The Golden State offers gorgeous landscapes, views of the Pacific Ocean, natural terrain, and year-round perfect weather. As a result, thousands of bicyclists use California roads all months of the year. Whether you’re a California resident who takes a bicycle to work or just planning to visit the state for a bike race or excursion, you need to recognize and follow the state’s bicycle helmet laws. Otherwise, you could find yourself in trouble with the law and even liable for your own bicycle accident injuries. Make sure to speak with a credited bicycle accident lawyer if you have any questions.
What Does the California Vehicle Code Say?
Bicyclists can find California’s exact main biking law in Section 21200 of the state’s vehicle code. According to this law, bicycles are technically vehicles. This means bicyclists have all the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. It isn’t until Section 21212 of the law, however, where bicyclists will find the law relating to helmet-wearing.
The helmet rules according to this section are as follows:
- No person under the age of 18 may operate or ride upon a bicycle without wearing a “properly fitted and fastened” bicycle helmet.
- Bicycle helmets must meet the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
- The helmet law applies not only to those operating and riding bicycles but also to nonmotorized scooters and passengers on skateboards.
- Bicycle riding under the age of 18 on any street or bikeway requires the individual to wear a proper helmet. Riding on private property, however, may not require a helmet.
Violating the state’s bicycle helmet law can result in a fine of no more than $25. Parents or legal guardians in the custody of minors who break the law will be “jointly and severally liable” for paying the fine. If law enforcement sees a child riding a bicycle without a proper helmet, an officer can conduct a stop and present a traffic infraction and fine to the rider or his/her parents. Police officers on bicycles do not have to comply with helmet laws when responding to emergencies.
Citywide Bicycle Helmet Laws
On top of the statewide universal law requiring bicyclists under 18 to wear helmets, some cities in California have passed their own helmet laws. Chico, Bidwell Park, and El Cerrito mandate that all bicyclists wear approved helmets, regardless of age. When biking in these cities, you must comply with the law – even if you’re only passing through. Otherwise, you could find yourself having to pay a fine.
Not wearing a helmet when the law requires you to do so can result in consequences beyond just having to pay a fine. If you get into a bicycle accident while breaking the helmet law, the courts may find you at least partially responsible for your injuries. Even if another driver rolled through a stop sign and collided with you, you might lose the right to a portion of your compensation if the courts find that your lack of helmet-wearing contributed to your injuries. In the event that the law did not require you to wear a helmet, however, the defendant cannot use a lack of helmet-wearing against you.
Protect Yourself from Injuries and Liabilities
The most serious injuries in the majority of fatal bicycle accidents involve the head and/or brain. The head striking the asphalt or a vehicle can result in skull fractures and serious traumatic brain injuries. Wearing a helmet can significantly reduce your risk of these injuries – as well as those to the face and neck – in the event of an accident. Studies estimate that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by at least 50%. Wearing a helmet is the wise choice as a bicyclist in California, whether the law requires you to or not. Helmet use for children and adults saves lives.