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California Motorcycle Helmet Laws

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Riding a motorcycle can be a fun and convenient way to get around Los Angeles traffic. However, it is also very risky as motorcyclists can suffer from serious or life-threatening injuries when there is a crash. Studies have shown that safety features such as helmets can significantly reduce injuries and save lives. According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), motorcycle use requires the use of a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant helmet. This also applies to any motor-driven cycle which is a vehicle with a motor that displaces less than 150cc including mopeds and motorized bicycles.

Additionally, both motorcyclists and their passengers must always wear a helmet. Failure to wear a helmet could result in a traffic ticket and fine. Even worse, breaking California’s helmet law could leave you seriously injured and negatively impact your personal injury claim after a motorcycle accident.


California Requires all Motorcyclists to Wear Helmets

California is one of the 19 states (including Washington D.C.) to have universal helmet laws. California Vehicle Code 27803 states that motorcycle helmets are a universal requirement when riding anywhere in the state. California law dictates that all riders and passengers riding in the state must wear a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant motorcycle safety helmet. The motorcycle helmet must be certified by the manufacturer and must state the helmet complies with U.S. DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. This law applies to anyone riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.

According to the California Vehicle Code 27803:

(a) A driver and its passenger shall wear a safety helmet that meets the requirements established pursuant to Section 27802 when riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.

(b) It is unlawful to operate a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required by subdivision (a).

(c) It is unlawful to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required by subdivision (a).

(d) This section applies to persons who are riding on motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycles operated on the highways.

(e) For the purposes of this section, “wear a safety helmet” or “wearing a safety helmet” means having a safety helmet meeting the requirements of Section 27802 on the person’s head that is fastened with the helmet straps and that is of a size that fits the wearing person’s head securely without excessive lateral or vertical movement.

(f) This section does not apply to a person operating, or riding as a passenger in, a fully enclosed three-wheeled motor vehicle that is not less than seven feet in length and not less than four feet in width, and has an unladen weight of 900 pounds or more, if the vehicle meets or exceeds all of the requirements of this code, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and the rules and regulations adopted by the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

(g) In enacting this section, it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that all persons are provided with an additional safety benefit while operating or riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.


Helmets Save Lives

A proper helmet is the single most important safety equipment for riders and helps save lives. Riding a motorcycle is naturally riskier than driving a car because motorcyclists don’t have the protection of an enclosed vehicle which exposes riders to serious injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2019, the number of motorcycle-related deaths in the U.S. was nearly 29 times more than the number of deaths in cars. According to the federal government, wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of death in a crash by 37% and serious head injury by 70%. Sadly, riders without a helmet are three times more likely compared to those wearing a helmet to sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBI) during a crash.

Even with a helmet, motorcyclists can still sustain serious head-related injuries during a crash. Some common injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) – A serious injury that affects how the brain works. It can be caused by a blow, bump, or jolt to the head that was experienced in a motorcycle accident.
  • Skull fractures – A skull fracture is a break in the cranial bone, also commonly known as the skull. There are different types of fractures including closed, open, depressed, and basal fractures.
  • Intracranial Hemorrhage – Otherwise referred to as brain bleed or hemorrhage, this is a type of head injury where there’s bleeding between the skull and brain issue or within the brain tissue. Intracranial hemorrhage can be life-threatening and leave the victim with brain damage. There are several types of hemorrhages motorcyclists should be aware of including subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the space between the brain and the tissue that covers the brain), epidural hemorrhage (clot of blood that forms between the skull and the outermost protective membrane covering the brain), subdural hemorrhage (pool of blood between the brain and the outermost covering), intraparenchymal hemorrhage (bleeding within brain parenchyma), and intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding into the ventricles or fluid-filled areas that is surrounded by the brain).

In addition to head injuries, other common catastrophic motorcycle-related injuries include spinal cord injuries, internal injuries, lower-extremity injuries, and road rash.

If you were injured in a motorcycle accident, it’s important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. A serious injury to the head or brain can damage and affect every part of your life. Even a seemingly minor head injury can leave lasting harm.


