Let’s Review Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Let’s Review Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Although helmets cannot guarantee that motorcyclists will not suffer injury or fatality in every crash, their effectiveness in preventing motorcycle accident deaths and reducing the severity of injuries is undeniable. Put simply, motorcycle helmets save lives. As the protections provided to motorcyclists have been confirmed collision after collision, forty-nine of the United States’ 50 legislatures have adopted laws requiring riders to wear helmets to some extent. In this blog our experienced motorcycle accident lawyers review some helmet laws and their variations across states, explains why states enacted them, and shows how lawyers can assist motorcycle accident victims anywhere.

Universal Helmet Laws, Limited Helmet Laws,

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, twenty-one states, as well as the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, currently have universal helmet laws. Under those laws, all motorcycle riders must wear a helmet at all times, with no exceptions. Virginia has adopted a universal helmet law; all motorcyclists in Virginia are required to wear a helmet that meets or exceeds motorcycle helmet safety standards and specifications published by the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute, or the Federal Department of Transportation. Twenty-eight other states, and Guam, have enacted limited motorcycle helmet laws, which apply only to certain categories of riders. Limited helmet laws vary in scope among the states who have adopted them. For example, limited helmet laws may:
  • Require helmet use for riders up to a certain age;
  • Require helmet use for riders up to a certain level of experience or training; or
  • Require helmet use for riders unless riders carry special insurance or demonstrate their financial capacity to pay for brain injury care in the event of a wreck.
On two occasions in United State’s history, representatives have sponsored bills seeking to implement a nationwide universal helmet requirement. However, both attempts, in 1966 and 1991, were ultimately unsuccessful. However, highway safety advocates across the country continue to push for a federal universal helmet law, citing the effectiveness of universal helmet laws at the state-level and the well-recognized safety benefits of helmet use.

Why Universal Helmet Laws Exist, and Why They Don’t

The evidence on the benefits of helmet use is overwhelming and beyond dispute. Motorcycle helmets reduce the chances of suffering a fatal injury in a wreck by up to 42%. Helmets can also drastically reduce the extent and severity of brain injuries suffered in an accident by up to 69%. Helmet laws exist because of the undeniable evidence they protect the health and safety of motorcyclists. In states that have enacted helmet laws, legislators have reasoned that, by requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets, helmet use will increase and fatal or catastrophic-injury accidents will diminish. Generally, the reasoning of state legislatures is exactly what happens. According to the CDC, states that pass universal helmet laws see a significant increase - nearly a 100% increase—in the number of bikers who wear a helmet. Motorcyclists’ increased use of helmets and additional protective gear equates to fewer lives lost, less severe injuries, and billions of dollars in expenses avoided. With the range of proven benefits, you might think passing universal helmet laws would be a “no-brainer” (pun intended). However, motorcyclists are a particularly passionate, opinionated, and eclectic group. Riders accept their vulnerability and take the road on two wheels just to feel the unmatched freedom of riding along in the open air. Some compare the feeling of riding a motorcycle to that of flying without leaving the ground. Among all motorcyclists, a minority believe, with their very core, that riding without a helmet represents the ultimate expression of their freedom. Although they represent only a minority of motorcyclists, for years, the group has actively fought nationwide universal helmet laws. Proponents for the individual freedom to decide whether to wear a helmet can be found in nearly every state, not just New Hampshire, Illinois, and Iowa. In fact, many states—among them Virginia’s neighboring state of Kentucky, as well as Pennsylvania and Delaware—once had universal helmet laws, only to repeal and replace them with limited laws later. No matter where you ride and despite taking every precaution, motorcycle accidents will happen. Some may occur because a biker makes a mistake. Many, however, result from the poor decisions or dangerous actions of someone other than the motorcyclist. Although the helmet laws in some states may affect injured victims' rights, bikers in Virginia who suffer severe injuries in accidents as a result of another’s fault have a legal right to seek compensation for accident-related injuries and losses.
Virginia Motorcycle Laws
Walter H. Emroch (retired), Motorcycle Accident Attorney
Put simply, in most cases, helmet laws do not completely deny injured victims the right to assert a motorcycle accident claim against responsible parties. The bottom line is that with or without a helmet, no motorcycle rider deserves to get injured in a wreck caused by another’s wrongful conduct. Unhelmeted riders should not be viewed as “asking for injuries.” Although most people can agree that injured accident victims deserve to be compensated for their losses, insurance companies and defense lawyers will continue to fight to oppose compensation claims. Oftentimes, insurance representatives will attempt to shift blame to the motorcyclists by claiming that the rider assumed the risks of injury when they failed to wear a helmet. They might also try to argue that the biker contributed to the extent of their injuries because their decision to ride unhelmeted caused more severe injuries. At times, these arguments may entice injured motorcycle accident victims into accepting an inadequate settlement or persuade a jury to award a lower amount of compensation. These arguments often succeed when a biker suffers from brain trauma or external injuries to the head or face that a helmet could have minimized. However, experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyers know how to push back against attempts to discredit and devalue injured victims' claims for compensation. When appropriate, an attorney may investigate the scene of the accident and retain an expert to testify that a helmet would not have prevented or reduced the motorcyclist’s injuries under the circumstances. Helmeted bikers who suffer injuries might also face legal challenges. For example, a defense lawyer or insurance company might try to argue that the biker’s helmet did not meet state-mandated safety standards, like those required by Virginia law. In those cases, too, a lawyer with experience representing injured motorcyclists can fight back to make sure they are adequately and fairly compensated for their injuries and losses. If you suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident, even if you were not wearing a helmet at the time, contact an experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyer today for a free consultation and case evaluation.  

William B. Kilduff


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