Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Gabe Levin | May 15, 2020 | Motorcycle Accident
Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Helmet lawyer Shooting down the road on two wheels in the open air gives you a unique perspective on life. Whether you ride a high-powered racing bike or a big rumbling V-twin like a Harley or an Indian, you get to see the world a little differently.

Without doors, windows, or a windshield to block your view, the scenery appears closer. You are right there in the elements. When the sun shines, you feel it, and when the wind blows or it rains, you feel that too. Riding sharpens your reflexes, too. Your senses grow attuned to the lay of the road, the atmosphere, and even to the feeling that death itself is biting at your heels. Motorcyclists live by the adage, “If you have to ask, then I can’t explain it.”

Ever since people started riding motorcycles, controversy has followed close behind when it comes to whether people should wear helmets while enjoying the one-of-a-kind experience of taking to the road on two wheels in the open air. Some riders believe that helmet laws infringe on their personal freedoms and even that helmets kill the spirit of riding a motorcycle.

Others, however, take a more practical view, typified by another maxim that many longtime riders have learned through painful experience: “You dress for the slide, not the ride.” If you have already been in a accident with or without a helmet learn how you can recover compensation from the skilled motorcycle accident attorneys at The Levin Firm.

The Physics of a Motorcycle Crash

Traveling at speed on a motorcycle implicates forces of physics that work that keep you upright and moving forward. Those forces work in opposition to others, such as drag, inertia, and oppositional force, that can overtake your stability and knock you off your bike.

Abrupt changes in trajectory and inertia spell disaster when they happen. Riding a bike is just about as close as you can get to flying without leaving the ground. The area where the rubber meets the road consists of only a few square inches of pavement for each wheel. Consequently, just a little bit of standing water, loose gravel, sand, or ice can cause your bike to lose traction.

At high speeds, even a momentary loss of traction can lead to your bike slipping out from under you; at which point you don’t just feel as if you are flying, but instead, you actually fly off of your ride with potentially deadly consequences.

That is because the kinetic energy you and your bike carried down the road has to go somewhere when your balance and inertia suddenly shift. Unlike the chrome, steel, and plastic of your bike, you are made of mostly meat and blood, which doesn’t hold up as well to high speed impacts. Your head, in particular, cannot withstand a severe impact without you suffering a catastrophic and often fatal injury.

The Importance of Head-to-Toe Protection

You cannot control how the majority of accidents turn out just by being “a better rider.” A lot of unexpected, unavoidable road hazards can ruin your ride. Don’t let them ruin your life.

The physical forces exerted on the human body in a wreck make wearing motorcycle leathers vitally important. Arm yourself against the grit and grime of the road surface by wearing gear designed to survive the friction of a simple dump-and-slide that would otherwise chew through your jeans and t-shirt in a matter of seconds.

Leathers are purpose-built to withstand the severe abrasion that can cause extreme (i.e., life-threatening) road rash. Sure, you might still suffer sprains, breaks, or dislocations in a slide, but by wearing leathers the majority of your body stays protected from the worst potential injuries.

Protecting your head in a wreck, however, involves more than just guarding against road rash. Only a proper helmet does the trick to keep your skull, and the brain inside it, safe.

Look, we understand all of the complaints about helmets. Most of us do not look like Easy Rider when we wear one. Lots of riders complain that helmets rob them of the feeling of the wind through their hair and of the true feel of the road.

The thing is, however, in a wreck, you really do not want your head to “experience” the road. If it does, then you will come away far the worse for wear, if you come away at all. Mountains of research prove that wearing a helmet increases your chances of surviving a motorcycle crash by many multiples.

The vast majority of bikers involved in fatal wrecks die because they were not wearing a helmet; not to mention the thousands of others who spend the rest of their lives in a permanent vegetative state, lying in a bed at a nursing facility, being fed through a tube. We’re sorry if that sounds unpleasant, but it’s the ugly and very real risk of riding helmetless.

How a Motorcycle Helmet Works

A motorcycle helmet works as an inertial damper. It absorbs the shock of an impact, deadening the forces that act on your skull and your brain within it. A wreck will still hurt for a biker wearing a helmet, but those layers of plastic, cloth, and padding can displace enough force to prevent the rider from suffering a fatal brain injury. Focused energy from an impact can cause devastating trauma to brain tissue; spreading that force out subjects your skull, brain, blood vessels, and arteries to far less concentrated energy and damage.

How does a helmet accomplish that feat? According to the laws of physics, energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed. Just as a shock absorber on a car deadens the energy transmitted by a rough road surface, manufacturers construct helmets to disperse force from the point of impact throughout the helmet’s material, instead of allowing it to be transmitted directly into your head at the point of impact. In other words, it takes energy that has to go someplace and sends it somewhere other than directly into your skull where it would shake, jostle, tear, or rotate your brain.

