Wisconsin’s Motorcycle Laws

Wisconsin is one of a number of states that do not require adult motorcyclists to wear helmets. Under the headgear statute, headgear is only required for people under the age of 18. Wisconsin law does require riders to wear eye protection. This protection could be a face shield attached to the bike, goggles or glasses.

Amazingly, if a motorcyclist is in a crash in Wisconsin and does not have a helmet, the law does not hold it against the adult rider. Wisconsin statute 895.049 states that a failure of an operator or passenger to wear protective headgear shall not reduce recovery for injuries sustained in a crash in a civil case. It also the law in Wisconsin that failure to wear a helmet or protective headgear cannot be used to prove the rider negligent. These laws do not apply to riders under the age of 18.


Two of the last four years in Wisconsin have been the deadliest for motorcycle-related crashes in the history of the state. Nationally, motorcycle fatalities have not drastically decreased in the last thirty years, though fatalities fluctuate from year to year depending primarily on the amount of motorcycle registrations and weather conditions. In Wisconsin, fatalities often depend on how good the weather is in a particular year, but several programs have helped to reduce fatalities. First, Wisconsin noted fewer fatalities after an education and publicity campaign about keeping aware of motorcyclists on the road. Second, training motorcyclists also helps lead to fewer fatalities. However, the best way to reduce motorcycle crash fatalities is to pass a mandatory helmet law. Take Florida and Louisiana for example. Both states repealed their mandatory helmet laws around the year 2000. After repealing the law, Florida saw an 81% increase in fatalities. Louisiana saw a 108% increase in fatalities! Louisiana reenacted the helmet law in 2004 and saw a significant drop in fatalities. Motorcyclists may not like it, but the helmet laws do save lives.

Some Safety Tips for Motorcyclists

  • Wear a helmet. Wear a helmet! WEAR A HELMET!!!! According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), helmets are proven to be 37% effective at preventing fatalities to motorcycle drivers and 41% effective for passengers.
  • Reduce alcohol impairment – NHTSA reports that in 2010 29% of motorcycle fatalities had a bac of .08 or higher. That is the highest impairment rate of all vehicles on the road.
  • Reduce speeding – the most recent data shows 35% of motorcycle riders killed on the roads were speeding, and more than half of these crashes did not involve another vehicle.
  • Provide motorcycle operator training to all that need or want it – most states offer training programs, but some do not provide convenient times or locations for the riders to attend.
  • Encourage all drivers to share the roads with motorcyclists.

Attorney Michael C. Demo