History of Helmet Laws in California

Once California’s universal helmet use law took effect on January 1, 1992, helmet use increased to 99% from about 50%. After the helmet use law was enacted, motorcycle crash fatalities throughout the state decreased by 37.5% (down from 523 deaths in 1991 to 327 in 1992). From 1991 to 1992, motorcycle death rates were reduced by 26.5%, from 70.1 per 100,000 registered motorcycles to 51.5 per 100,000. Head injuries also significantly decreased among fatally and nonfatally injured motorcyclists.

California’s helmet use law also impacted healthcare costs. Studies also showed a decline in health care costs associated with motorcycle-related head injuries. In 1993, the rate of motorcyclists hospitalized for head injuries decreased by 48% compared with 1991. Additionally, total costs for victims with head injuries decreased by $20.5 million during this time.

Ultimately, California’s universal helmet law significantly reduced the chances of severe head injuries and motorcycle crash fatalities while having a positive impact on healthcare costs.


What Qualifies as an Appropriate Safety Helmet?

California requires all riders to wear a safety helmet while on the road. However, motorcyclists must wear a helmet that meets safety standards and specifications. Under California state law, wearing a proper safety helmet means wearing protective headgear that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. This federal standard outlines the minimum levels of performance that a helmet must meet to protect the motorcyclist’s brain and head in the event of an accident.

Here’s what you should look for to determine if the helmet meets appropriate minimum federal safety standards:

  • Weight of helmet – Helmets meeting federal safety standards will typically weigh approximately three pounds.
  • Sturdy chin strap – Helmets that meet DOT safety standards will have sturdy riveted chin straps.
  • Thick inner liner – Federal safety standards require helmets to have an inner liner of about one inch thick of firm polystyrene foam.
  • Design and style of the helmet – According to federal safety standards, nothing is allowed to extend more than two-tenths of an inch from the surface of a helmet.
  • DOT sticker – FMVSS 218 approved helmets should have a sticker on the outside back of the helmet with the letters “DOT” on it. This will certify that the helmet meets or exceeds FMVSS 218 standards. Some novelty helmet sellers might provide DOT stickers separately for motorcyclists to place on non-federally compliant helmets. These DOT stickers are invalid and don’t certify compliance.
  • ANSI or Snell label – A helmet that meets the standards of private, non-profit organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or Snell is a good indicator that the helmet also meets FMVSS 218 safety standards.
  • Manufacturer’s label – Manufacturers are required to place a label on or inside the helmet indicating the manufacturer’s name, size, model, construction materials, month and year of manufacture, and owner’s information. A helmet without this information does not meet FMVSS 218 safety standards and should not be used.


Types of Motorcycle Helmets

A helmet is arguably the single most important piece of safety equipment while riding a motorcycle. There are six primary types of motorcycle helmets which include:

  • Full-face – A full-face motorcycle helmet offers riders the most coverage around the head and neck. This is considered the safest type of helmet to protect riders in the event of a crash. The most differentiating feature of the full-face helmet is the chin bar, which is an important safety feature that many helmets lack. A rider’s chin encounters 50% percent of severe impacts during a crash and only a full-face helmet can provide protection for the chin and jaw.
  • Modular – Also referred to as a flip-up helmet, a modular helmet is a cross between a 3/4 helmet and a full-face helmet. With a modular helmet, the rider can flip up the chin bar and visor to open the front of the helmet. Modular helmets tend to be a little heavier than the traditional full-face helmets since there are additional design hinge features added into the flip-up front area. However, rider safety is slightly reduced due to the hinge structure
  • Open-face – Also known as a ¾ helmet, covers the motorcyclist’s head’s top back, and side but leaves the front face exposed. The differentiating feature of an open-face helmet is the lack of a chin bar; unfortunately, this significantly reduces the safety of the motorcycle helmet. Open face helmets tend to be a more popular choice for riders on scooters, tourers, cruisers, and cafe racers as the entire front face area is open and riders can feel the wind on their skin.
  • Half Helmets -Half helmets only cover the top of a rider’s head and the area from the forehead to the eyebrows. These helmets provide minimal protection other than some coverage on the back of the rider’s neck and ears. Half helmets are not as safe compared to a full-face helmet since they leave the rest of the face exposed.
  • Off-road – Off-road helmets are designed for riding on dirt roads. They are typically not the best option for city and highway use. Off-road helmets typically do not offer eye protection, so motorcyclists should wear goggles or glasses while using an off-road helmet.
  • Dual-sport – Dual-sport helmets are a cross between an off-road helmet and a full-face helmet. These helmets offer a larger eye protection visor compared to a full-face helmet but can also lock into an up position for the use of goggles. A dual-sport helmet comes with a chin bar that offers rider protection similar to that of a full-face helmet.

