Every motorcycle rider should know that wearing a helmet is essential to staying safe on the road. Failure to wear one could turn an accident into a fatality, or leave the rider with severe and irreversible brain damage.
But does California have a helmet law? The answer is yes, and knowing the basics of this law is critical to protecting your health and legal rights.
Not wearing a helmet could jeopardize your ability to recover monetary compensation if you are in an accident caused by a negligent driver. The Bakersfield motorcycle accident lawyers at Attorney Jeff Injury Lawyers look at what riders need to know.
California Requires All Riders to Wear a Helmet
Surprisingly, most states do not have what is known as universal helmet laws, which require all motorcycle riders and their passengers to wear a helmet regardless of age or other factors.
But California is one of 19 states that does impose this universal helmet rule, no matter where in the state a motorcyclist rides. The California motorcycle helmet law is included in section 27803 of the California Vehicle Code, which mandates the following:
- All riders and passengers must wear a safety helmet when riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.
- The helmet must meet certain safety specifications, including that it be fastened with straps and that it be of a size that fits the head securely without excessive movement.
Put: it is illegal to operate or ride as a passenger on a motorcycle in California without wearing an appropriate safety helmet.
History of Helmet Laws in California
California’s motorcycle helmet law was enacted in 1992, when helmet use was only about 50%. Following the passage of the law, several positive trends were observed, including:
- Helmet use increased to 99%
- Motorcycle crash fatalities decreased by 37.5%
- Head injuries significantly dropped among injured motorcyclists.
The law has also had a positive impact on healthcare costs. Fewer head injuries, thanks to increased helmet use, have equated to a decline in healthcare expenses. In the year after the helmet law was passed (1993), the rate of motorcyclists hospitalized for head injuries was 48% lower compared to 1991. Total healthcare costs for victims with head injuries plummeted by $20.5 million in the same period.
What Qualifies as an Appropriate Safety Helmet?
At a minimum, a helmet must meet certain federal safety regulations. More specifically, California requires that helmets abide by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. This federal regulation includes the minimum performance levels required of all helmets to protect the brain and head in the event of a motorcycle accident.
When selecting a helmet, a rider should be aware of the following mandatory safety standards:
- Weight: Helmets meeting the minimum federal standards usually weigh about three pounds.
- Chin straps: The helmet should have chin straps that are sturdy and riveted.
- Inner liner: Federal rules require that helmets have an inner polystyrene foam liner approximately one inch thick.
- No extensions or protrusions: Nothing can extend or protrude more than two-tenths of one inch from the helmet’s surface. Visor fasteners are acceptable, but spikes and other decorative features are not.
- DOT sticker: Federally approved helmets will have a sticker on the outside back with the letters “DOT” on it, which indicates that the helmet meets or exceeds FMVSS 218 standards. Never place a DOT sticker on a non-compliant helmet.
- ANSI/Snell: A helmet may also meet the regulations of private non-profits such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or Snell. These labels usually mean a helmet also meets FMVSS 218 requirements.
- Manufacturer’s label: The helmet manufacturer must include a title with information such as the manufacturer’s name and the helmet size, model, construction materials, its month and year of manufacture, and owner’s knowledge.
Consequences of Not Wearing a Motorcycle Helmet
To wear a helmet means more than merely placing the device on one’s head. The helmet has to fit the user’s head with little excess movement, and the safety straps must be fastened. In addition, the helmet should not be damaged or have obvious defects like frayed straps, loose padding, or cracks.
Not wearing a helmet is illegal and puts you and your passengers at risk. It could also be costly. If a rider or user is caught without one, they could face a fine of up to $250 and/or one year of probation. The situation could be far more expensive in the event you are involved in an accident.
Can Not Wearing a Helmet Affect an Injury Claim?
Deciding not to wear a helmet is physically risky, but it may also endanger your ability to recover monetary damages if you are in a crash.
California has what is known as a comparative negligence doctrine. Under this rule, if it is determined that the victim contributed to his or her own injuries by somehow being negligent, the amount of damages available to the victim may be reduced. Defendants often use this doctrine as a defense to avoid paying higher damages in personal injury lawsuits.
For instance, a victim who is found to be 20% negligent could have the total damages award cut by 20%. If the amount of damages would have been $100,000, the victim will have this total reduced by 20% ($20,000) and end up with only $80,000. The victim may be 99% liable for his or her injuries and still receive compensation, but it will be far less than had the victim not been negligent in the first place.
Failing to wear a helmet is one way in which a victim can be negligent in causing a motorcycle accident. If the defendant’s attorney discovers this fact, it is almost guaranteed that it will be used to reduce the victim’s damages. That means the at-fault party’s insurance company will not have to pay the victim as much money.
Call Attorney Jeff Injury Lawyers After a Motorcycle Accident in Bakersfield
California does have a helmet law, and it just makes sense to follow it. However, simply obeying the law doesn’t guarantee that a negligent driver or other party won’t cause you harm.
Attorney Jeff Injury Lawyers are here to defend your legal rights by seeking the maximum compensation for your motorcycle crash injuries. We can also assist you in the event you were not wearing a helmet or the defendant is otherwise attempting to reduce your damages under the comparative negligence rule. Reach out to us in Bakersfield, CA to schedule your consultation today.