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Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California

The vast majority of motor vehicle accidents are preventable; however, they still occur. Due to the size differential and limited protection, people traveling by motorcycle are five times more likely to be injured and 28 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association

Many people affected by motorcycle accidents have no choice but to pursue litigation due to the expense of medical treatment and the toll recovery takes on one’s livelihood. One of the questions Los Angeles motorcycle accident attorneys often ask is: Were you wearing a helmet at the time of the crash? The answer may affect the ability to pursue maximum compensation.

Does California Have a Motorcycle Helmet Law?

 Yes, California has a universal motorcycle helmet law. The law is codified in the California Vehicle Code, Division 12, Chapter 5, Article 7, Section 27803. It is “unlawful to operate a motorcycle or ride as a passenger on a motorcycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required.”

What Are California’s Motorcycle Helmet Requirements?

 California motorcycle helmets must comply with the minimum requirements for safety set by the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • Helmets should weigh approximately three pounds.
  • Helmets must have a chin strap attached using sturdy rivets.
  • Helmets should have a firm polystyrene foam liner approximately 1-inch thick.
  • Helmets should not have any spikes or design features that protrude more than two-tenths of an inch.

Helmets that meet these federal requirement standards have a DOT sticker on them. The most rigorous testing standards have been developed by the Snell Memorial Foundation, which also provides a certification standard. Further, the helmet should be securely fastened and fit the head, with no vertical or lateral movement.

How Many States Have Motorcycle Helmet Laws?

California is in line with 18 other states and the District of Columbia, which require all motorcycle riders and passengers– regardless of age, experience, or insurance coverage– to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. Twenty-eight other states have laws covering some riders, and only Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire do not require anyone to wear a helmet.

What is the history of California’s motorcycle helmet law?

 The U.S Department of Transportation reports that universal helmet laws date back to 1966. The Highway Safety Act of 1966 required all states to adopt universal helmet laws or risk losing a portion of their federal highway construction funds. By 1975, 47 states had complied– with California, Illinois, and Utah the only exceptions.

Just as the Secretary of Transportation prepared to penalize the state, Congress eliminated the requirement and sanctions. By 1980, 27 states had repealed their universal helmet laws or changed them to apply only to minors.

In1989, states began re-enacting the helmet law, with Texas and Oregon leading the reversal. Nebraska and Washington followed suit in 1990, trailed by Maryland and California in 1992.

Our state is home to 10 percent of the nation’s registered motorcycle riders, so naturally, the California motorcycle helmet law was hotly debated. However, one year after adopting the law, the number of motorcycle deaths in the state had decreased by 37.5 percent.

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What Happens If Motorcycle Riders Do Not Wear Helmets in California?

 People riding motorcycles without helmets in California face potential criminal consequences. California law enforcement officers can hit motorcyclists with fines up to $250, with up to one year of probation. In extreme cases, officers can tow the bike and levy additional fines for speeding or reckless driving.

Do Motorcycle Helmets Really Prevent Injury and Death?

The short answer is yes; motorcycle helmets do help prevent injury and death.

Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reflects on the effectiveness of motorcycle safety helmets in preventing common injuries:

  • Wearing a helmet will save a biker’s life about 37 percent of the time.
  • Wearing a helmet reduces the risk of traumatic brain injury by nearly 70 percent.
  • Helmets save over 1,800 lives every year.
  • If all motorcyclists wore helmets, at least 749 more lives would have been saved.

The NHTSA found that California has a helmet use rate of about 90 percent, while states that lack universal helmet laws had an adoption rate of 40 percent. In states without universal helmet laws, 57 percent of motorcyclists were not wearing helmets, compared to 9 percent in states with universal helmet laws.

Can I Still Sue for a Motorcycle Accident If I Wasn’t Wearing a Helmet?

Yes, individuals involved in a no helmet motorcycle accident can still sue for damages if another person’s negligence or recklessness caused the crash. California’s pure comparative negligence law allows it. However, the failure to wear a helmet will likely result in a reduction in the maximum recovery allowed. For instance, if failing to wear a helmet incurs 25% liability for a brain injury, the motorcycle rider would receive $75,000 instead of $100,000. For this reason, it is especially crucial to work with a Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyer.

 To claim full compensation, motorcycle riders who were not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident must provide a substantial amount of medical evidence. The goal would be to prove that a helmet would not have affected the severity of the injuries. Medical records and witness testimony from a medical expert will be crucial to establishing this fact. No one should try to take on a well-represented insurance company alone.   

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Contact a Los Angeles Motorcycle Accident Lawyer for a Free Consultation

 Salamati Law offers free consultations. We provide compassionate, individualized service on a contingency fee basis, only collecting attorney fees after securing a favorable settlement or verdict. Our skilled attorneys seek the best possible outcome for our clients, relying on our network of investigators, economists, medical professionals, former insurance adjusters, and legal experts.

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We are committed to negotiate your case aggressively, strategically and creatively. Personal injury lawsuits are retained on a contingency fee agreement, and plaintiffs will pay no legal fees unless the firm is able to recover damages on your behalf.

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