Choosing a motorcycle helmet will depend on the type of riding style. Regardless of the type of, motorcycle helmets you’re wearing, it must meet certain minimum DOT safety standards including:

  • Impact Protection – How well would the helmet protect the rider in the event of a crash with large objects?
  • Positional stability – In the event of a collision, will the helmet stay in place on the rider’s head?
  • The extent of protection – Which areas of the rider’s head will be protected?
  • Retention system strength – If there’s a crash, are the chin straps effective enough to hold the helmet in place?

The common rule is to replace your motorcycle helmet every five years. Hair oils, body fluids, ultraviolet light, and normal use wear and tear can affect and limit the lifespan of your motorcycle helmet. If you got into an accident or if there is any damage to the helmet upon impact, replace it immediately.


Face, Eye, and Ear Protection

Plastic shatter-resistant face or eye protection are an important safety feature on helmets that are meant to offer rider protection. For eye or face shield protection to be effective:

  • Should be scratch and damage free
  • Should be resistant to being punctured
  • Give a clear view to either side of the head
  • Fasten securely so it doesn’t detach while riding
  • Have air flow so fogging doesn’t present a problem
  • Provide enough clearance for eye or sunglasses

A face shield can help protect a rider’s entire face in the event of a collision. Additionally, the face shield can help keep bugs, debris, and pebbles out of the face and eyes. They also offer protection from wind, rain, dust, and dirt. They are typically designed to be removable to swap out for another shield and cleaning purposes.

Choosing the right face shield is an important consideration when selecting the type of helmet, you should wear. Face shields are typically sold with varying levels of UV protection. Dark or mirrored face shields protect a rider’s eyes from glare and are best used in very bright riding conditions. Yellow or rose-tinted face shields can enhance contrast and definition in overcast, dark, or gray riding conditions. To be effective

Visors are impact-resistant and the shields hinge down over the front of a helmet to help protect your eyes and face. Some helmets come with a visor while others don’t. It’s best to choose one with a visor and make sure it’s clean and free of scratches. If your visor is scratched, make sure to swap it out. Any impairment to your vision can be extremely dangerous while you’re out riding. Check your motorcycle helmet’s manual for instructions on how to replace the visor. It should also have information about compatible face shields. Riders should use a clear visor in low light levels so they can see the road and environment. In addition to sunlight, fogging from environmental condensation and the rider’s breath is a major concern. Choose helmet visors that are made with anti-fogging and anti-scratch technology to protect your eyes and face while riding.

Riding a motorcycle without ear protection can lead to hearing damage. On average, the engine noise from a motorcycle is about 90 decibels (dB). However, many motorcycles produce noises of more than 100 dB. At this level, most U.S. workplaces would require workers to wear protection. Loud engine noise is just one of several factors that can lead to hearing loss while riding a motorcycle. Other common factors include:

  • Exposed ears – Motorcyclists are required to wear a helmet while riding, but helmets offer little protection from loud noise. Some helmets that fit entirely over a rider’s head might offer some protection, but the level of protection varies and might not be enough to prevent hearing damage.
  • Wind noise – Although decibel levels from wind noise might be low on city streets, they are significantly higher when a motorcyclist is riding on the highway at speeds of more than 60 mph. At this speed, sound levels can hover around 116 decibels. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to noises over 100 decibels can lead to hearing damage in just 15 minutes.
  • Tinnitus – Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) is a temporary reduction in hearing sensitivity that can occur after continual exposure to loud noise. Persistent exposure to TTS can cause permanent hearing loss

To protect against hearing loss, riders should always use ear protection. Earplugs are the easiest way to protect your ears from excessive noises during a motorcycle ride. Custom earmolds can be fitted specifically to a rider’s ear, offering comfortable protection for all-day riding. However, keep in mind that under CVC 27400, a person is not allowed to wear earplugs, earphones, or headset coverings in both ears unless the protectors are specifically designed to reduce harmful noise levels.


