Does New York have a law that requires motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet?
Yes, and it essentially applies to anyone riding on a motorcycle, whether as an operator or as a passenger, and regardless of age, licensing, or level of riding experience. This kind of far-reaching statute is often referred to as a "universal" helmet law, because it applies to anyone who is on a motorcycle. By contrast, the motorcycle helmet laws in many states apply only to people who are under a certain age, such as 18 or 21.
New York's motorcycle helmet law says, "It shall be unlawful for any person to operate or ride upon a motorcycle unless he wears a protective helmet," one that meets federal safety regulations.
You can read the full text of New York's motorcycle helmet law (although there isn't much more to it than what's excerpted above) at Consolidated Laws of New York, Vehicle and Traffic Code section 381. For more information on motorcycle safety regulations in the state, see the New York DMV – Motorcycles page.
If you get into a motorcycle accident in New York while you aren't wearing a helmet, your violation of the state's helmet law could adversely affect any personal injury lawsuit you decide to file in court. That's true even if it is clear that someone else (i.e. the other driver) actually caused your accident.
That's because New York follows a legal rule known as "comparative negligence," which applies when the person who brings a personal injury lawsuit (the plaintiff) is also partly to blame for causing their own injuries. So, if the jury in your case decides that your failure to wear a helmet amounted to negligence -- and that is a very real possibility, especially if you suffered head injuries -- any compensation you receive will be reduced by a percentage equal to your share of fault. Learn more about this rule in the context of vehicle accident cases in our New York Car Accident Laws article.
by: David Goguen, J.D.