Maryland’s Motorcycle Helmet Laws

When you need help after you’re injured in a motorcycle accident

Many residents and visitors to Maryland enjoy using their motorcycles to get around, either as a primary mode of transportation or for leisure rides on the weekends. State law requires all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet that meets certain safety standards. Some riders and advocates argue that helmet laws should be optional, claiming that they infringe on personal freedom and may not actually be necessary for safety. Safety experts point to statistics to demonstrate the effectiveness of helmets.

The personal injury attorneys at Plaxen Adler Muncy, PA break down Maryland’s helmet laws, which helmets are approved for road use, and what you should do if you are injured in a motorcycle accident that was not your fault.

Are motorcycle helmets required in Maryland?

Yes. Per the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT):

In Maryland, individuals may not operate or ride on a motorcycle unless they wear a helmet that is certified to meet the standards established by the Department of Transportation. Helmets provide protection; they do not prevent crashes. Helmets protect the wearer's head and brain by reducing and dispersing the force created by a blow or impact during a crash.

Failure to wear a helmet can result in a $500 penalty. Further, individuals may not operate their motorcycles without approved, impact-resistant eye protection. The Department of Transportation notes:

Eye-protective devices include face shields, goggles, and spectacles. Most eyewear sold over the counter complies with the FDA's impact resistance regulations. Motorcycle operators and passengers should wear clear (non-tinted) eye-protective devices when motor vehicles are required to display or use their lights.

“Certified” or “approved” mean the protective gear must meet certain standards.

An interesting note regarding Maryland’s helmet law

In the 1998 case Ferro v. Lewis, “William Michael Lewis (‘Lewis’), a Maryland resident and an avid motorcyclist, had received several citations for not wearing headgear in compliance with section 21-1306 of the Transportation Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland.”

Lewis sought an injunction prohibiting enforcement of this Code until the Motor Vehicle Administration provided a list of approved headgear. The Court ruled that Lewis indeed had standing to challenge this statute; however, in the end they did rule against him, stating:

The court acknowledged that FMVSS [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard] was difficult to read, that an average person could not read it to determine what helmets were acceptable, and that the labeling procedures were not always reliable.

However, the court found that there was a way to ascertain which helmets were in compliance with FMVSS. In 1994, DOT published a motorcycle helmet brochure titled, "Does Your Helmet Pass The Test: A Safety Guide, U.S. Department of Transportation." The brochure listed by brand and model "all known helmets available on the marketplace" and whether each helmet satisfied the testing procedures.

Additionally, the DOT brochure included a "hotline" number from which information about a helmet not "available on the market" could be obtained. Because of the inaccuracies of the labeling procedures, those who do not wish to rely solely on the DOT labels could consult the brochure or the hotline. The court also rejected Lewis' argument that, by accepting helmets complying with FMVSS, the MVA was essentially approving certain helmets, and therefore, was required to publish a list of the helmets...Because Maryland was not formally approving headgear, there was no statutory duty to publish.

Approved vs. non-approved helmets and safety gear

Maryland follows federal motorcycle helmet guidelines, which set the minimum safety standards for performance requirements. A motorcycle helmet manufacturer must adhere to certain standards, certify their compliance, and permanently affix a DOT label to the helmet. Never purchase a helmet without this DOT label.

In addition to DOT certification, all motorcycle helmets should have these four basic components:

  1. Outer shell, which can be composed of a material like carbon fiber, graphite, Kevlar, or a combination of materials. This shell should both resist penetration and disperse blows and impacts to the head to the shock-absorbing inner liner.
  2. Inner liner, a polystyrene shock-absorbing liner that takes the brunt of the impact to the head and disperses it.
  3. Comfort liner, which adds to the helmet’s fit. This liner is typically made of micro fiber, brushed nylon, or terry cloth. Besides the additional comfort, this liner holds the helmet snug to the rider’s head.
  4. Retention system, also known as the chinstraps. These secure the helmet tightly to the rider’s head, ensuring it fits correctly.

If a helmet does not have these four components, it is not a suitable helmet for riding a motorcycle, and is less likely to adequately protect you from injury if you are involved in a Maryland motorcycle accident.

Why you should wear a motorcycle helmet

For many people, riding a motorcycle is both a physical and mental manifestation of freedom – and some bikers may feel restricted by helmet laws. However, if you are not interested in wearing a helmet because of the law, you may be interested in wearing one because of statistics. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports the following (the most current data available):

  • From 2002 to 2017, over 25,000 lives were saved by motorcycle helmets
  • Helmets are shown to be “37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41% effective for motorcycle passengers”
  • In 2021, 64.9% of motorcyclists and passengers used DOT-compliant helmets
  • Helmet use has decreased from “69% in 2020 to 64.9% in 2021”

In the event you are injured in a motorcycle collision that was not your fault, whether you were wearing a helmet or not, get in touch with an experienced attorney immediately so you are aware of your rights.

Skilled Maryland motorcycle accident lawyers on your side

A motorcycle accident can have serious and life-changing consequences. If you or a loved one has suffered injury due to another’s negligent driving, the attorneys at Plaxen Adler Muncy are here to protect your rights and help secure the compensation you deserve. You are not alone, our legal team knows how to help, and there are legal options available to you. Call our offices today or fill out our contact form to set up a consultation. We have offices throughout the state of Maryland. If necessary, we are available to meet you at your home or at the hospital. We work with injury clients on a contingency basis, meaning you owe us no fees until we successfully resolve your case.