How to Legally Wear a Safety Helmet According to CA Law

A safety helmet may not only save your life in the event of a crash, but it’s also the law. In California, anyone who operates a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bike must wear a safety helmet according to the law by making sure that:

  • DOT Sticker – Meets the U.S. DOT safety standards by complying with US DOT FMVSS 218. The helmet should have the DOT-approved lettering on the back of the helmet. Keep in mind that the DOT sticker should not be easily removed or should not be a stick-on label.
  • Snug fit – The helmet should be a snug fit all the way around the rider’s head. The helmet should be worn low on the forehead and right above the eyebrows.
  • No obvious defects – The helmet should not have any obvious defects including frayed straps, loose padding, or cracks.
  • Securely fastened – The helmet should be securely fastened on your head while riding. There should be no vertical or lateral movement when completely fastened. In the event of a crash, you want to make sure the helmet will stay on your head and not come off.

Wearing property safety equipment such as motorcycle helmets can be the difference between life and death. Make sure you protect your head, brain, face, eyes, and ears by ensuring that you wear a helmet that complies with California motorcycle laws.


Motorcycle Helmet Use Considerations

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), head injuries account for many serious and fatal motorcyclist injuries. This can but improved significantly by wearing a proper helmet. When California’s universal helmet use law took effect on January 1, 1992, the number of motorcyclist deaths decreased by 37%.

Below are some additional striking facts regarding motorcycle accidents and helmet use to consider:

  • Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injuries by 69%.
  • Most accidents happen on short trips which are less than five miles.
  • Most motorcyclists are traveling less than 30 mph when a crash happens. By wearing a U.S. Dot compliant safety motorcycle helmet, the chances of a head injury can be reduced by 50%.
  • Motorcycle helmets are 37% (for riders) and 41% (for passengers) effective in preventing deaths.
  • Non-U.S. Dot compliant helmets usually have thin protective padding and liners. These helmets offer riders very little protection during a crash since they lack the size, strength, and ability to protect the rider.
  • In 2017, helmets saved an estimated 1,872 lives.
  • In 2017, if all motorcyclists wore helmets, 749 more lives could have been saved.

Each year there are thousands of motorcycle-related injuries and deaths. In 2020, more than 5,500 motorcyclists died and more than 180,000 were sent to the emergency departments for motorcycle-related crash injuries. Considering these alarming statistics, riders wearing a helmet will not only comply with California motorcycle helmet laws but will reduce their chances of severe injury during an accident.


Consequences of Not Wearing a Motorcycle Helmet

Motorcyclists who decide not to wear a helmet while riding in California face three main consequences: criminal, civil, and injury.

Potential criminal consequences

In California, it’s illegal to operate a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. Anyone caught riding without a motorcycle helmet can get stopped by law enforcement and ticketed for a traffic violation. The penalty for riding without a helmet is a fine of up to $250 per offense and/or get one year of probation.

Violations of VC 27803 are considered infractions under California law and the state does not file criminal charges against a motorist for driving a motorcycle without a helmet. Violators can get fined but are not subject to incarceration or any other criminal penalties. However, if you were also speeding or breaking another law while riding without a helmet, you could face higher fines and penalties. For example, if you were also under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) while riding a motorcycle, you could be subject to criminal charges under California law.

Potential civil consequences

Riding without a motorcycle helmet can have civil consequences. If you are injured in a motorcycle crash but were not wearing a helmet, your ability to recover monetary damages could be affected. Motorcycle accident victims who contribute to their own injury are not completely barred from recovering damages, as long as someone else is also negligent. However, since California follows a pure comparative negligence standard, the number of damages you could recover would be reduced by your own percentage of fault.

Risk of serious injury or death

The risk of a serious injury or death is significantly increased without helmet use. The CDC states that motorcycle helmets are 37% (for riders) and 41% (for passengers) effective in preventing deaths. Helmets also reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.

In 2010, 41% of motorcycle operators and 50% of passengers who died were not wearing a helmet. In 2017, about 1,872 lives were saved from motorcycle helmets. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in 2019, the number of victims that died from a motorcycle crash was approximately 29 times more than the number of deaths in car accidents. In 2020, 40% of motorcycle deaths happened in a single-vehicle crash but 60% happened in multiple-vehicle crashes.

Additionally, motorcycle riders who do not wear a helmet are twice as likely to suffer from serious injuries such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the event of a crash.

