The commonwealth of Kentucky has a complicated history with helmet laws. Kentucky has had three different helmet laws in its history. The current helmet law is the least restrictive.
Under Kentucky’s current helmet law, motorcycle operators and passengers do not need to wear a helmet — unless they are under the age of 21, driving with an instructional permit, or have had a motorcycle license for less than a year. This means that most motorcycle operators and passengers do not need to wear a helmet.
Here are the important facts for riders to understand about the motorcycle helmet laws in Lexington, KY.
Kentucky Helmet Laws
Kentucky passed a universal helmet law in 1968. Under this law, motorcyclists and passengers were required to wear helmets. As a result of Kentucky’s universal law, roughly 96% of motorcycle operators and passengers wore a helmet.
In 1998, Kentucky loosened its law. Kentucky first amended its law to allow motorcycle operators with at least $10,000 in health insurance to opt out of the helmet requirement. But lawmakers found that many motorcyclists stopped wearing helmets without providing the required insurance documentation.
In 2000, they amended the law again to exempt all but a few riders from the helmet requirement.
Kentucky’s Current Law
Kentucky has a motorcycle helmet law that covers motorcycle and motor scooter operators.
Under Kentucky’s statute, a motorcycle must:
- Travel on no more than three wheels
- Have a maximum speed of more than 50 miles per hour
- Provide a saddle or seat for the operator
The helmet law also covers motor scooters that Kentucky law defines as a “low-speed motorcycle” that have a step-through frame or a platform for the rider’s feet.
The helmet law does not apply to mopeds. A moped is a motorized bicycle. The helmet law does not apply to bicycles. Kentucky does not have a separate bicycle helmet law.
Under the current law, only three categories of motorcycle operators must wear a helmet:
- Operators who are 20 years old or younger
- Operators who have an instructional permit
- Operators who have been licensed to operate a motorcycle for less than a year
All other operators can ride without a helmet.
Passengers Who Are Subject to the Helmet Law
The current law also covers passengers. The law applies to passengers on the motorcycle itself or in a sidecar. Under the statute, passengers under the age of 21 must wear a helmet. Passengers aged 21 or older do not need to wear a helmet.
Equipment that Satisfies the Helmet Law
The helmet mandated by Kentucky’s law must meet the standards set by Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet. Kentucky has adopted the standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for approving helmets and helmet designs. As a result, any USDOT-approved helmet will satisfy Kentucky’s helmet law.
Kentucky’s Eye Protection Law
Although most motorcycle operators in Kentucky can ride without a helmet, all motorcycle operators must wear eye protection. Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet has adopted the Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission’s standards for eye protection, which is called VESC-8.
Any goggles or glasses that meet VESC-8 standards will satisfy Kentucky’s eye protection law.
Enforcement of Kentucky’s Helmet Laws
Law enforcement officers can enforce Kentucky’s helmet law as a primary offense. In other words, an officer does not need to stop you for another offense to cite you for violating the helmet law. If you fall into the class of motorcycle operators that must wear a helmet, an officer can cite you for a helmet law violation.
But since the helmet law covers so few drivers, most citations for helmet law violations occur when you have been stopped for another violation.
For example, suppose that an officer stops you for speeding and notices that your motorcycle license lists your age as 19 years old. The officer can cite you for violating speeding and helmet laws if you were not wearing a helmet.
Kentucky treats a violation of the helmet law as an infraction. This means that you cannot go to jail for violating the helmet law. Instead, an officer will cite you and provide a summons to appear in district court. When you appear, the judge has the discretion to fine you $20 to $100 for violating the helmet law.
Other Reasons to Wear a Helmet in Kentucky
Kentucky has a weak helmet law. It only applies to a small portion of Kentucky’s motorcycle riders and provides almost no punishment for violators.
But motorcyclists in Kentucky should wear a helmet for two additional reasons:
The Safety Benefits of Motorcycle Helmets
Everyone has heard that motorcycle helmets reduce injuries and save lives. But the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has collected data in Kentucky from before and after the helmet law amendments were established. This survey proves that helmets provide Kentucky motorcycle riders with substantial safety benefits.
Before the amendment, 96% of motorcycle riders wore a helmet. After the amendment, helmet use dropped to 52%. At the same time, motorcycle fatalities increased by 50%.
The survey also found that most of the motorcyclists that sustained serious injuries did not wear a helmet. Only 26% of those who sustained a head or face injury in a motorcycle accident were wearing a helmet.
By wearing a helmet, you can substantially decrease your risk of death or a head or face injury in the event of an accident.
Comparative Fault and Motorcycle Helmets
Kentucky uses comparative fault to allocate blame for your injuries. A jury could find that you bear some of the responsibility for your head injury if you were riding without a helmet during a motorcycle accident.
Kentucky uses pure comparative fault rules. This means that you can recover compensation after an accident, even if you bear most of the responsibility for your injuries. But it also means that the court will reduce your damages in proportion to your share of the fault.
For example, suppose that a jury finds that you were 25% at fault for your brain injury because you were not wearing a helmet when a car hit you. The court would reduce your claim to 75% of your documented expenses for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.