Oregon Law—The Basics:
- Cyclists aged 16 and older are not required to wear a bicycle helmet while riding a bike.1
- Cyclists under the age of 16 are required to wear a bicycle helmet while riding a bike.2
- If a cyclist is injured or killed in a crash, the cyclist’s lack of a helmet cannot be used as a defense against a lawsuit, or as evidence to reduce damages, even if the cyclist was required by law to be wearing a helmet.3
Oregon Law—Going Deeper:
Want to spark an argument, or at least get a debate going? Bring up the subject of bicycle helmets. Want to really turn the heat up? Start talking about mandatory bicycle helmet laws. While advice abounds from cyclists and non-cyclists alike about the necessity of wearing a helmet while riding, there is, as in physics, an equal and opposite reaction against that advice. For every argument claiming that bicycle helmets are a necessary safety measure, there is an argument claiming that the safety benefits of bicycle helmets are seriously overrated.
What’s a cyclist to do? This is an area where the individual cyclist must be allowed to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves. And that freedom for cyclists to weigh the evidence and the risks and decide for themselves is the approach taken in Oregon law. There’s no law preventing a cyclist from wearing a helmet, but there’s no law requiring a helmet either. It’s up to the individual cyclist.
Well, at least for adult cyclists. In Oregon, as in every other state in the nation, there is no statewide all-ages mandatory bicycle helmet law. However, as in many states (and even some localities), there is a mandatory statewide bicycle helmet law for cyclists under the age of 16. Let’s take a closer look to see what is and isn’t required.
In Oregon, if you are under the age of 16, you are required to wear an approved bicycle helmet4 (1) if you are either operating or riding as a passenger on a bicycle (2) on a highway or premises open to the public.5
So let’s say you’re under the age of 16, and you’re riding your bike on a public road, or on a public bike trail, or in a parking lot open to the public, or in a public park—you’re required to wear a helmet. But if you’re on private property that isn’t open to the public, no helmet required. You’re also not required to wear a helmet if it would violate your religious belief or practice.6 Finally, failure to wear a helmet when required is punishable by a $25 fine.7
But who gets the ticket? That’s the $25 question, and the answer depends on how old the child is, and which law—Failure to wear protective headgear, or Endangering bicycle operator or passenger—was broken.
Under Oregon law, if the minor is at least 12, but under 16, the ticket can be for Failure to wear protective headgear,8 in which case the ticket is issued to the child.9 Alternatively, the ticket can be for Endangering bicycle operator or passenger,10 in which case the ticket will be issued to the parent, legal guardian, or person with legal responsibility for the safety and welfare of the child.11 However, the officer issuing the ticket cannot ticket both the child and the parent or other legally responsible adult. Either the child is ticketed, or the adult is ticketed, but not both.
But if the minor is age 11 or under, the parent, legal guardian, or the person with legal responsibility for the safety and welfare of the child gets the ticket for Endangering bicycle operator or passenger.12
Regardless of who the ticket is issued to, the court is required to dismiss a ticket for a first-time violation if the person who was ticketed can prove to the court that the person has a bicycle helmet that meets the requirements of the law.13
Now here’s where the law really gets interesting. What if a cyclist, adult or child, is not wearing a helmet and is injured or killed in a crash?
In Oregon, if a cyclist is injured or killed in a crash, and the cyclist was not wearing a helmet, that lack of a helmet cannot be used as evidence to reduce the amount of damages that cyclist is otherwise entitled to, and cannot be used as a defense against a lawsuit brought by the cyclist or on the cyclist’s behalf, even if the cyclist was required by law to wear a helmet.14
This might seem unfair to drivers. But it’s not. What the law is saying here is that while the State of Oregon encourages minors to wear helmets while riding, the state will not allow a negligent party in a lawsuit to escape responsibility for their own negligence by blaming the cyclist for not wearing a helmet, even if the cyclist is required by law to wear a helmet. A cyclist can still be found to be at fault in a crash, but this law puts the responsibility for the injury where it properly belongs, on the one who caused the crash.
The offense described in this section, failure of a bicycle operator or rider to wear protective headgear, is a specific fine traffic violation. The presumptive fine for failure of a bicycle operator or rider to wear protective headgear is $25.15
The offense described in this section, endangering a bicycle operator or passenger, is a specific fine traffic violation. The presumptive fine for endangering a bicycle operator or passenger is $25.16
If You’ve Been Injured in a Crash
Do not communicate with the driver’s insurance company before consulting with an attorney. Most cyclists want to be fair and reasonable with the insurance company. Unfortunately, when you communicate with the insurance company, they are gathering information to be used against you later. What you see as an effort on your part to communicate a fair and honest account of the accident will be seen by the insurance company as an opportunity to gather evidence in support of their argument that your negligence caused the accident.
Contact bicyclelaw.com or another personal injury attorney who understands bicycling. While many attorneys are competent to handle general injury cases, make sure your attorney has experience and is familiar with:
- Bicycle traffic laws
- Negotiating bicycle accident cases with insurance companies
- Trying bicycle accident cases in court
- The prevailing prejudice against cyclists by motorists and juries
- The names and functions of all bicycle components
- The speed bikes travel as well as braking and cornering
- Bicycle handling skills, techniques, and customs
- How to get the full replacement value property damage estimates for your bicycle
- Establishing the value of lost riding time
- Leading bicycle accident reconstruction experts
- Licensed forensic bicycle engineers
- Establishing the value of permanent diminished riding ability
For more information
For More Information About Mandatory Bicycle Helmet laws:
- Related Article: Cyclists Are Dying In Traffic. Will Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws Save Them From The Drivers Who Are Taking Their Lives? Part 1
- Related Article: Cyclists Are Dying In Traffic. Will Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws Save Them From The Drivers Who Are Taking Their Lives? Part 2
1 ORS 814.485(1)
2 ORS 814.485(1)
3 ORS 814.489
4 See ORS 815.052
5 ORS 814.485(1)
6 ORS 814.487; see also ORS 814.485(2) and ORS 814.486(2)
7 ORS 814.485(3) and ORS 814.486(3)
8 ORS 814.485
9 ORS 814.488(2)
10 ORS 814.486
11 ORS 814.488(2)
12 ORS 814.486(1)(b) and ORS 814.488(1)
13 ORS 814.488(3)
14 ORS 814.489
15 ORS 814.485(3)
16 ORS 814.486(3)