The consequences of not wearing a helmet can be very serious and in the worst-case scenario, a motorcyclist can end up losing their life. If you are riding a motorcycle anywhere in California, it’s best to obey motorcycle safety traffic laws and wear a DOT-approved safety helmet so you can keep yourself safe while out on the road.


Not Wearing a Motorcycle Helmet Can Also Impact an Injury Claim

Although some states have partial helmet laws that only require riders under a certain age to wear a helmet, California has a universal helmet law. Under the universal helmet law, all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet whenever they’re riding, regardless of how old they are. This means that anyone riding a motorcycle or motorized bike without a helmet is breaking the law and this can impact a personal injury claim.

One of the first factors an insurance company will try to figure out after a motorcycle accident is whether the victim was wearing a helmet when the accident happened. Motorcycle helmet use or lack of use is one of the extremely important in determining liability in a California motorcycle accident claim or lawsuit. Like other personal injury claims, a motorcycle accident claim is based on the concept of negligence. Since California follow a comparative negligence standard, plaintiffs who contribute to their own injuries can also be held responsible. If you were injured in a motorcycle accident and did not wear a helmet, the other party or insurance company will likely try to use this against you to assign fault.

Since injured motorcycle victims who fail to wear a helmet while riding broke the law, the amount of compensation they could receive might be reduced. As a result, their compensatory award (economic damages, non-economic damages, and in rare cases, punitive damages) would be reduced according to their portion of fault. For example, Sam was injured in a motorcycle accident and could have potentially received a $100,000 award. However, since Sam was not wearing a motorcycle helmet at the time of the crash, he was found to be 30% liable for his injuries. In this scenario, Sam ultimately only received $70,000 instead of the full $100,000 since this 30% of fault was deducted from the total amount.

If you were injured in a motorcycle crash in Los Angeles, San Diego, or anywhere in California, it’s important that you contact a motorcycle personal injury lawyer right away. An experienced motorcycle lawyer can help maximize your financial recovery by ensuring fault is allocated fairly to the appropriate party.


Call Mesriani if You Have Been Injured in a Motorcycle

Getting into a motorcycle accident can be a traumatic experience. The motorcycle accident attorneys at Mesriani Law Group have successfully helped clients in Los Angeles and throughout California for over 20 years. During this time, we’ve successfully recovered hundred of millions for our clients. We have the experience, resources, and track record to prove our abilities to obtain the maximum compensation for our clients. Motorcycle accident victims are entitled to damages for their injuries. Even if you didn’t wear a helmet but have been injured in an accident, we can still help.

Our lawyers and legal staff provide personalized client care and superior legal service. We are dedicated to each one of our clients, regardless of the type or size of your case. We are also confident that we can successfully protect your rights and represent you during negotiations, settlements, and if necessary, at trials. We accept clients on a contingency basis and offer a no win no fee policy. That means if we don’t win your case, you don’t pay us anything. Contact our law firm today at (866) 500-7070 for your free consultation.


Motorcycle Helmet Law FAQs

Are half helmets legal in California?

Yes, half helmets are legal in California if they meet the safety requirements set by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The helmet should have DOT-approved lettering on the back and should not be easily removed. The motorcycle helmet must be certified by the manufacturer verifying compliance with U.S. DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. The helmet should fit snugly all the way around the rider’s head and be free of any obvious defects including cracks, frayed straps, or loose padding.

Do adults have to wear a bike helmet in California?

Yes. California has a universal motorcycle helmet law (California Vehicle Code 27803) states that all riders and passengers, regardless of age, must wear a motorcycle safety helmet while operating a motorcycle or motorized bike. The helmet must also meet requirements set by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.

Does CA have a helmet law?

Yes, California has helmet laws for both motorcycles and bicycles. California’s universal motorcycle helmet law (California Vehicle Code 27803) that states that all riders and passengers, regardless of age, must wear a motorcycle safety helmet while operating a motorcycle or motorized bike. The helmet must also meet requirements set by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. Anyone caught riding without a motorcycle helmet can get stopped by law enforcement and ticketed for a traffic violation. The penalty for riding without a helmet is a fine of up to $250 per offense and/or get one year of probation. Keep in mind that the motorcycle laws differ from California’s bicycle helmet laws. California bicycle helmet law states that bicyclists 18 years old and older are not required to wear a bicycle helmet while riding a bike. However, bicyclists under 18 years old are required to wear a bicycle helmet while riding a bike.

About the Author
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Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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