear one and sadly have to face the consequences. I'm all for personal freedoms and the right to make personal decisions (and mistakes...) but it's just so incredibly stupid that perhaps the law is needed after all.

Modern helmet technology is so good too and it's not hard to find a decent looking lid that doesn't melt your head in hot weather, no excuses IMO.

          31/12/16 - I ride loads of miles, a helmet greatly enhances the experience. Anyone who disagrees with wearing a helmet should loose their licence!!

30/12/16 - I wear a helmet, for the same reason I wear gloves, a jacket, trousers and boots. Common sense. If you decide to go out without the right kit, and you crash, the only person to blame is yourself.

30/12/16 - I live on the Isle of Man, not only do i wear a helmet, i will only wear full face ones too. If they want the feeling of 'freedom' to do that, so be it, sounds like natural selection,

30/12/16 - Natural selection in an over populated world. Let the stupid kill themselves, just means there is more to go around for the rest of us.

30/12/16 - I used to think how great it would be if I didn't have to wear a helmet. Then experience taught me I would be an absolute fool to choose not to! The amount of times stones, bees, debris etc has flew up and hit my visor with force soon made me realise how silly my thought was. Also if you're going above 25/30mph you need your eyes protecting other wise you can't see. Never mind getting involved in an accident.

30/12/16 - I believe that as long as the government are charging vat on safety gear then it should be freedom of choice.

30/12/16 - I would have been killed a few times by now without a lid so I'm not moaning.

30/12/16 - I live in Michigan n ok be wearing a be the 1% that does

          30/12/16 - Cause you aint an idiot

          30/12/16 - Well that's up for

          30/12/16 - Haha True to us both pal

30/12/16 - It is compulsory in the UK, and I would wear one anyway

30/12/16 - It should be personal choice.I myself always wear a helmet.

30/12/16 - Ridein a bike without a helmet and proper gloves nowadays is pretty stupid

30/12/16 - No way would i ever ride a m/cycle or push bike out on a run without a helmet on full stop..just a hundred yards or so in my rd checking out something ive adjusted ect ill admit i have.

30/12/16 - No compulsion. My head, my choice.

30/12/16 - Repeal the law and the cost to the UK NHS and tax payers would be huge.

30/12/16 - Why people should pay for someone else's long term care because of their vanity is simply wrong.

30/12/16 - I'll wear one every time i go on my bike regardless of the legalities

30/12/16 - I would never ride without a helmet, or without my jacket and Kevlar jeans at the minimum even if I had the choice. That said, in my opinion as long as they accept the consequences if things go wrong, it should be up to the individual.

If people are allowed to smoke and drink alcohol, both potentially lethal themselves, then I don't see why they shouldn't have the right to not wear a helmet.

The only ones who will suffer the consequences if things go wrong are the rider and their family.

          30/12/16 - And the other party involved in an accident. If bikers fault and they die from hitting another car etc the other party has to live with that in their minds. So its not just the biker and family that has to be thought about.

          30/12/16 - I agree Andrew, but the same could apply if the biker died wearing full protective gear, and we could also apply the same argument to cyclists who don't have to wear any protective equipment.

          30/12/16 - Don't forget the paramedic who has to scoop up your brain and then wash it off the road... Probably not the highlight of their shift, either.

          30/12/16 - its simple let them not ride without helmets and null and void insurance if in a accident, no if no butts.

30/12/16 - Shouldn't need the law, I would wear a lid anyway. But there are daft buggers who wouldn't, and if they have an accident its hellish messy for someone to clean up. So a law it is, sorry.

30/12/16 - I rode the trike without, came very close to going through someone's windshield. It was dumb of me.

30/12/16 - When I had my crash my helmet was damaged. Rather that than my head. Its all well and good saying you should have a choice, but its not their NHS money thats having to treat the skull fracture or the brain damage its mine and everyone elses and its preventable. If you suffer a head injury whilst wearing a helmet then fair enough.

30/12/16 - I would prefer the choice, some journey's I probably wouldn't wear a lid. I've been riding since 1982 and never had an accident... because I ride safe, I take my safety very seriously, I don't plan to come off, I anticipate idiots, I adjust to the road and traffic conditions and I hate having to wear a lid on all rides, I hate wearing Hi-viz... I want the freedom to decide... not be told by some tw*t that doesn't ride and/or doesn't understand what it is to be a biker.

          30/12/16 - Having been riding since 84, I have never gone out in anticipation of coming off, of course a few times I have but fortunately due to wearing an Arai Lid and some protective clothing, it's only been broken bones and not a brain injury or worse. It is the law and it should remain so. You don't have the freedom to both wear a seat belt while driving for the sake obvious reasons.

30/12/16 - so many unnecessary deaths could and should have been avoided over the years if helmets were mandatory, Indian Larry springs to mind straight away.????RIP Larry???

30/12/16 - My carbon fibre helmet is the coolest item of clothing I own, why wouldn't I wear it?

But more seriously the NHS is picking up the tab if I come off, it's only reasonable the government insists on some minimum gear.

30/12/16 - It is literally a "no brainer".

30/12/16 - Make sense to wear one

30/12/16 - I'm rather fond of having a face and a brain and a life so I prefer to enjoy riding my bike without having to worry about any part of my head being ground along tarmac like a piece of cheese on a grater or my head popping like a melon in a vice.

But thats just me.

As many have said, it is self preservation and common sense.

Some say they never needed one and never had an accident, good chance that if you dont have one when you need it, you may never need it again, bit like a parachute.

30/12/16 - I think it should be advised and recommended but not law. Sometimes you might be listening for something and whizz the bike round the block, you should not get done for it.

On the other hand, the price and standard of helmets had improved since they were made compulsory and then there's the savings to the health and care systems

30/12/16 - Junk the lid law for the Poor Planets Sake.

