California Bicycle Helmet Law: Everything You Should Know

Head injuries account for 75 percent of all bicycle deaths resulting from severe crashes with motor vehicles in the US. Experts determined that helmets could have prevented 85 percent of these fatalities. Moreover, younger children were more at risk of sustaining head injuries than adults. 

Unsurprisingly, California’s bike helmet law prohibits riding a bike without a helmet for anyone under 18. Older cyclists are generally not required to wear the headgear, although everyone is encouraged to do so for safety reasons.

Statewide rules on helmet use are pretty straightforward, but many other issues may be involved, especially concerning bike accidents. Every cyclist will do well to understand them thoroughly before riding anywhere in California. 

Key Takeaways

  • Cyclists 18 years old and above are generally not required to wear helmets when riding bikes in California.
  • As the most vulnerable group, children are required to wear helmets when riding bicycles.
  • Bike accident victims can sue for damages, whether or not they wore helmets during the incident.

California Vehicle Code Section 21212: A Closer Look 

No federal law mandates the use of bike helmets across the U.S. However, like most states, California has its own rules and standards under Section 21212 of the California Vehicle Code (Code). 

According to the legislation, anyone under 18, regardless of religious beliefs or practices, must wear a bike helmet. The law applies to non-motorized scooters, skateboards, and in-line or roller skates on a street, bikeway, sidewalk, or public bike path.

While bike helmets are optional for adult cyclists in California, there is one exception. The Chico Municipal Code requires helmets for everyone riding an off-road path in Middle or Upper Bidwell Park.

Adult cyclists can benefit from wearing helmets in general, as proven by five studies across different countries. Bike helmets can reduce the risk of head, brain, and severe brain injury by 63 to 88 percent. 

Two more recent meta-analyses that looked into the head and facial injuries arising from bike accidents echo these results. However, cyclists must use only helmets that meet national and international standards to achieve reliable protection. 

What To Do With a Bike Helmet Citation in California

Getting a traffic citation is never good, even for something seemingly trivial as not wearing a bike helmet. But there’s no reason to panic. Whether you or your child received a ticket, presence of mind goes a long way. 

If you receive a citation for not wearing a helmet while biking in California, there are a few steps you can take.

Review the citation

Carefully review the citation to understand the charges and the response deadlines, and look up the vehicle code online. The ticket should clearly state you were on a bicycle, not a motorcycle when you weren’t wearing a helmet. Ensure you understand the laws and regulations you have allegedly violated.

Pay the citation

You have the option to pay the citation, which is considered a plea of guilty. You typically pay a fine, usually around $25 for the first violation and $50 for a subsequent breach.

However, you may not have to pay it if you present two things before the law enforcement agency that issued the citation.  One is an approved helmet, and the other is proof of completion of a bike safety or related safety course required.  Once present both, the citation won’t reach the traffic court, so no fine.

Contest the citation

Note that motorcycle- and bike-related violations concern two separate laws. If you feel you or your child was wrongly cited, you can contest the citation. You can do this by pleading not guilty and requesting a trial or hearing.

Seek legal advice

If you need help with how to proceed, you may seek legal advice from a lawyer who can help you understand your rights and options.

Attend a helmet safety class

Some courts allow you to attend a helmet safety class as an alternative to paying the fine. This option may not be available in all courts, so it’s essential to check with the court to see if it’s an option.

It’s important to note that different courts may have varying procedures. It’s s a good idea to check with the court or consult a lawyer to understand your case’s specific requirements and options.

Legal and Safety Considerations When Buying a Bicycle Helmet 

Buying a bicycle helmet is not the hardest thing to do these days. You will find numerous brands and models online, but not all meet legal requirements. Also, users must replace bike helmets every five years and after each crash. 

Each helmet has an expanded polystyrene foam that diffuses energy from impact. For this reason, one must never reuse a helmet after it has been in a collision, even if no damage is apparent.

California helmet standards 

Three organizations define helmet quality standards in California. These are the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Snell, and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

The CPSC is a federal agency that protects American consumers from potential hazards of using consumer products, including bike helmets. Before 1999, the ASTM and Snell voluntarily developed standards for bicycle helmet safety. Both ASTM and Snell are now CPSC-approved. 

When buying a bike helmet, always look for a CPSC, ASTM, or Snell label on the product. Remember that all helmets manufactured before 1999 do not meet current helmet quality standards.

