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California's motorcycle helmet law

One of the first questions that is asked when a Californian hears about a motorcycle accident is "Was the driver wearing a helmet?" or "Was the passenger wearing a helmet?" In spite of such frequent response, people still ask whether a motorcycle driver or a motorcycle passenger is required to wear a safety helmet. The answer in both cases is a straightforward "Yes."

In 1992, the California legislature passed a law imposing a two-part requirement that mandates the wearing of helmets for all bikers and their passengers. The first part of the law states that "a driver and any passenger shall wear a safety helmet meeting requirements established pursuant to Section 27802 when riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle." The second portion of the law states explicitly that "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)." In other words, the law both mandates the wearing of a helmet and makes the failure to do so a crime. The safety standards for helmet construction and materials are established by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218.

The penalties for violating the helmet law are not as clear as the specific prohibition. If a police officer stops a motorcyclist for failure to wear a helmet, the officer can merely ask the cyclist to sign a written undertaking to wear a helmet in the future. However, if the officer finds that failure to wear a helmet constitutes "an immediate safety hazard," he or she may take "other appropriate enforcement action." Such action could include a citation requiring the driver to appear in court and pay a fine if convicted.

Motorcycle helmets cannot prevent motorcycle accidents, but they can sharply reduce the incidence of death or catastrophic injury. Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in such cases for an evaluation of the circumstances - including whether the driver or the passenger was wearing a helmet - and an estimate of recovering damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost present and future income.

Source: California Vehicle Code, Secs. 27803 and 40610, accessed on Sep. 5, 2015

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