Is there a helmet law in California for motorcycle riders and passengers?
Yes. California is one of a number of states that has enacted a “universal” helmet law requiring anyone riding a motorcycle -- whether as an operator or passenger -- to wear a safety helmet that qualifies under certain state standards.
Specifically, California Vehicle Code section 27803 states that any motorcycle driver or passenger “shall wear a safety helmet” that meets regulations set by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (the law also allows the DMV to adopt federal rules on helmet safety).
This statute makes it “unlawful” to operate a motorcycle on which any driver or passenger is not wearing a proper safety helmet, or to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle on which someone isn’t wearing a proper helmet. In other words, in California, if you’re operating a motorcycle and you’re wearing a helmet but your passenger is not, both of you are violating the law. The same goes for passengers who are wearing a helmet when the motorcycle operator is not -- the passenger is also violating the vehicle code in that situation.
The statute goes on to specify that a “safety helmet" means one that is fastened with helmet straps, and is “of a size that fits the wearing person's head securely without excessive lateral or vertical movement.”
What if you’re riding a motorcycle in violation of California’s helmet law and you get into an accident? It’s a safe bet that any motorcycle accident lawsuit you file against another driver will be affected, especially if you’re making a claim for head injury.
Violating the state helmet law amounts to negligence, and even if you didn’t cause the accident itself, California’s “pure comparative negligence” rule will kick in to reduce any damages award you receive, by an amount that equals your share of blame. Learn more about shared fault rules in our California Car Accident Laws article.
by: David Goguen, J.D.