If you choose to ride a motorcycle on California roadways, you are required by law to wear an approved, snug-fitting helmet while you ride your bike and to keep that helmet strapped at all times. Depending on your personal views, life experience, and preferences, you may have no issue with this legal mandate, you may be ambivalent about it, or you may feel strongly that enforcement of this requirement is wrong. Regardless of your views, it’s important not only to know what the law requires of you as a rider but also to understand why observing the law may help you financially in the event that you ever crash your bike.
Why Motorcycle Helmet Usage Remains Controversial
Motorcycle helmet laws have been controversial for decades. It isn’t unusual for safety regulations to be controversial at first before the observance of these regulations becomes so widespread that most people don’t think twice about complying with them. For example, when seat belt laws were first proposed and passed, many motorists resisted this relatively straightforward effort to keep people from dying in preventable ways during auto accidents. Some resisted seat belt laws on principle because they believe in small government and minimal regulation of private activity. Others resisted seat belt laws because seat belts aren’t always comfortable. Finally, others resisted these regulations because personal freedom is a sacred thing and people like to be able to choose which precautions they will and won’t take in an effort to safeguard their own wellbeing.
The same rationales that caused many to initially resist seatbelt laws have caused many motorcycle enthusiasts and motorized scooter operators to resist helmet laws. However, the controversy surrounding helmet laws has persisted far longer than the controversy surrounding seat belts ever did. This is partially because seat belt usage does not change the experience of driving a car in any meaningful way. However, motorcycle riding is often rooted in the idea that getting on your bike allows you to “feel the wind in your hair.” The experience of riding a motorcycle – in the event that you remain safe while riding – can be noticeably more enjoyable without a helmet on. This isn’t to say that the benefits of riding helmetless outweigh the risks because they don’t. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a lawyer, emergency room physician, or insurance claims adjuster who will tell you otherwise. However, it’s important to honor that the controversy surrounding motorcycle helmet laws persists for a tangible reason.
As a result of this ongoing controversy, not all states require motorcycle riders to wear helmets, despite overwhelming evidence that failure to wear helmets places riders at a significantly higher risk of sustaining catastrophic or fatal injuries in the event of a crash. Three states fail to impose any motorcycle helmet requirements whatsoever. A significant number of states (located primarily in the Upper Midwest, Southwest, Great Plains, and Rocky Mountain states) only require riders under the age of 18 to wear helmets. A handful of states scattered around the Union require riders under the age of 21 to wear helmets. Finally, 18 states (primarily located on the West Coast, East Coast, and in the Deep South) and the District of Columbia require all riders to wear helmets.
Motorcycle Helmet Law – California
California has a universal helmet law. This law requires anyone, regardless of age, level of experience, and circumstance, to wear an approved, snug-fitting helmet if and when they choose to operate a motorcycle or motorized scooter. California legislators passed this law, in significant part, because the Governor’s Highway Safety Association estimates that motorcycle crashes have a fatality rate that is approximately 28 times the fatality rate for passenger vehicle crashes, and wearing a helmet significantly decreases the odds that crash victims will die as a result of catastrophic brain injuries. The GHSA has calculated that 14 percent of all vehicle crash fatalities are motorcycle riders. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that helmet use saves a motorcyclist’s life approximately 37 percent of the time in the event of a crash that would have otherwise been fatal had the rider not been wearing a helmet. In all, the NHTSA calculates that helmet use (currently) saves upwards of 1,600 lives annually and that if all motorcycle riders throughout the U.S. wore helmets, an additional 700 lives would be safeguarded annually. All in all, these are pretty compelling reasons to require riders to wear helmets. However, if you remain resistant to wearing a helmet while you ride your bike in California, there is one final reason why you may want to ignore the urge to ride helmetless.
Helmet, Fault, and Motorcycle Accident Compensation Awards
California is a “comparative negligence” state. This means that more than one party can be assigned a degree of liability in the event that more than one party contributed to the harm that an accident victim has suffered. Practically speaking, this means that if you are found to be at-all at-fault for a crash in which you’re injured, the amount of compensation you’re entitled to receive from other liable parties will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you. If you aren’t wearing a helmet at the time of your crash and you sustain head trauma, you will likely be assigned some degree of fault for the harm you’ve suffered – the rationale being that if you were wearing a helmet at the time of your crash as mandated by law, you wouldn’t have suffered so much harm. If another motorist hits you and you suffer injuries, you’ll want to receive as much compensation as possible related to the injuries you’ve sustained. To preserve your right to a full compensation award in the event of an accident… wear a helmet when you ride.
If you’ve already been injured in an accident – regardless of whether you were wearing a helmet at the time of your crash or not – you may be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries. Avoid making any assumptions about whether you have solid grounds to file legal action against another motorist or even those responsible for maintaining the road upon which you crashed. It is our job to understand the nuances of California law in order to better ensure that we provide you with an informed assessment of your case. You may be entitled to far more compensation than you might think. Please schedule a risk-free, no-cost case evaluation with our firm’s legal team today to learn more.