South Dakota Motorcycle Helmet Laws

South Dakota law mandates that a driver or passenger on a motorcycle 18 years old or younger must wear a helmet complying with safety regulations.
Written by Melanie Johnson
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
According to
South Dakota
law, if you are 18 years old or older, you can drive or ride on a motorcycle without a helmet. Protective eyewear is required for all riders.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that motorcycle accidents were responsible for 14% of all traffic fatalities in 2019. State motorcycle helmet laws were introduced in the 1960s in an attempt to lower statistics like these. 
All state laws are different. That’s why
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car insurance
comparison and shopping app, wants to help you understand the motorcycle helmet laws of your state. We’ll cover the basics of the motorcycle helmet law, the exceptions to know about, and the statistics on unhelmeted fatalities in South Dakota. 
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Do you have to wear a motorcycle helmet in South Dakota?

If you’re 18 years old or younger, you must wear a motorcycle helmet while driving or riding a motorcycle in South Dakota
Under the current South Dakota “partial” motorcycle helmet law—riders over the age of 18 may choose whether or not to wear a helmet. 
Protective eyewear is required for all motorcycle riders in South Dakota—regardless of age.

Exceptions to South Dakota’s motorcycle helmet law

South Dakota Codified Laws 32-20-4
of the South Dakota Legislature, anyone 18 years old or under may not “operate or ride upon a motorcycle on the public streets or highways of this state unless the person wears a protective helmet.”
A person riding in an enclosed cab attached to a motorcycle is an exemption to this rule.
Mopeds are included in the helmet law. This means that if you are 18 years old or under and are riding a moped on a public street, you must wear a helmet.
Electric bikes are generally included in the helmet law unless the bike:
  • Has a pedal-assist only motor 
  • Has a motor that stops when the bike reaches a top speed of 20 MPR 
If the bike’s motor continues propelling past 20 MPR, it will fall under South Dakota’s motorcycle helmet law.

Penalties for breaking South Dakota’s motorcycle helmet law

In South Dakota, failing to comply with the state motorcycle helmet law is considered a misdemeanor offense and is punishable by fines up to $500 and possible imprisonment up to 30 days.

Why it’s important to wear a motorcycle helmet

Though fines and potential imprisonment seem like strict penalties, there are worse consequences of not wearing a helmet in South Dakota. To better understand the risks of riding unhelmeted, let’s take a look at the origin of the motorcycle helmet and some motorcycle accident statistics.
In 1935, British army officer and diplomat T.E. Lawrence—known as “Lawrence of Arabia”—died at just 46
in a motorcycle accident
. Soon after, his doctor, the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, launched a campaign on the importance of helmets to help prevent deaths like Lawrence’s. 
His efforts were rewarded. Today, the NHTSA estimates that motorcycle helmet laws save hundreds of lives each year in the United States
However, in states without universal helmet laws—like South Dakota—as many as 57% of motorcyclists killed on the road are unhelmeted. This is a staggering number compared to the 9% of fatalities that occur in states with universal helmet laws.
In 2019, unhelmeted riders made up 43% of South Dakota’s motorcyclist fatalities. Wearing a helmet, even if you are over 18, is the best action you can take to keep from becoming a negative statistic. 

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