Missouri Motorcycle Accident Fatalities Rise After New Helmet Law

Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that motorcycle helmets prevent 37% of motorcycle operator deaths in accidents and 41% of passenger deaths. The increasingly widespread use of Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved helmets has helped create an overall downward trend in motorcycle accident fatalities nationwide; however, beginning in 2020, Missouri’s change in the state’s helmet law has Missouri motorcycle accident fatalities bucking the national trend and increasing. Missouri law enforcement officials say that motorcycle accident fatalities are on the rise in Missouri.

Missouri's sharp rise in motorcyclist fatalities

Missouri Motorcycle Helmet Laws Cause Spike in Fatal Crashes

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the state has seen an unprecedented 47% rise in fatalities in motorcycle accidents since the Missouri legislature voted to relax the state’s universal helmet law. This is the country’s seventh-highest increase with a total of 174 motorcycle accident deaths in 2023, making it the worst year for motorcycle accident fatalities on record in Missouri.

Nationwide, motorcycle accident deaths have risen twice as fast as other traffic accident deaths since 2020.

What Changes Did Missouri Make to Its Motorcycle Accident Laws in 2020?

After years of back-and-forth debate in the Missouri legislature, proponents of personal freedom won a victory when lawmakers voted to relax the state’s universal helmet law requiring all riders to wear helmets. The change impacted motorcyclists over age 26, who now may ride without a helmet as long as they have health insurance coverage and carry proof of health insurance when they ride. Missouri 302.026. states the following:

Any qualified motorcycle operator who is twenty-six years of age or older may operate a motorcycle or motortricycle upon any highway of this state without wearing protective headgear if he or she in addition to maintaining proof of financial responsibility in accordance with chapter 303, is covered by a health insurance policy or other form of insurance which will provide the person with medical benefits for injuries incurred as a result of an accident while operating or riding on a motorcycle or motortricycle. Proof of coverage required by subsection 1 of this section shall be provided, upon request by authorized law enforcement, by showing a copy of the qualified operator’s insurance card.”

Supporters of the bill urged it forward under the premise that those aged 26 and older can make their own decisions about whether or not to wear a helmet as long as they have health insurance coverage to provide medical care should they experience an accident.

Enforcing Missouri’s Helmet Law

The violation of Missouri 302.026. Is a secondary offense, meaning a law enforcement officer may not pull over a motorcyclist to seek proof of their age and/or insurance coverage except in addition to a primary traffic violation such as speeding.

Initially, the proposed bill allowed riders over the age of 18 to ride without a helmet as long as they carried proof of health insurance coverage, but the bill was struck down. Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed the new legislation making DOT-approved helmets optional for those over the age of 26 in July of 2020. The spike in deaths became apparent by the end of 2021 with 159 deaths compared to 118 in 2020.

Miller & Hine Can Help with Your Motorcycle Accident Claim

If you or a loved one has been affected by a motorcycle accident in Missouri, it’s crucial to seek experienced legal representation. Our team at Miller & Hine is experienced in handling such cases and is here to help you navigate through this challenging time. As a trusted St. Louis motorcycle accident attorney, we are dedicated to fighting for your rights and ensuring you receive the compensation you deserve.

In tragic instances where a motorcycle accident results in a fatality, our compassionate and skilled lawyers are experienced in handling wrongful death claims in St. Louis. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us support you through this difficult journey.