Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California

Whether you have a new bike or you’re about to make the leap, you should take a moment to make sure you fully understand the rules of the road for motorcycle riders. After all, there would be nothing worse than ending your outing with a hefty fine.

If you’re this far along, you probably know all about getting the proper licensing and registering your bike. But did you know that California is home to some pretty strict motorcycle helmet laws? 

If you don’t want your first excursion to end in frustration or a fine, learn about the specific motorcycle helmet laws that apply to California riders in this comprehensive guide. 

A Brief History of the California Motorcycle Helmet Laws

A Brief History of the California Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Before 1966, no states in the U.S. had enacted motorcycle helmet laws. But in 1967, The Highway Safety Act was expanded to include a requirement that all states adopt universal laws for helmet use.

Under this legislation, any state that failed to comply with the universal laws would be penalized with the loss of federal funding for highway construction.

By 1976, every state had complied, with the exception of three. California, Utah, and Illinois were still lacking in universal helmet laws for their respective states. 

Before the Secretary of Transportation could penalize the states, Congress decided to eliminate the requirement altogether. By 1978, 22 states had repealed the motorcycle helmet laws that had been established under the universal requirement.

Discussion on the topic seemed to die down for several years until 1989, when a few states began to reconsider their stance. In 1992, California opted to enact its own universal law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. 

At the time, California was home to more than 10% of the nation’s motorcycle riders.

Why Are Helmet Laws Important?

Since 1992, it has become abundantly clear that motorcycle helmet laws save lives. As fun and economical as these vehicles are, there is no arguing that they are more dangerous than standard passenger vehicles. 

In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 80% of motorcycle accidents end in death or serious injuries.

Of these deaths and injuries, the vast majority include serious head trauma or brain injuries. This is part of what makes helmet-wearing such a vital safety habit. It is also the reason that the California motorcycle helmet law is designed to apply to riders of motorized bicycles as well.

Even drivers who follow all of the best safety guidelines may become involved in an accident. This is simply the nature of traveling on busy California roads. 

No one is immune to a devastating accident, so it is wise to follow helmet laws whenever you get on your bike.  

Safety Standards for Motorcycle Helmets

Of course, not all helmets are created equal. If you want to truly follow California helmet laws and stay safe on the road, it’s important to understand the relevant safety standards. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation has a number of minimum safety standards regarding motorcycle helmets. 

They are outlined in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 and include these guidelines:

  • Helmets must have a thick inner liner of at least one inch
  • The inner liner must be constructed of polystyrene foam
  • Helmets must have riveted chin straps that are attached to the shell of the helmet
  • Helmets must weigh a minimum of three pounds
  • No design elements of the helmet may protrude more than 2/10ths of an inch from the shell of the helmet

If these details seem overly complicated, don’t worry. You can simplify the process by shopping for helmets that are DOT-approved. 

Be aware that both drivers and passengers of motorcycles must follow these laws in the state of California.

There are also guidelines regarding how motorcycle riders and their passengers must wear a helmet. All individuals must wear the helmet on their heads with the chin straps securely fastened. This is outlined in the California Vehicle Code 27803

Possible Penalties for Failure to Wear a Helmet

If you are caught riding your motorcycle without a helmet, you could be penalized with a fine of $197. If you receive a ticket and fail to pay it on time, you could be charged with a misdemeanor “failure to appear.”

With that being said, if you want to plead “not guilty” to a motorcycle helmet ticket, you may do so. In those cases, it’s best to contact an attorney as soon as possible. 

Common defenses for these cases include arguments, such as:

  • The officer made a mistake
  • The motorcyclist was not operating the motorcycle at the time
  • An emergency led to the motorcyclist not wearing a helmet

You will need proof to support your argument in any of these scenarios. If possible, you will want to acquire witness testimony, pictures from the scene, and/or surveillance videos. 

The Risks of Riding a Motorcycle in San Diego

Motorcycles make up about 3% of all registered vehicles in the United States. Yet, their riders represent roughly 14% of all traffic deaths in the nation. This staggering disparity points to the inherent dangers of riding motorcycles.

For this reason, riders need to be aware of the risks before they get on their bikes. Safe practices and quality gear can greatly reduce your risk of serious injury should an accident occur. 

In addition to a DOT-approved helmet, you should also invest in this safety equipment:

  • Ankle-supporting boots
  • Waterproof gloves
  • A leather jacket
  • Protective pants

These simple additions to your wardrobe will protect your body while riding. If you are involved in an accident, these articles can help mitigate some of the damages you might otherwise face from road rash and other kinds of trauma.

Contact a San Diego Motorcycle Crash Attorney and Get the Help You Need After an Accident

If you’ve been involved in a motorcycle accident, turn to the team at Mission Personal Injury Lawyers We’ll listen to the facts of your case and help you to determine the best ways to get the compensation you’re entitled to. 

Call today to schedule a free consultation with our talented San Diego motorcycle accident lawyer.

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