Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California2019-01-16T21:02:36+00:00

Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California

Woman with Helmet What are the motorcycle helmet laws in California? The Golden State is one of only 19 states and the District of Columbia to require all operators of motorcycles to wear helmets that meet federal safety standards. Although helmets have proven effective in preventing fatal injuries to riders and passengers, the number of states requiring their use has actually gone down rather than up. At least one state repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2012. States, such as California, that require the wearing of helmets by all riders and passengers are known as universal helmet law states. Partial helmet law states only require riders below a certain age, 19 for example, to wear a helmet.

Purpose of Helmet Laws

There are no such things as fender benders for riders of motorcycles and their passengers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 80 percent of motorcycle crashes end in the death or serious injury of the driver or passenger. A study conducted of all motorcycle accidents occurring in a 10-year period found that helmets saved the lives of more than 7,400 people, but another 6,300 people died because they chose not to wear a helmet.

The legislative intent for the enactment of helmet laws in California was to provide for the safety of both the operators of motorcycles and their passengers. This is why the statute does not limit itself to motorcycles. The requirement that operators and passengers wear helmets includes motor-driven cycles and motorized bicycles.

The passage of a mandatory helmet law in California in 1992 was followed a year later by a 37 percent decrease in the number of motorcycle-related deaths in the state. The risk of suffering a head injury in a motorcycle accident decreases by 69 percent when helmet use is mandatory for all riders and passengers.

The Mandatory Helmet Law in California

California Vehicle Code Section 27803 requires all motorcycle drivers and passengers to wear a helmet when on a motorcycle, motorized bicycle or motor-driven cycle. The law goes further toward requiring helmets by making it illegal for a helmeted passenger to ride with a driver who is not wearing a helmet. A helmeted driver may still get a ticket under the law if a passenger on his or her motorcycle is not wearing a helmet.

Penalties for Not Wearing a Helmet

There is some debate as to the interpretation of the law pertaining to penalties for riding a motorcycle in violation of CA Vehicle Code Section 27803. The California Highway Patrol has taken the position, supported by state courts, that breaking the law by riding without a helmet is punishable by a fine. This is a rejection of the other side of the debate insisting that helmet law violations are equipment tickets that may be corrected to avoid paying a fine.

Type of Helmet Required Under California Law

U.S. Department of Transportation sets minimum safety standards for motorcycle helmets sold in this country.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 includes the following minimum requirements for helmets:

Thick Inner Liner: The liner is usually at least an inch thick and constructed of polystyrene foam

Riveted Chin Straps: Chin straps should be sturdy and be attached to the shell of the helmet with solid rivets

Weight: Helmets meeting federal standards usually weigh at least three pounds

Helmet Design: Nothing is allowed to protrude more than two-tenths of an inch from the shell of the helmet

Helmets that meet DOT minimum standards are allowed to be affixed with a sticker certifying that fact.

California helmet laws require riders and passengers to wear helmets that meet standards adopted by the state which are the DOT standards.

What Does It Mean to “Wear a Helmet?”

California Vehicle Code Section 27803(e) attempts to avoid a rider or passenger from avoiding compliance with the law by wearing a helmet somewhere other than on one’s head. The statute defines wearing of a safety helmet means having it on the person’s head with the chin straps securely fastened to the shell of the helmet. The fit of the helmet must limit excessive movement either laterally or vertically.

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