Is there a Wisconsin law that requires motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet?

Question

Is there a Wisconsin law that requires motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet?

Answer

Wisconsin does have a motorcycle helmet law, but it only applies to certain categories of riders and passengers. Dozens of states have “universal” helmet laws on the books, and those laws cover anyone riding on a motorcycle, but Wisconsin's helmet law isn't nearly as broad.

Specifically, the applicable law in Wisconsin says that 1) anyone who is under 18 years of age must wear a helmet when riding on a motorcycle -- whether as an operator or passenger, and 2) anyone who is operating motorcycle under an instructional permit (as opposed to a full license) in Wisconsin must wear a helmet.

The law also goes on to make it unlawful for anyone to operate a motorcycle when a passenger is under 18 and isn't wearing a helmet, so it isn't just the passenger who can receive a traffic citation for a motorcycle helmet law violation in Wisconsin.

You'll find the full text of this law at Wisconsin Statutes section 347.485. And for more safety regulations and tips for operating a motorcycle in the state, check out the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Motorcycle Resources.

A traffic citation may not be all you need to worry about if you get into a motorcycle accident and you're not wearing a helmet. Even if the accident is obviously the fault of the other driver, if you file a personal injury lawsuit over the accident and the case makes it to trial, be prepared for the jury to penalize you for not wearing a helmet (even if you weren't a minor and weren't otherwise required to wear a helmet under Wisconsin law).

That's because in any personal injury case where the plaintiff (the injured person) is deemed to hold some legal responsibility for their own injuries, Wisconsin follows a “comparative fault” rule. And if this rule applies -- meaning if the jury finds that your failure to wear a helmet amounted to negligence -- it may reduce any compensation you end up receiving, especially for head injuries.

To learn more about shared fault rules in Wisconsin personal injury cases and how they apply to vehicle accidents -- check out Wisconsin Car Accident Laws.

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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