Motorcyclist Dies in Helmet Law Protest

helmet lawA motorcyclist was driving his bike in a protest ride against New York helmet law, when you guessed it, he had a serious accident. As part of the protest, he was not wearing his helmet. He died when he flipped over his handlebars and landed on his head on the roadway. Investigating police officers said the motorcyclist hit his breaks, lost control of his bike, fishtailed, and then the flew over the handlebars. He was taken immediately to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

California has strict laws regarding the use of helmets designed to reduce personal injuries while operating a motorcycle. California Vehicle Code section 27803 provides: “(a) A driver and any passenger shall wear a safety helmet meeting requirements established pursuant to Section 27802 when riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.
(b) It is unlawful to operate a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required by subdivision (a).
(c) It is unlawful to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycle if the driver or any passenger is not wearing a safety helmet as required by subdivision (a).
(d) This section applies to persons who are riding on motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, or motorized bicycles operated on the highways.
(e) For the purposes of this section, “wear a safety helmet” or “wearing a safety helmet” means having a safety helmet meeting the requirements of Section 27802 on the person’s head that is fastened with the helmet straps and that is of a size that fits the wearing person’s head securely without excessive lateral or vertical movement.
This section does not apply to a person operating, or riding as a passenger in, a fully enclosed three-wheeled motor vehicle that is not less than seven feet in length and not less than four feet in width, and has an unladen weight of 900 pounds or more, if the vehicle meets or exceeds all of the requirements of this code, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and the rules and regulations adopted by the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

In 1993, the constitutionality of this law was challenged by motorcycle enthusiasts in the case of Buhl v Hannigan. The challengers claimed that the law was vague, was not related to a legitimate state concern, that it violated their right to freedom of expression and right of privacy. All of these arguments were shot down by the court, which explained that the legislature has a right to pass law which are in the interest of the public safety.

In 2009, there were 4,462 motorcyclists killed in accidents. Another 90,000 were seriously injured during this same time period. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1829 motorcyclists and estimated that if all cyclists used helmets and additional 823 more lives could have been saved. NHTSA states that helmets are 37 per cent effective in preventing deaths due to head injuries, and 67 per cent effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries.

As an Alameda motorcycle injury lawyer, I have represented numerous motorcycle accident victims. The use of a helmet almost always mitigates the potential for serious head injuries. Therefore, I strongly support helmet laws in California and in all jurisdictions.


NY Motorcyclist dies on ride protesting helmet law, Associated Press, July 3, 2011
National Conference of State Legislatures, June 2011

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