Daniels Law

Helmet Laws in California

January 18, 2023 · Personal Injury
Parked motorcycle with helmet

As wonderful as it is to feel the wind in your hair as you drive down the highway on your motorcycle, that feeling can come with hefty, sometimes life-threatening consequences. Helmet laws in California exist for a reason: to protect motorcyclists on the road. Not only could failing to wear a helmet put your life or the life of a passenger in danger, but it could also mean losing your case in the event of a motor vehicle accident claim. 

An Overview of California's Mandatory Helmet Laws

By California law, all motorcyclists must wear a U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) compliant motorcycle safety helmet whether they are riding a motorcycle, motorized bicycle, or any other motor-driven bicycle. This can also include e-bikes. The helmet you choose must be from a helmet manufacturer that complies with the latest U.S. DOT regulations. 

Although it may be tempting to go without a helmet for a short ride, studies show that most motorcycle accidents happen on short trips — generally five miles or less. That’s why any time you get on your motorcycle, you should always wear your helmet.

Who Needs To Wear a Helmet

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) says that all riders and passengers must wear a helmet when riding “a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.” In addition, any bicycle rider under 18 must wear a helmet when riding their bike. Although not legally required, it is still best practice for adult bicyclists to wear helmets. Helmet use can also help a cyclist's case if they attempt to sue for damages after an accident.

How Must the Safety Helmet Be Worn

Having to wear a helmet does not mean sacrificing style. You can add decals, mohawks, Viking horns, and more to the outside of your helmet. The helmet itself may be a half-shell, three-quarters, or full-face helmet. It must be worn snugly all the way around and securely fashioned. In addition, the helmet should have no obvious defects or wear and tear. 

You should also consider wearing face, eye, and ear protection, such as a face shield or goggles. Your eye shield should be free of scratches so that you can see clearly and be free of punctures.

Proper Safety Helmet Standards

All compliance regulations for helmets come from the U.S. DOT. Make sure your helmet is compliant with all the latest compliance regulations, including:

  • Having manufacturer-applied DOT labeling on the back of the helmet with lettering that is not easily removed
  • Being in good condition, with no obvious wear and tear, scratches, or frays
  • Being a half-shell, three-quarters, or full-face shape

Beyond that, the DMV recommends wearing a full-face helmet, which offers the most protection should you find yourself in a collision.

The Legal Consequences of Not Wearing Your Helmet in California

California takes its helmet safety laws very seriously, and understandably so. Because it is such a serious safety hazard, you could be fined up to $250 for failing to wear a helmet. You could even face a year of probation. This becomes compounded if you are speeding or driving recklessly when you’re fined for your lack of a helmet. In a worst-case scenario, your beloved motorcycle could even end up impounded. 

These consequences also apply if you are driving any passengers without a helmet. If your passenger is found to be riding your motorcycle without a helmet, you, as the driver, will be held responsible and fined. If you don’t have a spare helmet, it’s best not to offer to take friends or family on a joy ride.

The Much Graver Consequences

The legal consequences for riding without a helmet might seem steep, but these are nothing compared to the much graver consequences you could face. As the smaller vehicle and the more exposed driver (compared to a car and driver), you will likely suffer more damage in most car accidents. 

If you crash into another vehicle or hit the road without a helmet, you could face traumatic brain injuries — or death in the worst-case scenario. And you will be held responsible if you have a passenger who dies or sustains severe injuries.

In a 2017 survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that helmets saved 1,872 lives but could have saved 749 more. Helmets reduced the risk of head injuries by 69% and were proven to be:

  • 37% more effective in preventing rider deaths
  • 41% more effective in preventing passenger deaths

Even if you survive a motorcycle accident without a helmet, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can alter your cognitive and motor functions — as well as the way you work and navigate the world — for the rest of your life. So if you’re tempted to take a quick trip without your helmet, stop and consider the consequences. Then ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

California As a Comparative Negligence State

California is a comparative negligence state, meaning that damages are determined and awarded based on the amount of responsibility each driver held in the accident. If you are found to be 40% at fault for the accident, that will be 40% fewer damages that you will be able to sue for. 

Here's another example: If you are driving a motorcycle without a helmet when another driver T-bones you, both of you will be found partially responsible for the accident. You will not be able to recover as much in damages as you would normally have because the court will hold that your injuries might have been lessened had you worn a helmet in accordance with California law.

Contact Us About Your Motorcycle Accident Claim

Need help fighting for your right to compensation after a motorcycle accident claim? With 30 years of experience in the practice of personal injury law, Daniels Law has you covered. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation.

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