Why California’s Motorcycle Helmet Law MattersThe Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimates that motorcycles have a fatality rate 28 times that of passenger vehicles, resulting in approximately 14 percent of all traffic fatalities across the nation. The vast majority of traffic accidents are preventable, but unfortunately, accidents still occur. Motorcyclists who don’t wear their helmets face a greater risk of fatality. In fact, more than 800 lives would have been saved across the United States in 2016 if all motorcyclists wore helmets.

California is one of 19 states that has implemented a universal helmet law requiring drivers and passengers to wear U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant helmets that have been tested and approved. While some states relax helmet laws for scooters, mopeds, and other lighter vehicles, California’s regulations apply to all similar motorized vehicles, even motorized bicycles.

Are Helmets Effective?

The short answer is yes. If you are a biker and you aren’t wearing a helmet, you should be wearing one. The research overwhelmingly supports the idea that motorcycle helmets save lives. Motorcycle accidents are serious events and injuries are often more severe than other types of motor vehicle accidents. Wearing a helmet does not guarantee that you won’t suffer a head injury or die, but it does decrease the likelihood. All things being equal, wearing a helmet will save a biker’s life about 37 percent of the time during a potentially fatal crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), according to its most recent data, estimates that helmets save more than 1,600 lives each year throughout the nation. If all motorcyclists wore a helmet, at least 700 more lives would be saved.

Do I Have to Wear a Helmet?

Yes, you legally have to wear a helmet when operating a motorcycle in California. States across the nation that have motorcycle helmet laws have a partial law or a universal law. California has a universal helmet law. Although no one can force you to wear a helmet, if you choose not to wear a helmet you face penalties. First, it is likely that California Highway Patrol or other law enforcement will pull you over. The law gives law enforcement officers discretion as to whether to write a citation and the amount that you will be fined. Some officers issue warnings and low fines, but they have the authority to write a ticket for up to $250.

If you were speeding, driving while impaired, have a minor passenger without a helmet, or were breaking some other traffic regulation, expect a higher fine. In extreme cases, law enforcement can tow your bike.

What Is California’s Universal Helmet Law?

In the United States, motorcycle helmet laws for each state include universal helmet laws and partial helmet laws. When a state has a partial helmet law, it applies to certain groups of people, such as minors, inexperienced drivers, or those who don’t have adequate insurance coverage. Universal helmet laws require all riders and passengers to wear a helmet without exception.

California has a universal helmet law that applies to all bikers, pursuant to California Vehicle Code, Division 12, Chapter 5, Article 7, Section 27803. The law states that drivers and passengers on motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycles must wear a safety helmet, and not doing so is illegal. California’s universal helmet law specifically defines that “wearing a safety helmet” means that the approved helmet is securely strapped on a person’s head and fits snugly without any excessive movement.

Research shows that states that implemented a universal helmet law significantly increased helmet use also reducing injury and fatality rates. The NHTSA reports that in recent years states with universal motorcycle helmet laws, like California, averaged a helmet use rate of about 90 percent, while those with no laws or partial helmet laws had use rates below 40 percent.

Types of Helmet Required in California

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) sets minimum safety standards for motorcycle manufacturers and retailers. Helmet manufacturers must submit helmets to a battery of tests to meet standard requirements in the following areas:

  • Impact. How well does the helmet protect against collisions with large objects?
  • Positional stability. Will the helmet be in place on the head at critical times?
  • Retention system strength. Are the chin straps strong enough to hold the helmet in place during impact?
  • Extent of protection. What area(s) of the head are protected by a helmet?

Helmets that meet the DOT minimum standards should have a certification sticker, which can help you choose a helmet; however, DOT standards are low compared to other groups. The most stringent standards are set by an independent non-profit helmet testing company that has been around for more than 50 years, Snell Memorial Foundation. Snell standards meet and exceed DOT regulations and typically offer the best protection. You will also see Snell Certified helmets. Regardless of where you buy your motorcycle helmet, you should check for the following:

  • Size. Your helmet should fit comfortably all the way around your head, even if you need to use additional pads.
  • Strap. When you fasten the chin strap, the helmet should not shift around on your head. The strap should fit around your ear and under your chin snugly.
  • Fit. You should wear your helmet low on your forehead, just above your eyebrows.
  • Sticker. Look for stickers that indicate the manufacturer met minimum DOT safety standards for a motorcycle helmet.

When motorcycle helmet manufacturers make helmets, they might have a defect in the design or execution of the design that escapes the attention of relevant parties until a biker’s helmet fails. It is important to replace your helmet regularly; Snell recommends once every five years. If you’ve been involved in a motorcycle accident and you suspect your helmet failed, you should bring that to the attention of your motorcycle attorney, who might advise you to file a product liability claim against the helmet manufacturer, distributor, or retailer.

Comparative Negligence in California Motorcycle Accidents

California is a tort liability state in regards to motor vehicle accidents. This means that the at-fault driver is responsible for damages after an accident. Your motorcycle attorney will advise you on if or when you should make a claim against the responsible driver’s insurance or file a lawsuit. If the other driver was at fault, why does it matter whether or not you were wearing your helmet? The answer—comparative negligence.

Comparative negligence, sometimes referred to as comparative fault, refers to the legal concept of shared liability in personal injury matters. Once a defendant is deemed negligent, the jury may assign a percentage blame to each party in the suit before calculating the final amount of damages. A plaintiff’s award is reduced by the percentage which the court finds he or she liable for the accident and their own injuries.

If you’re injured in motorcycle accident and aren’t wearing a helmet, it’s likely that you won’t be able to fully recover damages even if you didn’t cause the crash. For example, imagine a drunk driver hit you while you were riding your bike, but you weren’t wearing your helmet. With the help of a San Jose motorcycle accident lawyer, you sue for $1,000,000 in damages. The defense argues that you were illegally riding without your helmet, causing more severe injuries than you would have suffered had you worn a helmet. If the harm includes injuries to your head, brain, or face, it might be even easier to claim those injuries could have been prevented by wearing a helmet. The court decides that you are 30 percent at fault for your injury, so they deduct that from the award. In this example, you could only collect $700,000.

Contact an Experienced San Jose Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

Motorcyclists are far more likely to be harmed in a traffic accident than other vehicle operators. One study found that bikers have five times the injury risk and twenty-nine times the fatality risk compared to other drivers. Although about half of crashes with motorcycles involve another vehicle, motorcyclists suffer more because of less protection during a collision. Not wearing a helmet can add additional physical pain, financial burden, and emotional stress to an already devastating situation.

When you’re harmed in a motorcycle crash, call on the experienced San Jose motorcycle accident attorneys at Bohn & Fletcher, LLP. All of our clients are receiving a free consultation to discuss their cases, so contact us online or call (408) 279-4222 to learn about how we can help you after a motorcycle accident. We offer individualized service, and our skilled attorneys aggressively seek the best outcome for our clients. Additionally, we handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, only collecting attorney fees after we secure a settlement or verdict in your favor. We understand the challenges that come with being involved in a serious accident and want to focus on the details of your case, while you focus on recovering from your injuries.