Does Washington have a law that requires motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet?
Yes, and it applies to anyone who is riding on a motorcycle -- whether they are operating the bike or riding as a passenger -- regardless of their age, level of riding experience, or licensing. This type of statute is often referred to as a “universal” helmet law, because it applies to anyone as long as they’re on a motorcycle. By contrast, the motorcycle helmet laws in many other states apply only to certain categories of people. (For example, Washington’s neighbor Idaho has a helmet law that only applies to riders and passengers who are under 18.)
Washington’s motorcycle helmet law can be found at Revised Code of Washington section 46.37.530, and it states, “It is unlawful for any person to operate or ride upon a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or moped on a state highway, county road, or city street unless wearing upon his or her head a motorcycle helmet.”
The statute provides a few more details on what “motorcycle helmet” means: “a protective covering for the head consisting of a hard outer shell, padding adjacent to and inside the outer shell, and a neck or chin strap type retention system, with the manufacturer's certification applied in accordance with 49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218 indicating that the motorcycle helmet meets standards established by the United States department of transportation.”
If you get into a motorcycle accident in Washington 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 -- even if it is clear that someone else (i.e. the other driver) actually caused your accident.
That’s because Washington follows a legal rule known as “comparative negligence” when a personal injury plaintiff is partly to blame for causing their own injuries. So, if a jury decides that your failure to wear a helmet was indeed negligent -- and that is a very real possibility, especially if you suffered head injuries -- any compensation you receive will be reduced by a percentage that is equal to your share of fault. Learn more about this rule in our Washington Car Accident Laws article.