Buying a secondhand helmet

The Bike Helmet Safety Institute does not recommend buying used helmets as damage may not be evident. However, wearing a used helmet is still considered safer than wearing no head protection. 

When buying a secondhand helmet, look for cracks, any sign of damage, or indications it may have been in a crash. Note that a shiny helmet that looks intact is not necessarily a good one.   

Ensuring a safe fit  

Unless used according to design, a bike helmet may provide little protection to a cyclist. A good fit is part of this design, so keep a few guidelines in mind when shopping for a bike helmet.  

One is to ensure a snug but comfortable fit after buckling the chin strap. The helmet should not move, and the wearer can feel the top pressing when they open their mouths. At the same time, there should be enough room to insert one finger between the buckle and the chin.

The helmet straps should be even on both sides, coming together below each ear where they form a Y. The helmet should also remain level with the head, not leaning back, with the front edge about one to two finger widths higher than the eyebrows. This ensures protection for the forehead.

Steps To Take Following a Bike Accident in California

No cyclist hits the road expecting an accident, but being ready for the possibility is a good way of managing it when it occurs. By being mentally prepared, they avoid crucial mistakes that can aggravate their injuries and prevent them from getting fair compensation. 

Part of this preparation is knowing what to do after a California bike accident. If it happens, remember the following steps.

1. Call the police and give your narrative of the accident

Whether or not your injuries are apparent, call the police and give your version of events. The officer will file an accident report, which will be vital evidence when you claim damages. If they refuse to listen to your narrative, you can dispute the report with proof backing your claims.  

2. Get the driver’s and any witnesses’ contact information

Write down the names, addresses, and contact numbers of the driver of the vehicle you collided with and any witnesses. The officer might leave out some details in the accident report, which may be your only chance to get them. As you build your claim, you or your lawyer may also need to talk to some of these people. 

3. Take photos, videos, and notes about the scene 

You can use images and videos of the accident scene as evidence for your case. While a written account of the incident is inadmissible in court, it can help you recall accident details. The more information you can remember and prove, the stronger your claim will be. 

4. Get medical attention

Accidents may cause injuries without producing immediate signs or symptoms. Hence, even when you’re feeling fine, it’s always best to seek medical attention. Additionally, keep copies of all relevant medical records, as they can help bolster your claim for accident compensation.  

5. Collect evidence

Evidence is the cornerstone of your compensation claim.  Collect whatever you can and hold off on any repairs or cleaning until your case is over. These can include your bike, clothes, helmet, and other damaged property. Pictures, videos, and witness accounts also count.  

6. Avoid negotiations with the driver

One thing you must avoid after a bike accident is negotiating at the site of the incident, especially without a lawyer. The driver may pretend to be sorry, but they can take back whatever they say anytime. 

In the meantime, you may say something that may be taken as an admission of fault. This can compromise your claim later on. If you must negotiate, do so with a lawyer present.

Issues That Affect the Value of a Claim 

As a pure comparative negligence state, California will compensate accident victims according to their degree of fault. Hence, everyone who contributed to the mishap pays for their share of the liability.  

Suppose a victim receives damages totaling $100,000. If found 25 percent accountable for the accident, the person will only get $75,000 as final compensation. 

Does not wearing a helmet impact a claimant’s degree of fault and, therefore, the final amount they receive? Technically, no, but other parties may use this to cause confusion and gain leverage in reducing the victim’s damages.  

Insurance companies typically make lowball settlement offers, and many accident victims never realize how much they deserve in damages. With expert knowledge and negotiation skills, a personal injury lawyer can prevent this from happening.  

Critical arguments 

Lawyers typically ensure fair compensation for a helmetless bike accident victim by using the following to make their critical arguments: 

  • California legislature. The state’s law is clear on bike helmet use: it is optional for cyclists 18 years old and above. Suppose a judge or jury were to reduce a claimant’s compensation for not wearing a helmet. In that case, they may be contravening the law.  
  • Surrounding details. Several issues are at play in bike accident claims involving a biker who was not wearing a helmet. These include where the victim was going, how far they traveled, or their purpose. Many circumstances can also make helmetless cycling reasonable. For example, the victim was riding down the block to pick up some groceries or cycling two miles and back as daily exercise. All these can factor into the claimant’s lawyer’s argument.
  • Causation. Causation is a crucial aspect of the doctrine of comparative negligence applying to California personal injury cases, including bike accidents. It is the cause-and-effect relationship between two actions, where one occurs due to the other. 

