Making Sense of Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Motorcycle Accident Lawyer in McAllen TexasMotorcycles are an efficient and exciting mode of transportation, but riding a motorcycle also comes with risk. Not only are motorcycles more susceptible to accidents because of their small size, but riders are also more likely to die or suffer serious injuries as a result of an accident.

Helmets provide important protection, but helmet laws differ depending on the city and state and may prove confusing. However, just because you weren’t wearing a helmet, don’t assume this means you can’t recover compensation for your injuries.

Read on to learn more about accident statistics for motorcycles, motorcycle helmet laws, who is responsible after an accident, and what damages an accident victim may recover.

Motorcycle Accident Statistics

There is no shortage of motorcycles on the road, with 8.7 million registered motorcycles in the United States in the most recent year for which statistics are available. Motorcycle drivers and passengers run a high risk of involvement in an accident and suffering severe injuries as a result. In that same year, there were more than 5,000 fatalities and more than 89,000 injuries to motorcycle drivers and passengers.

A primary reason for the higher risk profile is that motorcycles are less visible on the road.

Motorcycles’ small size creates the following risk scenarios:

  • The driver of a motor vehicle cannot easily judge the distance from or speed of a motorcycle.
  • Motorcycles do not fill an entire lane, but they often need to move around within a lane to avoid obstacles or improve their own visibility.
  • Motorcycles’ lighting, including turn signals and brake lights, is often less obvious than that of other motor vehicles.

These challenges mean that motorcyclists are more vulnerable on the road and more likely to end up in a driver’s blind spot, overlooked when a driver is attempting to pass another vehicle, or in danger in intersections. It is the responsibility of every driver to remain aware of motorcycles on the road.

Motorcyclists are at a high risk of an accident and also at an increased risk of death or serious injury. Motorcyclists lack the protection of a motor vehicle, such as a sturdy exterior and safety features. As a result, only 14 percent of motorcycle accidents do not involve a fatality or injury. Studies show that wearing a helmet reduces motorcycle rider fatalities by somewhere between 22 to 45 percent, and helmets have been shown to reduce brain injuries by 41 to 69 percent.

Differing Motorcycle Helmet Laws

There is no federal law governing motorcycle helmet use. Instead, each state is authorized and empowered to adopt its own legislation for motorcycle helmets. In 1967, the federal government provided significant incentives for states to implement motorcycle helmet laws.

The federal government made qualification for certain highway safety funds contingent on a universal motorcycle helmet law that requires helmet use for all motorcycle riders, not just certain groups, such as young riders or inexperienced riders.

New Hampshire is the only state without any motorcycle helmet law. All other states land in one of the following categories:

  • Universal motorcycle helmet laws: 21 states
  • Motorcycle helmets required for certain drivers/passengers: 28 states

The most common classes of drivers and passengers included in non-universal motorcycle helmet laws are younger riders and drivers with only an instructional permit. In some states, mopeds or other classes of motorcycles are excluded from the motorcycle helmet law.

Needless to say, a law is only beneficial if people comply with it. A recent study of motorcycle helmet laws indicates that state laws do effectively increase helmet use. Indeed, helmet use is higher in states with universal helmet laws. Helmet use was at 86 percent in states with universal helmet laws, and only 55 percent in states with where helmets are only required for certain riders.

If all motorcyclists wore helmets, the U.S. would experience a reduction in fatalities by almost 1,000 and save more than $1 billion in economic costs.

Motorcycle Accident Injuries

The push for universal motorcycle helmet laws is intended to reduce fatalities and injuries in crashes involving motorcycles.

Common injuries after a motorcycle accident include:

  • Head and brain injuries: Motorcyclists are particularly susceptible to head and brain injuries, as motorcyclists are more likely to experience ejection from their bikes, striking their heads on the ground or other hard surface. This is especially true if the rider isn’t wearing a helmet. Head and brain injuries include concussions, lacerations, and traumatic brain injuries that may leave the victim in a coma, vegetative state, or suffering from brain death.
  • Spinal cord injuries: The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that allows the brain to communicate with the body. Damage to the spinal cord can forever change an injured individual’s life. The effects of a spinal cord injury range from mild numbness to paralysis.
  • Neck and back injuries: A motorcycle accident can cause tension in the vertebrae, or the jarring motion of the accident may result in whiplash. Neck and back injuries are often accompanied by chronic pain that may require a lifetime of physical therapy.
  • Broken bones: The impact with the pavement is likely to result in broken bones of varying severity. If the break is particularly bad, the injured individual may require surgery and/or need ongoing physical therapy.
  • Internal damage: If the victim receives a blow to the body, it can cause internal organ damage. The symptoms of these life-threatening injuries often have a delayed onset and may prove difficult to diagnose.
  • Road rash: Road rash is an injury to the skin and underlying tissue that occurs when the body is rubbed or scraped against pavement. Motorcyclists are at particular risk for road rash, and there are more than 20,000 victims each year. The healing time for road rash depends on the severity of the injury, but can take from days to months and may require skin grafting.
  • Facial and dental injuries: An accident can result in lacerations, broken facial bones (like the nose or cheek), a detached retina, or cracked teeth. If the damage is serious, the victim may require facial reconstruction surgery or skin grafting.
  • Cuts and bruises: While less shocking than injuries like a traumatic brain injury, cuts and bruises can still negatively affect a victim’s day-to-day life.

