Strictly speaking, there is no helmet law in Illinois, unless you count “no law” as a law. The only Illinois statute governing the wearing of protective gear on a motorcycle is 625 ILCS 5/11-1404, which requires riders and passengers to wear glasses or goggles, or to be protected by a transparent shield (i.e. windshield). By way of common sense, it should go without saying that contact lenses do not count as eye protection, but, just in case, the statute explicitly states that, “Contact lenses are not acceptable eye protection devices.”
The Illinois state legislature has also prohibited local governments from enacting ordinances that would require the use of motorcycle helmets.
However, once you’re outside of Illinois, “no law” may no longer be the law, and you might be required to wear a helmet. Then again, you might not. It depends.
For example, say you’re taking a long ride from Joliet, Illinois to Tellico Plaines, Tennessee. You’ll be subject to at least three different helmet laws once you ride out of the Land of Lincoln – one for Indiana, one for Kentucky, and one for Tennessee. Each is different. And if you go from Tellico Plaines to Deals Gap to ride the Tail of the Dragon, you’ll be in North Carolina, where a fourth helmet law is in effect.
One state statute might require anyone under 18 years of age to wear a helmet. Another might require anyone under 21 to wear a helmet or a person with a learner’s permit to wear a helmet or a person who has been licensed less than 1 year to wear a helmet. A statute might even require helmets for all riders and passengers, but dictate different helmet standards depending on the rider’s age. (See generally Ind. Code 9-19-7-1; KY Rev. Stat. 189.285; Tenn. Code 55-9-302.)
But, so long as you’re in Illinois, you can wear a helmet, do-rag, cool hat, wig/toupee, or just your bare head and be on the right side of the helmet “no law.”
However, before deciding to leave the helmet home or strapped to the bike, riders and passengers should at least consider the following: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcycle helmets saved approximately 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016. In the same year, in Illinois, there were 155 fatalities as a result of motorcycle accidents. Of those killed, approximately 116 were not wearing helmets. Translated roughly, that means approximately 75 percent of fatalities were to riders/passengers who were not wearing helmets.