February 18, 2016
Many medical and other professionals agree that wearing a helmet prevents or reduces serious head injury to riders who have collisions. Surprisingly, no state bicycle law requires adult cyclists to wear a helmet, and only 22 require younger cyclists to wear them, usually up to age 16. By contrast, 47 states have motorcycle helmet laws, and 19 of them have universal helmet laws – that is, they require all motorcyclists of all ages to wear a helmet.
Localities sometimes impose stricter helmet requirements than the state bicycle law. For example, Alaska has no state helmet law at all, but cyclists under age 18 in Juneau, Bethel, and Sitka must wear a helmet, and those under 16 must wear helmets in Anchorage and Kenai. New York requires all riders to wear helmets up to age 14, but several counties and localities have higher age limits; in addition, Rockland County and Greenburgh have universal helmet laws, as do all parks in Erie County. Enforcement activity generally consists of issuing warnings, but some jurisdictions provide for fines on subsequent violations. California, for instance, dismisses the charge if it’s a first offense, but afterwards, violators are subject to a fine of up to $25.
From a legal perspective, wearing a helmet where it’s legally required is a wise course of action. This is because the law considers a bicyclist negligent who violates a helmet law, and thus at least partially responsible for any head injury sustained. Whether the cyclist can recover any compensation at all for medical or other costs is then dependent upon the state’s rules on shared fault. Some states, including California, New York, and Florida, observe a doctrine called “pure comparative negligence,” and accident victims can recover some compensation no matter how negligent they were. Some other states observe a modified version of comparative negligence, which limits a victim’s compensation if the level of negligence exceeds a certain threshold. A few states, including Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, DC, observe the doctrine of contributory negligence, which denies any compensation to a victim whose negligence, no matter how slight, contributed to the accident.
Of course, the best way cyclists can avoid these kind of problems is simply to wear a helmet when cycling, regardless of age. Those who suffer injuries while cycling, whatever the circumstances, should protect their rights by consulting with an attorney who’s proficient in representing accident victims in bicycle cases.