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.