California Helmet Laws

Laws | June 29, 2019

Helmets are an integral component of operating any vehicle, whether motorized or manually powered. Though many California residents, especially those belonging to the younger crowd, might not enjoy wearing helmets, they decrease the chance of injury during an accident. It isn’t safe to assume that your own riding abilities can prevent all accidents, making helmets crucial tools in unexpected collisions, or other riding-related accidents. California has established specific laws surrounding helmet use when operating different classes of vehicles.

Man wearing helmet riding motorcycle at night

The Purpose of Helmet Laws

States establish helmet laws to address the harm associated with collision-based impact. Without helmets, riders risk severe head injury when utilizing all forms of manual and motor transportation. For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 80% of motorcycle accidents end in serious injury or death. Those that wore helmets sustained less severe damage than those who did not. In accidents that could be life-ending, helmets can save lives.

California Helmet Laws

California’s helmet law is not the same for each method of transit. Different classes of vehicles, based on their level of safety, possess either partial or complete helmet designations.

Bikes and scooters fall under the same helmet requirements. For a majority of California’s history, helmets were mandatory for all riders. However, recent amendments to the law changed this complete helmet law into one that only requires riders under 18 to wear these safety devices. All individuals over 18 can now ride their bikes and scooters without helmets. Interestingly, this law also applies to electric bicycles and scooters, which can reach speeds of up to 20 mph and 15 mph, respectively.

Motorcycles, mopeds, and ATVs/UTVs are still subject to complete helmet law. Riders that wish to utilize any of these forms of transportation must wear a helmet while operating their vehicle. This designation takes into account the speed differential between vehicles like bikes and motorcycles. Because much greater risk of sustaining permanent injury exists while using motorcycles, mopeds, and off-roading vehicles, California requires riders to exercise equitable safety practices by wearing helmets.

Within both categories, California law does not permit carrying underage passengers without helmets. Even taking your child for a ride around the block without a helmet is illegal and can result in penalty.

Helmet Law Penalties

The penalty for not abiding by California’s helmet laws differs depending on the officer and the context. Law enforcement could impose two types of penalties on helmetless riders: correctional fines and safety hazard fines.

In some contexts, an officer might cite you with an equipment violation. This comes with a $10 fine and a proof of correction that states the officer corrected your violation. This is a mild punishment for not wearing a helmet, most likely applying to situations that don’t pose much risk.

Some officers, like those associated with California’s Highway Patrol, state that lack of helmet use is not correctable, because it poses immediate hazard – especially on highways. Citing a safety hazard, these officers could fine you up to $250 and prescribe up to one year of probation.

What Counts as Wearing a Helmet?

Some riders attempt to get away with cheating helmet laws by simply carrying around their helmet on their vehicle or on some other body part. This often happens in younger crowds. California defines “wearing a helmet” as donning the helmet on your head with chin straps tightly fastened. Riders that hang helmets around the neck by their chinstraps, or wear helmets without chin straps fastened (with the helmet sitting on top of the head) are also in violation of helmet law.

Helmets are an effective way to prevent injury caused by vehicle-related accidents. Though some riders would prefer not to wear them, they save lives. If you or a loved one was a victim in a motorcycle collision, our Sacramento motorcycle accident lawyers can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to learn about your legal options.