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Helmet Laws and Motorcycle Accident Cases

A helmet is by far the most important and effective piece of protective equipment a person on a motorcycle can wear. Helmets save lives by reducing the extent of head injuries in the event of a traffic accident. In 2017 alone, helmets saved an estimated 1,872 lives and $24.5 billion in economic and comprehensive costs. Because of this danger associated with driving a motorcycle, motorcycle operators and passengers in many states are required by statute to wear Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved safety helmets.

Mandatory Helmet Laws

Despite a lack of support among some motorcyclists, 19 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have enacted statutes requiring motorcyclists to wear DOT-approved helmets, as of 2019. Some of these laws require a motorcycle rider and/or his or her passenger to wear equipment such as goggles or face shields, but helmet-wearing laws are most common.

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

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 motorcyclist's legal 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 will not itself defeat a legal recovery.

In a number of states that have enacted mandatory helmet statutes, the laws either: (1) provide only for criminal penalties, or (2) do not state what effect a violation has on the determination of whether a motorcyclist was negligent. Thus, in these jurisdictions, and in those that do not have helmet laws, the effect of a motorcyclist's failure to wear a helmet on the determination of their negligence is unsettled.

In such states, the failure to wear a helmet may be found to constitute negligence on the part of a motorcyclist, or may be relevant to the issue of injuries and damages where it appears the failure to wear a helmet was a substantial factor in bringing about the motorcyclist's injuries.

In some states, the failure to wear a helmet as required by a statute is treated as any other possible act of negligence on the part of a motorcyclist, such as traveling at an excessive rate of speed or failing to use turn signals. In such states, when the failure to wear a helmet contributes to the motorcyclist's injuries, it is deemed a proximate cause of his injuries and it may serve to bar or limit their recovery. However, when the failure contributes in no way to the motorcyclist's injuries, it is not a proximate cause and it has no effect on the motorcyclist's ability to recover.

Learn How Helmet Laws Affect Your Motorcycle Accident Case: Talk to a Lawyer

If you were in a motorcycle accident (with or without your helmet) and were injured, you should seek legal help. An experienced attorney can help you asses your damages and help you understand how the helmet laws in your jurisdiction could affect the recovery of any money you're owed. Don't wait — get in touch with a car accident attorney near you today.

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