While motorcycle helmets help protect against certain injuries, helmets certainly do not make a motorcyclist immune from injury. No matter the protective gear, if another party’s negligence causes an accident, that party should face responsibility for such negligence.

Analyzing Liability After a Collision

If a party acted negligently, that party is responsible for the injuries caused by the accident. Even if you were not wearing a helmet, another party may bear primarily responsible for your injuries. If there was no helmet requirement in the state where the accident occurred, for example, the defendant will have a difficult time proving that your actions contributed to your injuries.

If the law required a helmet and you neglected to wear one, a court may reduce your recovery to the extent that your failure to wear a helmet contributed to your injuries.

Any action that deviates from the normal standard of care under similar circumstances constitutes negligence. Work with your attorney to assess the actions of all parties and to determine if they acted negligently.

Potential defendants include:

  • Negligent driver: If a motorcycle collides with another vehicle, the other driver is responsible for any negligent actions. If the driver failed to comply with a driving law or regulation, this is strong evidence of negligence. Common traffic violations include speeding, failure to check a blind spot, driving while distracted, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Employer: If the other driver was on-the-job at the time of the accident, the employer may face liability. It is often preferable to seek recovery from an employer because it will likely have a more robust insurance policy.
  • Local government: Local governments are responsible for maintaining roadways and traffic signals. Poorly maintained roadways and malfunctioning traffic signals are incredibly dangerous for a motorcyclist. If the government’s failure to properly maintain its infrastructure caused your accident, the government is responsible. Unfortunately, pursuing a claim against a governmental entity can prove especially complicated, but an attorney can help advise you on the feasibility of recovery.
  • Vehicle manufacturer: If a car or motorcycle defect or malfunction caused the accident, the manufacturer is responsible for the resulting injuries. Common malfunctions include:
    • Failure of safety features, including blind-spot alerts
    • Cracks or breaks in the motorcycle frame, making it less able to withstand impact
    • Stalling issues
    • Tire defects
    • Brake issues
    • Improperly installed parts

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may need an expert to analyze the vehicle and determine whether a malfunction occurred.

Once you have worked with your attorney to determine which party or parties contributed to your accident, you will need to compile evidence that supports this claim. A critical piece of evidence will be the police report, which will include pictures of the accident scene, witness statements, contact information, and any traffic violation citations issued on the scene.

The stronger your evidence of negligence, the more likely you can recover for the full extent of your damages.

Compiling a Damages Demand

Make sure to assess all of the damages that you’ve suffered because of your accident.

Consider the following types of damages:

  • Medical expenses: Include all of your medical expenses in your damages demand, including hospital stays, doctors’ bills, prescription medicine, and ambulance services. If your injuries require future or ongoing care, include an estimate of the cost of these future expenses.
  • Lost income: If your injuries limit your ability to work or require you to work a reduced schedule or perform light work, the defendant is responsible for your lost wages. If your injuries permanently limit your ability to perform certain job functions, you deserve compensation for your future lost earning potential.
  • Property damage: If your motorcycle, protective gear, or any other property sustained damage or was destroyed in the accident, you deserve compensation for repair or replacement.
  • Emotional distress: Motorcycle accidents are traumatic events, and motorcycle victims commonly suffer from anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after an accident. These are important injuries to include in your damages demand.
  • Loss of enjoyment: Injuries often limit a person’s ability to pursue activities that were previously an important part of their lives. Work with your lawyer to include these damages in your lawsuit.
  • Punitive/exemplary damages: Punitive damages are intended to punish egregious behavior on the part of the defendant rather than to compensate the injured individual for losses. The requirements for recovering punitive damages vary from state-to-state, and many states, including Texas, include a cap on the amount of punitive damages that a plaintiff may recover.

Your damages demand will be an important tool for analyzing any settlement offer made by the defendant or his or her insurance provider, and will be used by the jury if your case proceeds to trial. It is worth the time and energy to prepare a comprehensive assessment of your injuries. You may need experts to analyze certain damages, including future lost earning potential and future medical costs. An attorney can help coordinate any required input from experts.

Contact an Experienced Attorney if You Still Have Questions

One of the most important things you can do to relieve your stress and increase your chances of preparing a strong case against the defendant is to hire an attorney with experience in motorcycle accident cases. An attorney will help you analyze the liability of all involved parties, establish evidence of negligence, prepare a damages demand, assess settlement offers, and prepare court documents.

Additionally, an attorney will promptly take all these steps so that you don’t lose your chance to file a lawsuit. All states have a deadline for filing legal action, called the statute of limitations. An attorney will know the statute of limitations for your case and ensure that you don’t miss your chance to file a claim.

You should reach out to an experienced motorcycle accident attorney in McAllen as soon as possible after your accident to discuss the details of your case and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation.


Patino Law Firm
1802 N 10th St
McAllen, TX 78501
210-646-9100

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