Why you should wear your helmet—even if you can lawfully ride without one
By Bob Mionske
No state requires adults to wear a helmet when they ride (although some municipalities do). But you could still face legal consequences if you fail to strap one on. Consider this scenario: A negligent driver hits you, and you sue him for the cost of your medical expenses. However, his insurance company claims that you were negligent for not wearing a helmet. The outcome of the case will depend on whether the jury decides it was reasonable for you to ride without one. They might not: Many people believe that helmets prevent all head injuries, although it is still possible to suffer one while wearing head protection.
However, in places where personal liberty is prized over safety, the “Where was your helmet?” argument won’t play well with the jury, so defense attorneys will decline to make that assertion. And in some areas, case law will prevent the absence of a helmet from being introduced into evidence. In Oregon, such a defense is prohibited. Still, insurers will shift blame to cyclists when they can, so in areas where such evidence is allowed, expect more arguments like these.
Nationwide, the law on helmets is evolving. Until it is settled in favor of cyclists (assuming it is), think of your helmet as an insurance policy: It might not prevent every injury, but it will protect your legal rights.
Helmets Are (Not Just) For Kids
The map above shows the age at which cyclists can legally ride helmet-free in each state.
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D. Thanks to attorneys Phil Coats, Jim Freeman, Megan Hottman, Ken Rosskopf, Brad Tucker, and Peter Wilborn for sharing their thoughts.
This article, Put A LId On It, was originally published on Bicycling on August 16, 2011.
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at bicyclelaw2.wpengine.com.
The information provided in the “Road Rights” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.