Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California
California has universal helmet laws. That means all riders must wear helmets all the time.
Here’s what you need to know about motorcycle helmet laws in California.
What is the California motorcycle helmet law?
California Vehicle Code § 27803 prohibits operating or riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. All operators and passengers must wear approved helmets. This does not mean that if you are involved in an accident and are not wearing a helmet that you cannot make a claim. You are still entitled to compensation if you have been harmed by another driver’s reckless or careless driving.
Is California a universal helmet law state?
Yes. California is a universal helmet state. All drivers are required to wear a helmet regardless of their age or experience as a rider.
The opposite of a universal helmet state is a partial helmet law state, where only young or inexperienced riders must wear a helmet.
What helmets are required for California motorcyclists?
Motorcycle helmets in California must meet U.S. safety standards. This generally means the following:
- A thick inner liner made of approved foam
- Riveted chin straps that are attached to the shell of the helmet
- Minimum weight
- Nothing protruding more than .2 inches from the shell of the helmet
In Taggart v. Super Seer Corp., 33 Cal.App.4th (1995), the parties litigated damages where the victim’s helmet contained a foam lining that was not approved and, as a result, likely less protective.
Can you wear a motorcycle helmet on another part of your body?
You may have thought of a fun and easy way to get around California’s motorcycle helmet laws. You’ll wear the helmet – on your back, your shoulder, or your hand. But lawmakers already thought of that! They put it in the law that you must wear a helmet on your head. Chin straps must be attached, and the helmet must be secure enough not to allow too much movement of the head. (§ 27803(e).)
What’s the penalty for failing to wear a motorcycle helmet in California?
You may receive a ticket for failing to wear a motorcycle helmet in California. There are no points assessed to the driver’s license.
If you receive a citation and do not address it, you may be cited for failing to appear in court.
What are the defenses to failing to wear a motorcycle helmet?
Defenses to allegations of failing to wear a motorcycle helmet are:
- The driver wasn’t operating or riding a motorcycle
- An emergency prevented the person from wearing a helmet
- The helmet met safety standards when law enforcement thought it did not
- Law enforcement was mistaken; the person was wearing a helmet
What is the purpose of the motorcycle helmet law in California?
The California motorcycle helmet law aims to provide all motorcyclists with an additional safety benefit. (§ 27803(g).)
Helmets in Motorcycle Accidents in California
Can you get compensation if you’re not wearing a helmet in a California motorcycle accident?
What happens when a rider isn’t wearing a helmet and they’re in an accident? Can they get compensation? Do they get less compensation?
In California, a motorcycle accident victim can still receive compensation if they were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. The amount that they receive may be reduced.
As of this writing, there has yet to be a legal case in California that clearly outlines how to handle accident claims where a motorcyclist victim wasn’t wearing a helmet. However, we still have a pretty good idea of how these cases will be handled by the court and what the victim can expect.
First, the victim may still receive some compensation. California is a pure comparative fault state. A victim is never completely barred from receiving compensation, even if they are 99% at fault. The victim may still bring a claim and expect to recover for damages to the extent that the other party is at fault.
Second, the victim’s compensation is likely to be reduced for not wearing a helmet. Failing to wear a helmet is likely to be seen as either acting negligently or failing to take measures that would have reduced the severity of injuries. How the courts handle failing to wear a seatbelt can give us some insight – failing to wear a seat belt is not automatically negligence (negligence per se), but the court may give the jury an instruction that they may consider whether damages could have been avoided or less severe if the victim had used the seat belt. The court may present the seat belt law to the jury.
It’s likely that the courts will handle failing to wear a motorcycle helmet similarly. It will be taken into account to reduce compensation, but it will not completely bar a claim. An important task in your claim is gathering the medical evidence to explain how the helmet may have – or may not have – prevented the injuries you sustained.
In a case where the injuries have nothing to do with helmet use, like a broken arm, it’s unlikely that failing to wear a helmet will reduce damages. The purpose of reducing compensation is to fairly apportion fault – not to punish the victim for failing to comply with the helmet law.
If the motorcyclist is at fault for the crash, failing to wear a helmet shouldn’t change the amount they pay in damages. It’s unlikely that the victim suffered more serious injuries because the motorcyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. The legal liability of the motorcyclist in an at-fault accident shouldn’t change based on their failure to wear a helmet.
Lawyers for Accidents Involving Motorcycles
California passed its motorcycle helmet law in 1992. Despite legal challenges, the law has been upheld as a valid exercise of police power.
If you have been in an accident, our motorcycle accident lawyers are here to help you. Whether or not you were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, you may receive financial compensation.