Nineteen states, including California, and the District of Columbia require all motorcyclists to wear helmets that meet federal safety standards. While statistics have consistently shown that helmets play an important role in preventing different types of traumatic brain injuries and fatalities in motorcycle collisions, the number of states mandating them has actually gone down.
The state of Michigan in 2012 repealed a law requiring motorcyclists over the age of 21 to wear helmets. California has what is known as a “universal helmet law,” which means anyone who is riding a motorcycle – be it the driver or the passenger – regardless of age, must wear a helmet that meets federal safety standards.
California's Motorcycle Helmet Law
Under California Vehicle Code Section 27803, all drivers and passengers are required to wear safety helmets that meet federal safety requirements while riding on motorcycles as well as motorized bicycles. It is unlawful to ride a motorcycle without a helmet in California, regardless of a person's age. California motorcycle law also requires that the helmets that are worn by motorcyclists and their passengers meet federal standards, which means it must fit properly and snugly on the head and be secured with straps.
If you ride a motorcycle without a helmet in California, you could be stopped and slapped with a traffic violation. The penalty for riding without a motorcycle helmet in California is up to $250 per offense. If you were violating another law while not wearing a helmet such as reckless vehicle operation, you may face additional penalties and fines as well.
What is California's Universal Helmet Law?
California has “universal helmet law,” which means it does not just apply to a certain group of people or a particular age group. Most states have a partial helmet law, which means it only applies to some groups of people such as minors, inexperienced drivers or those who lack sufficient insurance coverage. However, California's universal helmet law requires all motorcyclists and their passengers to wear a helmet, without exception. The universal helmet law specifically states that the helmet should comply with federal safety standards, should fit snugly on the wearer's hit with straps.
Research has consistently shown that states that implemented a universal helmet law such as California significantly increased helmet use while reducing injuries and death rates. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), states with universal motorcycle helmet laws such as California averaged a helmet use rate of close to 90% while states that did not have similar laws had use rates under 40%.
Can Failing to Wear a Helmet Affect an Injury Claim?
If you choose not to wear a motorcycle helmet in California, you are at a greater risk for injury. You increase your risk of suffering a serious injury to the head, brain, face or neck in a motorcycle accident when you are not wearing a helmet. You could also face a citation if police stop you. In addition, if you suffer injuries in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet, that could go against you in a personal injury lawsuit where your compensatory award could be reduced because you did not wear a helmet.
California uses a pure comparative negligence law, which means compensation for injuries is awarded based on the degree of fault. So, individuals who don't wear a helmet could be considered partially at fault for their own injuries. For example, if failing to wear a helmet made you 30% liable for a brain injury, you would receive $70,000 instead of a $100,000 award in a motorcycle accident claim. These laws make it important for victims and their families to retain the services of an experienced California motorcycle accident lawyer who can help maximize their financial recovery.
When Did Motorcycle Helmets Become Law in California?
In 1985, a California law mandating helmets for all motorcycle riders under the age of 15½ went into effect. In 1991, the state adopted universal helmet laws for all motorcyclists and passengers. The positive effects of California's universal helmet law became obvious fairly soon. Just one year after that law went into effect, motorcycle accident deaths in the state dropped by 37.5%.
Penalties for Not Wearing a Helmet
Those not wearing a motorcycle helmet that complies with federal safety standards could face a fine. According to the California Highway Patrol, not wearing a helmet is a safety hazard punishable by a fine of up to $250 and/or one year of probation.
Types of Helmet Required in California
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sets forth minimum safety standards for helmets. Companies that manufacture helmets put their products through several tests to ensure they meet safety standards. Helmets must be able to protect riders from the impact of a collision. They should be able to remain in place – on the wearer's head — in the event of a crash.
Helmets that meet minimum DOT standards are required to have a certification sticker. Here are some important things you should check your helmet for:
Size: Your helmet should fit snugly on your head.
Strap: The helmet should not move around on your head when you fasten the chinstrap.
Fit: The helmet should fit low on your forehead, just above your eyebrows.
Be sure to replace your helmet at least once every five years. If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, replace you helmet, even if it did not fail.
Are Helmets Effective?
Head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents. So, motorcycle helmets that comply with safety standards are certainly effective when it comes to preventing fatal head injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a motorcyclist who is not wearing a helmet is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal injury and 15% more likely to suffer a nonfatal injury compared to a helmeted motorcyclist.
NHTSA also estimates that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, the United States could save $1.5 billion in economic costs if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
If you have suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident, it is critical that you seek medical attention right away. It is imperative that you get timely diagnosis and treatment. These types of injuries often leave victims with long-term or even lifelong disabilities.
Getting Help After Being Injured in a Motorcycle Accident
Motorcyclists are at a greater risk of suffering catastrophic injuries in a traffic accident. In fact, motorcyclists have five times the injury risk and 29 times the fatality risk compared to drivers of other vehicles. This is because motorcyclists typically have less protection compared to someone who is in a passenger vehicle.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, the experienced motorcycle accident attorneys in Los Angeles at the Vaziri Law Group Personal Injury Attorneys can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Call us for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.