30/12/16 - Same as the hoohah about wearing seat belts.

31/12/16 - When I was in the army we had to wear helmets!!

31/12/16 - If a rider doesn't feel the need to wear a helmet there probably isn't much worth protecting between his ears.

31/12/16 - Should be riders choice, however it may affect insurance premiums for all

31/12/16 - Interesting case study....could suggest peeps not wearing helmets are more careful? Or tend to ride cruisers? Obviously not a smart option in bad weather or sport bike riding

31/12/16 - Needs to be law to protect the idiots from themselves.

31/12/16 - I think it would be the young and foolish who would be killed and a lot more mothers would lose sons. An 18 year old me would not have worn a helmet but now a helmet with a high safety rating is priority. Plus it adds to the experience, getting all suited up with your clean and polished gear getting on to your clean and polished bike. It's a great feeling

31/12/16 - Always use mine but it should be personal choice

31/12/16 - Let the rider decide

31/12/16 - The only thing that people need to answer is if they were happy if their wife or kid went with no helmet, no one I know can honestly say they would like it.

31/12/16 - Let the experienced riders decide.

I can see the logic for youngsters & inexperienced ridets but some of us have been riding decades & should have the choice - my choice would be WITH most of the time -:but I'd like the choice!!!

01/01/17 - I started in 71 and have always worn a helmet except in Greece on holiday in the late 80's when just married. Also never ride without gloves.

01/01/17 - If you don't wear a helmet and you suffer head injuries from whatever cause whilst riding a motorcycle, you personally pick up the medical bill, rather than the National Health Service or your insurance company. That'll focus your mind a bit!

01/01/17 - Given a choice I would not wear one.

01/01/17 - Wear a helmet with. An A.C.U. approval your an idiot not to wear one ...

01/01/17 - I wouldn't ride without one.

01/01/17 - Would like the choice. I can't see the point of wearing one in a 20mph zone. Unless it's raining.

01/01/17 - I value my head and whats in it (although not many others would, lol) so I'll always wear a helmet when out on the bike... I also enjoy riding at more than 50mph, something thats not too easy when you can see feck all coz yer eyes are full of grit, dust and small animals... plus a lid keeps yer noggin warm in winter

01/01/17 - Rode in the late fifties always with a lid saved my life a few times still wear a helmet and always will

01/01/17 - Not many could afford brain surgery !!

04/01/17 - It should be my choice to wear or not wear a helmet,If insurance companies offered a no helmet policy i for one would pay it, even though with the weather in this country i would probably wear one more often than not,MY LIFE MY CHOICE.......

04/01/17 - At the age of 62 I had a major stroke firstly being paralyzed then after one and a half hours recovering on the left hand side only. I have however slowly recovered.

And so I had to pass a medical in order to drive, which included a peripheral vision test that I passed, and then was forced by our legal system to wear a helmet thus removing the area vision required to drive. The point is that the helmet law is drafted and implemented by those who do not drive motorcycles as is the medical required to drive. I am not against any form of protection, I am however against consenting adults not being allowed to take risks. What next the banning or horse riding a much higher risk per mile traveled or the banning of sports in general due to the risk factors. Let the rider/consenting adult decide the risk.

Jimmy T (MAG Rep Manchester)

04/01/17 - When I was sixteen and had a scooter I could, in my very limited view, not 'afford' a crash helmet. It was not law to wear them so i didn't bother. I fell off a couple of times but didn't hurt myself so I never worried about it. I grew into cars and didn't have a bike for 15 years but then got back into it. Law had changed and we had to wear helmets. It didn't bother me because now I could afford one. I went to the south i=of France in 1984 where the law was 'You have to wear a helmet' but nowhere did it specify on which part of the body. Lots of people rode round with helmets on their arm! It was hot and sunny so I thought I'd give it a go. I didn't feel safe so, after about 10 minutes, I put the helmet back on. I now use both full and open face helmets because I can. The argument that open face are more dangerous may well have some merit but it is my choice!

I am in favour of the helmet law because I would not want any 16 year old, or anyone else really, riding, like I did, without a helmet because they can't afford it.

04/01/17 - I always wear a helmet, always have.

However I feel strongly that this should be a choice for adults – NOT compulsory.

There is also a safety counter argument – if riders feel more vulnerable without a helmet might they be even more careful when riding?

04/01/17 - Started riding in 1967 had a so called helmet then, still riding my Aria is great , wouldn't ride without one. Rode down a country lane in Wisconsin once without lid, had glasses though, bugs out there are huge, wouldn't do it again.

06/01/17 - I would say its the same as car seatbelts, thats the law in the uk, helmets are a must, being on the road and travelling at speed with bugs, stones, rain. You would not be able to see anything, also if you wanted to chat to your pillion not happening, too much noise.

06/01/17 - I had a serious motorcycle accident when I was 21 years old and if I had not been wearing a good quality (Shoei) helmet I would not be writing this email to you nearly 40 years later.

However, I am opposed to the compulsory wearing of helmets and my views are firmly in line with those of MAG and James May.  Smoking can kill but it is still allowed, still legal.  Like the wearing of helmets the use of mobile phones while driving is illegal, but it is not as rigorously enforced.  Motorcyclists are an easy target both for law enforcement and for those car drivers that do not drive with due care and attention, and especially those that appear to begrudge riders road space.

Make learner riders and those that have less than 3 years continuous riding experience wear helmets so that they know how to ride inside a helmet and understand how restrictive it is.  Maybe have a lower age limit of 21 years as well.  But if I want to risk everything and not wear a helmet then I should be free to make that decision.

Posted by Daisy Cordell
for Wemoto News on 29 December 2016 in General News



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