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I ride a motorcycle, sometimes across state lines. Do I have to obey other states’ helmet laws? I don’t think a state should have the legal power to force me to wear a helmet.

Surprise! This turns out to be a lesson in constitutional law.

Article IV, Section One of the U.S. Constitution contains something called the “Full Faith and Credit Clause.” It reads, “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” The Framers—the people who wrote the Constitution—wanted to balance the unity of the whole nation with the sovereignty of each of the states. The Full Faith and Credit Clause does exactly that. It’s the federal government telling each state, “Look, you get to set the rules within your borders, but you have to respect the rules set by every other state government, too.”

Because of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, your Wisconsin driver’s license and Class M endorsement allow you to ride your motorcycle in all other states. By the same principle, though, you have to obey the specific traffic laws which prevail in the state you’re in. Wisconsin doesn’t require a motorcyclist over age 17 to wear a helmet. If you’re riding through Missouri, though, you must conform to state law that requires helmets for all riders.

State legislators pass laws that they believe will promote the public good for their citizens. There has been a longstanding controversy over mandatory helmet laws throughout the United States, with some people saying that individual freedom should be given more weight, and other people believing that the state sometimes has to force people to take protective measures they would resist on their own. Each state has come to a different answer on how to balance those conflicting values, and that range of opinions shows how difficult a question this is.

The “eat your lima beans” principle

If you’re an adult, Wisconsin law gives you the choice of wearing a helmet or not. Choose to wear a helmet.

It’s the responsible decision to make. If you are involved in a Wisconsin motorcycle accident, your chance of dying is less if you have chosen to wear a helmet. You are less likely to sustain serious injuries if you have chosen to wear your helmet. If you choose to wear a helmet, then you have the credibility to insist that your passenger wear her helmet, too, and that helmet may save her life in a traffic accident near Green Bay.

You can call this the “eat your lima beans” principle. Not many people enjoy lima beans, but they can be good for you. Part of being a responsible adult is occasionally doing things that are good for you, even if you don’t enjoy doing them. Choosing to wear a safe, approved helmet is one of those things.

Weigh the arguments in favor of wearing a helmet against the arguments opposed to a helmet. All the advice of road safety experts says that helmets are the right decision to make. The arguments against helmets boil down to the petulant complaints of an 8-year-old: “It’s not comfortable. It doesn’t look cool. My friends might make fun of me. I don’t want to. You can’t make me.” Look, now that you’re a grown-up, it’s time to stop listening to your little-kid instincts and do the responsible thing: choose to wear the helmet.

And one more reason to wear a helmet

Suppose you choose not to wear a helmet. Suppose you get injured in a serious Wisconsin motorcycle accident, and you are trying to get reimbursement for your medical bills and lost income from the insurance company. It’s entirely possible that the motorcycle accident insurance adjuster will put a lower dollar value on your injuries because you didn’t wear a helmet. “You clearly showed that you don’t care about possible injuries,” he might say, “so why should we take you seriously now that you want money for your pain and suffering?”

The Appleton bike crash attorneys of Hupy and Abraham have heard of insurance adjusters pulling tricks like this. We don’t let our clients get bowled over by aggressive claims agents. We still think you should be wearing your helmet, but we can work with all clients who have been injured in a Wisconsin motorcycle accident by someone else’s negligence. Give us a call today at 920-882-8382 (local) or (800) 800-5678 (toll-free). We can set up a confidential and free meeting about your case, and we’ll also send you a FREE copy of our book, The Ultimate Guide for Motorcycle Accident Victims.