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Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California
While helmets are only required under a certain age or in the absence of certain types of insurance in other states, wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle or motorized bicycle has been mandatory in California since 1992. The law also applies to any passengers of any age. What’s more, there are certain requirements for a safety helmet under California Vehicle Code 27803. It must comply with federal safety standards for helmets and be the right size for the user when fastened to the head with straps. If you fail to uphold this law, you could be stopped by the police and issued a traffic violation ticket. The associated fine can be up to $250 for each violation. If you are found to be riding without a helmet while committing another violation—such as speeding—the offenses can add up to result in a higher fine or even your vehicle being impounded.
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So, they’re legally required. But does wearing a helmet actually offer any protection? The evidence on the protective power of safety helmets is actually pretty unanimous: they are the most effective way of protecting a motorcyclist or passenger from fatal brain or head injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that around 1,872 lives were saved in 2017 alone by the wearing of motorcycle helmets. In fact, wearing a helmet reduced the risk of injury by around half on average over a 5-year period. However, just 70% of motorcyclists wore DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets in 2019. This means that 30% of American motorcyclists aren’t doing all they can to ensure a safe ride. Studies have shown that bikers are less likely to wear helmets in rural areas, possibility due to a perceived increased level of safety away from busy urban roads. This attitude can be very dangerous, as motorbike users are still disproportionately affected by road traffic accidents even in rural areas.
To ensure your safety and compliance with the law, look out for “DOT” compliance. In order to meet the federal safety requirements for motorcycle safety helmets issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), a helmet must meet certain standards when put through a series of tests. The benchmarks that must be met are laid out in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 on Motorcycle Helmets. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not actually test any motorcycle helmets to ensure that they pass DOT certification before they hit the market: it is up to the manufacturer to put their helmets through the relevant tests before they claim that they are DOT-compliant under FMVSS 218. However, the NHTSA does test random products through an independent test lab. The helmets have to meet standards regarding impact absorption, resistance to penetration and retention. They also have to protect certain key areas of the head.
Although DOT compliance is the minimum required by California’s state laws, it is a good idea to consider a helmet that goes above and beyond these minimum standards to increase your level of protection. The Snell Foundation operates a certification system that ensures a higher level of protection than the DOT system. In this certification process, the manufacturer actually submits their helmet to the Snell Foundation for rigorous testing and the whole product line fails if even one helmet fails one single test.
Even the best helmet on the market won’t offer that much protection if worn too loosely or if the size or fit is wrong. It’s essential to make sure your helmet fits well and is always fastened correctly when you take off onto the road. You can even be fined for wearing your helmet incorrectly, as California’s road laws stipulate that a helmet must be securely attached—something that is not possible if a helmet is too large, too small, fastened too loosely or if the strap is not fastened at all.
In terms of personal injury cases, wearing a helmet can also protect you legally. If you are injured by a car that pulled out into your lane without signaling, and suffer a head injury while not wearing a safety helmet, their legal team could argue that you contributed to your own injuries by failing to uphold the law and protect yourself. Under California’s comparative negligence laws, this means that your claim could be reduced by the amount you are deemed to have contributed to or failed to prevent your injuries. If, for example, your head injury may have been 50% less serious with a helmet, you may only receive 50% of the payout you would otherwise have been granted. This can lead to a shortfall when it comes to paying your medical bills and covering other expenses arising from your accident.
So what if you purchase a supposedly DOT-compliant motorcycle helmet to comply with California’s universal helmet law but it turns out to be faulty or defective? If you purchase a helmet advertised as a DOT-compliant safety helmet, the company selling the helmet is legally obliged to deliver just that. If they do not—and you are injured as a result of a faulty helmet or any other piece of safety gear—you may have a product liability case. Delving into two fields of law at the same time may sound daunting but the experienced team at Scranton Law Firm is well-versed in product liability cases, so we’d be happy to help.
Contact our legal team today if you have any questions about your motorcycle accident. We offer free, impartial, no-obligation consultations so we can establish together whether you have a legitimate case.