Are Motorcycle Helmets Mandatory in California?

If you ride a motorcycle in California, you likely wear a helmet whenever you hop on your bike. Since 1992, California has had a universal helmet law for motorcyclists. The main goal of these laws is rider safety. 

Motorcycles are dangerous machines. When accidents happen on motorcycles, the consequences can be deadly, especially if safety precautions aren’t taken.  

Motorcycles lack many safety features, and riders are constantly exposed to the elements. In the event of an accident, riders put themselves at risk of serious injury. Because injuries from motorcycle accidents are so serious, one of the few safety elements riders have at their disposal is a helmet.

If you ride a motorcycle in California, wearing a helmet is mandatory.

Motorcycle Helmet Statistics

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), motorcycle accidents are 28 times more likely to involve fatalities than any other vehicle accident.

Overall, motorcycle accidents account for 14% of total traffic fatalities in the country. 

In 2020, over 5,500 motorcyclists died in the United States due to injuries sustained from crashes. In that same year, 180,000 sustained injuries serious enough for hospitalization. These are alarming numbers.

For California, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the following accident statistics in 2019:

  • From 2014 to 2018, the state had over 2,655 deadly motorcycle accidents
  • On average, over 660 motorcyclists die in California from injuries
  • More than 15% of all vehicle deaths in the state are motorcycle-related
  • One out of four motorcycle accidents is related to driving under the influence

According to the GHSA, the majority of traffic accidents are preventable, including those on motorcycles. When it comes to riders who don’t wear a helmet, the probability of serious injury skyrockets.

Currently, only 19 states in the country have universal helmet laws requiring motorcycle drivers and their passengers to wear a helmet. In the remaining states, helmets are often optional or only required to be worn by certain individuals, such as minors.

Are Motorcycle Helmets Effective?

Safety research overwhelmingly shows that helmets effectively protect riders from serious brain injuries during a crash.

Although wearing a helmet does not guarantee complete safety, wearing one lowers the likelihood of brain injury by a long shot.

The most recent statistics on helmet effectiveness compiled by the CDC show that:

  • Helmet use saved approximately 1,872 lives in 2017
  • For riders, wearing a helmet reduces fatality rates by 37%
  • For passengers, helmet use reduces fatality rates by 41%
  • Overall, helmets lower the risk of head and brain injuries by 69%
  • Roughly 749 deaths were preventable in 2017 had the rider worn a helmet

The numbers show that wearing a helmet can drastically help prevent injury and save lives. 

Research by the NHTSA shows that helmets save over 1,600 lives each year. Those numbers could improve if more states had mandatory helmet requirements.

What Are the Consequences of Not Wearing a Helmet?

During a motorcycle accident, riders are often thrown off their bike. As a result, the head is prone to injury from hitting the ground, objects, or other vehicles.

Head trauma — especially when a helmet is not worn — can lead to the following injuries:

  • Brain contusions
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Concussion
  • Brain hemorrhage and hematoma
  • Fractured skull
  • Neck and spinal cord injury
  • Death

Unfortunately, many of these injuries can lead to major complications and leave riders permanently injured with cognitive and physical disabilities. 

No Motorcycle Helmet? Expect a Ticket in California 

In California, not wearing a helmet can warrant being pulled over and receiving a citation.

Depending on the jurisdiction, you could face hefty fines for riding without a helmet. These fines can increase if you break additional laws while operating your motorcycle.