Motorcycle Accidents: Helmet Laws

A helmet is by far the most important and most effective piece of protective equipment a motorcycle rider or passenger can wear. Helmets save lives by reducing the extent of head injuries in the event of a traffic accident. A helmetless motorcyclist involved in an accident is three times as likely to suffer a brain injury as a motorcyclist wearing a helmet.

When a motorcycle is struck or falls during operation, the rider’s head often hits the pavement, and a high percentage of motorcyclists involved in accidents each year die because of head injuries. Because of this danger, motorcycle operators and passengers in many states are required by statute to wear helmets. If you or your loved one has suffered catastrophic injuries as the result of a motorcycle accident, consult an attorney to learn your rights to compensation. A lawyer experienced in motorcycle accident and catastrophic injury litigation can help you learn what your rights are.

Mandatory Helmet Laws

Despite being an unpopular move among some motorcyclists, a number of states have enacted statutes requiring the use of protective equipment when riding a motorcycle. Some of these laws require that a motorcycle rider and/or his or her passenger wear equipment such as goggles or face shields, but most common (and most controversial) are those laws that require the wearing of a helmet.

Mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle operators and their passengers have, for the most part, proven to be an effective strategy in both increasing helmet use and reducing head injuries and fatalities in motorcycle accidents nationwide. But, while having an unmistakably positive effect on the overall safety of motorcycle riding, helmet laws have been met by resistance in the motorcycling community.

The most vocal opposition to helmet laws has come by way of challenges to the legality of the laws themselves. Although in some cases, specific language in helmet statutes has been successfully attacked on constitutional grounds, the principle of requiring motorcyclists and their passengers to wear safety helmets has consistently been upheld as constitutional.

Failure to Wear a Helmet & the Effect on Your Case

In a personal injury action brought by an injured motorcyclist, the opposing motorist may raise an issue with regard to the motorcyclist’s own negligence. A party attempting to prove negligence on the part of a motorcyclist is bound by the same general elements of proof required to show negligence in any other case. First, the opposing party must show that the motorcyclist was under a duty of some kind to operate his/her motorcycle in a responsible manner. Second, the opposing party must show that the motorcyclist breached this duty in some way, resulting in or contributing to his injury. Finally, the opposing party must show that the motorcyclist’s breach of duty was at least one of the proximate causes of the accident. If all of these elements can be shown, a motorcyclist’s recovery might be barred, or reduced, as a result of his/her contributory negligence in causing the accident.

In defining what constitutes contributory negligence, there is an important distinction between negligence contributing to the accident and negligence contributing to the injuries sustained. An act or omission that merely increases or adds to the extent of the injuries suffered by the motorcyclist is not such contributory negligence as will defeat a recovery.

Not all jurisdictions have laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and some courts within such jurisdictions have found the fact that an injured rider was not wearing a helmet to be completely inadmissible in a personal injury suit. Thus, it is extremely important to discuss the facts of your case with an experienced personal injury attorney, who will know the relevant helmet and evidentiary laws that would apply in your case. An attorney experienced in handling motorcycle accident cases will know how to uncover all of the parties who may be responsible for your injuries.