California Helmet Laws And Why They Matter

Published on 06/27/2022 by Monica Burneikis

California helmet laws were implemented in 1992, leading to a public outcry from those who believe wearing helmets is a personal choice. Although California is one of only 19 states to enforce motorcycle helmet laws, the California DMV Motorcycle Handbook is clear:

All riders and passengers are required per CVC §27803 to wear a U.S. DOT-compliant motorcycle safety helmet when riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle. The motorcycle safety helmet must be certified by the manufacturer stating the helmet complies with U.S. DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. Head injuries account for the majority of serious and fatal motorcyclist injuries and, with few exceptions, head injuries are reduced by properly wearing a motorcycle safety helmet.

California Helmet Laws For Safety On Motorcycles And Bicycles

Safety is the primary reason for motorcycle and bicycle helmet regulations in California, but there are several other reasons why wearing a helmet is important. 

State-qualifying motorcycle and bicycle safety helmets must be worn by:

  • Anyone on a motorcycle, regardless of age.
  • Children 18 years of age and younger when riding a bicycle, skateboard, roller skates or scooter.
  • Adults 19 years and older who are riding with a bicycle passenger five years old or younger.

Rider safety is by far the most compelling reason to wear a helmet. According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • NHTSA estimates that motorcycle helmets saved an estimated 1,872 lives in 2017. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 749 lives could have been saved.
  • Per mile driven, motorcycle fatality rates are 26 times higher than passenger vehicles.
  • Wearing a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant motorcycle safety helmet reduces the risk of dying in a motorcycle accident by 37%.
  • Helmets reduce the risk of head injuries in a bicycle accident by 60%.
  • Bicyclists who sustain head injuries are three times more likely to die if they are not wearing a helmet.

Additional safety precautions are also recommended, including:

  • Outerwear that minimizes the risk of road rash and serious abrasions or lacerations
  • Safety/rider goggles
  • Proper footwear (closed-toe boots or shoes)
  • Reflective gear during daylight and nighttime hours
  • Full-fingered gloves (made of leather if riding a motorcycle)

Failure To Wear A Helmet Damages Legal Outcomes

If you are riding a motorcycle and are involved in a car accident, the outcome of a personal injury lawsuit largely depends on your compliance with California helmet laws. Failure to wear a helmet, or riding a motorcycle without proper protective gear, could drastically minimize a settlement or verdict in your favor.

Understanding Your Role In Comparative Negligence

In California, at-fault drivers are responsible for all damage resulting from an accident. However, if the defendant’s attorneys, insurance agents, or the trier of fact (i.e., the judge or the jury) determines comparative negligence (e.g., the injured party’s own negligence) is a factor, it can seriously reduce your total compensation. explains the concept like this: The comparative negligence system allocates fault between the parties involved in an accident. Under comparative negligence (some version of which has been adopted by most states) a defendant can raise a partial defense, saying that the plaintiff was partially at fault for the accident too. (You can study more personal injury-related terminology in our online glossary.

In other words, if you are not wearing a compliant motorcycle safety helmet, it may be determined that you are partially at fault for your injuries, especially injuries to the head (traumatic brain injury, a.k.a. "TBI") that could have been prevented by wearing a helmet. 

You Could Absorb X% Of The Fault

California helmet laws say a failure to wear a helmet or the recommended safety gear could mean part of the legal fault is yours - jeopardizing any outcome in your favor. After examining all the information and details of the accident, the insurance agents or the trier of fact will determine who was at fault and what percentage of the responsibility belongs to each at-fault party. 

Consider the following example: You were on a bicycle or a motorcycle and an automobile driver hit you while making a left-hand turn because he did not see you. You were not wearing a helmet when the crash occurred. You sue for injuries, including head trauma, medical expenses, and lost wages due to taking time off work. The trier of fact could determine that while the driver is 100% responsible for causing the accident, your failure to obey California helmet laws means you are 40% responsible (or more!) for the injuries you sustained because the severity of your injuries could have been avoided had you been wearing a helmet.

The settlement is calculated according to the percentages of fault allocated to each party. In the above example, you would receive 40% less than you otherwise would have received had you been wearing a helmet. Another consideration is that judges and jury members do not look favorably on anyone who breaks the law - including motorcyclists failing to abide by helmet safety laws. As a result, the percentage of fault apportioned to you could be even higher than the fault apportioned to the driver that caused the accident.

Find An Experienced Motorcycle Accident Attorney

If you or someone you love is injured or killed in a motorcycle accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Even if you worry you may be apportioned some amount of fault, the attorneys of Burneikis Law will provide the counsel you need to ensure you navigate the insurance settlement process smoothly and with the least amount of stress. We will  do all we can to ensure the driver is held fully accountable for their part in the accident.

Contact Burneikis Law to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation: (510) 328-3238. We have years of experience handling motorcycle accident and injury claims, and we are here to stand by your side and make the upcoming insurance, claims, settlement or potential court experience as simple, stress-free and streamlined as possible.

Monica Burneikis - Oakland Personal Injury Attorney
Monica Burneikis has been an accident and personal injury lawyer for over 15 years. She knows what it takes to fight with insurance companies in order to obtain maximum compensation for injury victims and their families.
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