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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 At least one state repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2012.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

The United States 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. GoPro Cameras affixed to the helmet are a bit of a gray area.  Technically, a helmet is not DOT compliant if it has anything attached that exceeds 5 mm in length (See:  Therefore, a GoPro camera technically makes the helmet not DOT compliant.

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.

A California Motorcycle Accident Attorney Can Help

The weather and scenic vistas of California have made riding motorcycles a popular pastime. Their ease of maneuverability and fuel efficiency make them popular for commuting to and from work or school. This popularity must be weighed against the fact that motorcycle riders are 16 times more likely to be killed in an accident than are drivers of cars.

If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, or if a loved one has been the victim of fatal motorcycle crash, a motorcycle accident attorney might be your best source for answers to your questions and concerns. Depending upon the circumstances of the accident, you might be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. Call our toll free 24 hour 7 days a week motorcycle accident and injury hotline for more information: 866-966-5240

Client Reviews
I have known Steven for some time now and when his services were required he jumped in and took control of my cases. I had two and they were handled with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. He went the extra mile regardless of the bumps in the road. I can not see me using any other attorney and I would recommend him to any of my family and friends. Josie A.
Steven was vital during our most trying time. He was referred by a friend after an accident that involved a family member. While he was critical and lying in the hospital, Steven was kind, patient and knowledgeable about what we were going through. Following our loss, Steven became a tough and aggressive negotiator and made sure that we receive a huge compensation. I would refer Steven in fact, this happened 2 years ago and I still speak highly of his service. Cheryl S.
Mr. Sweat is a pitbull in the courtroom as well as settlement negotiations - You can't have a better equipped attorney in your corner! It is a pleasure working as colleagues together on numerous cases. He can get the job done. Jonathan K.
Because of Steven Sweat, my medical support was taken care of. Plus, I had more money to spare for my other bills. Steven is not only an excellent personal injury lawyer, providing the best legal advice, but also a professional lawyer who goes beyond his call of duty just to help his clients! He stood up for me and helped me get through the process. I would definitely recommend. I couldn't think of any better lawyer than him. MiraJane C.
I must tell anyone, if you need a great attorney, Steve sweat is the guy! I had an awful car accident and had no idea where to turn. He had so much to deal with because my accident was a 4 car pile up. Not to mention all the other cars were behind me and they were not wanting to settle in any way! He never stopped working for me and had my best interest at heart! Audra W.
I believe I made the best choice with Steven M Sweat, Personal Injury. I was very reluctant to go forward with my personal injury claim. I had a valid claim and I needed a professional attorney to handle it. I felt so much better when I let Steven take my case. His team did everything right and I am very satisfied. Stia P.
I have to say that Steve has been exemplary! I met Steve at a point with my case that I was ready to give up. He took the time and dealt with all of my concerns. Most importantly, he was present and listened to what I was going through. He was able to turn things around, put me and my case on the right track! The results were better that expected! Highly recommend!! Cody A.