U.S. Helmet Laws

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of wearing a helmet to survive or lessen the severity of a motorcycle accident. Do not believe the conspiracies about Big Helmet lobbying the government to profit on infringing your personal freedom. Helmets have existed since the earliest days of motorcycling. Professional racers wear helmets. Long travel touring riders use them. And yes, even motorcycle club riders wear them.

Forty-seven states, and territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all have some sort of motorcycle helmet law requiring helmets for at least some riders, or putting conditions on riding without a helmet (such as requiring safety training or special insurance coverage). Some states have also enacted mandatory eye protection laws and other equipment laws such as prohibiting riding without adequate footwear. As of this writing, only three states have no helmet law of any kind: Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire.

Click here to see a list of motorcycle helmet laws currently in effect across the nation. Generally speaking, they come in two varieties:

Universal Helmet Laws

A universal motorcycle helmet law requires all motorcycle riders, including passengers, to wear a helmet. 19 states have adopted universal helmet laws.

Limited Laws

Twenty-eight states have laws that require helmets either for riders under 18 years of age, or passengers only. Colorado or Connecticut repealed their universal laws in the 1970s.

Pennsylvania repealed its universal helmet law in the early 2000s, but still requires helmets for riders under the age of 21, and for riders who have been licensed for less than two years, except those who complete a PennDOT or Motorcycle Safety Foundation approved safety course. Sadly, the research we linked-to earlier in this article suggests that the dialing-back of Keystone State motorcycle helmet guidelines led to a dramatic increase in motorcycle accident hospitalizations and fatalities.

Choose Wisely When Deciding Whether to Wear a Helmet

As Pennsylvania lawyers, we will always fight for our clients’ rights to ride a motorcycle without a helmet (subject to the legal conditions we’ve described above). As human beings, we sincerely hope that anyone reading this article will consider the evidence carefully before deciding to ride without wearing head protection.

Helmets save lives. We have witnessed far-too-often the devastation wrought by a wreck involving a helmetless rider. Trust us, you and your family do not want to go through the agony that some of our clients have endured just because someone chose to go without a helmet. Please, wear a helmet, if not for yourself, then for your loved ones.

...And if not for your loved ones, then for your legal rights. Our motorcyclist clients have the same rights to use the road as any other motorists. That does not mean, however, that the legal system will necessarily treat them the same if they get hurt in a wreck in which they did not wear a helmet, as if they sustained injuries in a crash while wearing one.

The reality is, not wearing a helmet amounts to a personal choice that could make crash injuries far worse for a rider. If you seek compensation from someone who caused a crash, then insurance adjusters, defense lawyers, judges, and juries may well hold you accountable for that choice by deciding that you deserve less money than you might otherwise get if you had worn head protection.

That does not mean a biker would lose his rights to seek damages altogether, of course. No one deserves to get hurt in a bike wreck, and our firm always fights tooth and nail to get our injured clients every penny available under the law. Still, not wearing a helmet could make a jury less sympathetic to your plight. So, in deciding whether to wear headgear, we urge our readers to consider that potential effect.

How a Motorcycle Accident Injury Lawyer Can Help

Gabriel Levin, Motorcycle Accident Attorney

Motorcycle accident victims and their families need experienced legal representation. In our experience, most motorcycle wrecks happen because someone other than the rider made a dangerous decision or engaged in a careless or reckless action. A skilled, resourceful motorcycle crash injury attorney knows how to make sure riders and their families receive compensation from those at-fault parties.

Motorcycle accident injury cases differ from one-to-the-next. What a lawyer needs to accomplish to obtain fair compensation for an injured biker can vary accordingly.

Generally speaking, however, experienced motorcycle crash injury lawyers enforce their clients’ legal rights by:

  • Investigating a wreck and the injuries it caused to determine who owes damages for causing the rider harm and the amount of money the rider has the right to receive as compensation for injuries and losses;
  • Negotiating with representatives for at-fault parties to convince them to offer a fair and reasonable settlement to the victim as compensation, in exchange for the victim releasing them from liability; and
  • Litigating lawsuits against at-fault parties who refuse to make a fair and reasonable settlement offer, even if that means taking the case all the way to a trial in front of a judge and jury.

Lawyers can never guarantee a client that a case will turn out favorably, or how much money a client might receive. Many factors play into the strength and value of a motorcycle accident injury lawsuit, including the extent of a biker’s injuries, the availability of evidence to prove liability, and the financial resources of the parties at-fault. Still, working with an experienced motorcycle crash injury attorney is the most reliable way to maximize your chances of recovering the compensation you deserve.

If a motorcycle wreck resulting from someone else’s dangerous decisions or careless actions harmed you or a loved one, then you may have the right to receive significant compensation. Contact an experienced motorcycle crash injury attorney today for a free case evaluation. for more motorcycle safety or motorcycle accident FAQ's reach out to the Levin Firm today.

The Levin Firm
1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd,
Two Penn Center, Suite 620
Philadelphia, PA 19102