Compared with larger motor vehicles like trucks and automobiles, motorcycles can expose their users to substantially greater danger of injury from collisions simply because of their smaller size and lesser degree of driver protection from the physical forces of a vehicle impact. The most crucial piece of safety equipment in most motorcycle accidents is the helmet.
While there are obviously good reasons of safety for wearing a helmet while riding on a motorcycle, there are also specific legal requirements. In California, these requirements are governed by Vehicle Code Sections 27802 and 27803. The first of these sections refers to the Federal Safety Standards from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that helmets used by motorcyclists in California must meet, and it prohibits the sale in California of helmets that don’t meet these federal standards. The federal standards clearly state, “The purpose . . . is to reduce deaths and injuries to motorcyclists . . .” and, “This standard applies to all helmets designed for use by motorcyclists. . . .”
The second California Vehicle Code section requires such a helmet be worn by any driver or passenger of a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle. The Vehicle Code also requires that the helmet be properly fitted and fastened with helmet straps.
In any motorcycle accident, but especially in those involving head injuries such as traumatic brain injury or concussion, the helmet becomes an important piece of evidence and should be carefully preserved. Many insurance companies will argue that a motorcyclist either failed to wear a helmet or failed to wear a helmet that met the appropriate standards. Having the helmet available to show evidence of its use — especially if the helmet bears damage or markings from the collision — can defuse both of these insurance company arguments.
Even though it is important to properly use a motorcycle helmet that meets the federal standards, this requirement does not necessarily defeat the personal injury claim of a motorcyclist who happened not to be wearing one at the time of their injury. Although failure to properly use a helmet in this type of situation would certainly result in an argument that the injured person was comparatively negligent and partially responsible for their own head injury, this does not totally eliminate the negligence and responsibility of another driver who may have caused the incident in the first place.