Legally, causation is evidence establishing the defendant’s negligence and that such negligence led to the victim’s injuries. Consider a bike accident case where the plaintiff was without a helmet during the mishap. The defendant can claim that the victim would have avoided injuries had they worn the gear during the accident. 

However, the plaintiff’s lawyer can argue this does not establish causation. That is the basis for the absence of a law mandating the general use of bike helmets in California.  

Other factors 

Aside from their degree of fault, other factors can affect how much a victim receives as compensation, including the following:

  • Injury severity. More serious, longer-term injuries usually mean more compensatory damages. However, these claims can also take longer to establish with the insurer or in court.  
  • Objections. An insurance company may dispute a claim regarding the accident’s cause or the gravity of the victim’s injuries. If the grounds are valid, the victim may receive reduced damages. 
  • Acknowledging liability. Admitting liability, especially to an insurance adjuster who has recorded the admission, can decrease the claimant’s compensation. 
  • Insurance coverage. A claimant may have a solid case but can only receive up to the maximum value of the negligent driver’s insurance coverage. 

When the helmet is the problem

Sometimes, a cyclist’s injuries are caused by a defective helmet that fails to provide the protection promised. There may be an issue with the materials, the design, or even the product’s labeling. Victims can sue the manufacturer for damages if they can prove the connection between their injuries and the helmet’s defect.

California Bike Accident Compensation

Anyone trying to understand California’s bike scene may be in for a surprise. According to the latest American Bicyclists Report, it is officially the fourth most cyclist-friendly state in the US for 2022

But the DMV reports more than 10,000 road injuries involving bikers yearly, plus over 100 biker deaths. In each of these cases, victims may be entitled to compensation. These include economic, non-economic, and possibly punitive damages.  

Economic damages 

Economic damages are awarded to an accident victim who suffered losses with monetary equivalents. You can prove these through documentation such as receipts, business or wage records, etc. Below are the most common economic damages claimed by bike accident victims:  

  • Medical costs (paid and ongoing) 
  • Lost income or income-earning capacity (past and continuing) 
  • Loss of ability to maintain household
  • Loss or damage to personal property 
  • Other costs associated with an injury (e.g., cost of grocery deliveries) 

In California, there is no limit on the economic damages bike accident victims can receive. The same applies to all types of personal injury cases.

Non-economic damages 

Non-economic damages compensate a victim for losses with no tangible or monetary value. Examples of non-economic damages are the following: 

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Emotional stress
  • Loss of Consortium (the spouse of a deceased or injured accident victim may file this claim for loss of love or companionship)

Generally, there is no limit to the amount of non-economic damages a claimant can receive in California. However, like most states, California puts a damage cap on medical malpractice cases. The limit was $250,000 before January 1, 2023, but it is now $350,000.

Punitive damages 

Suppose the plaintiff provides evidence of actual malice or gross negligence on the defendant’s part. In that case, the court may impose punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is two-fold: punish the at-fault party and deter them from similar acts in the future.

The calculation of punitive damages does not consider the defendant’s financial capacity. It focuses solely on misconduct. When determining the amount of damages, a jury will consider a few questions, such as the following:

  • How grave was the misconduct?
  • Did the misconduct physically harm the victim? 
  • Was the defendant aware of the victim’s weaknesses, and did they exploit those vulnerabilities?
  • Did the defendant’s misconduct reflect a behavioral pattern?
  • Was fraud involved? 

Here are examples of scenarios where the court may award punitive damages to a bike accident victim:

  • A road-rage driver chasing down a cyclist 
  • A drunk driver losing control of their vehicle
  • Hit-and-run accidents
  • Drivers using cell phones 

As with economic and non-economic damages, California has no cap on punitive damages. However, the Supreme Court explicitly restricts punitive damages in a landmark case. It called for a reasonable and proportionate award to the amount of harm to the claimants and general damages recovered.

The Role of a Bike Accident Lawyer in California

A bike accident lawyer in California plays several essential roles in a negligent bike accident case in California. They can help victims get fair compensation. 

Advising the victim

Personal injury cases tend to be complex. The lawyer will advise the victim on their legal rights and options throughout the process. They can also guide them in making decisions about the case.

Investigate the accident

A personal injury lawyer will thoroughly investigate the accident to gather evidence and determine who was at fault. This may include interviewing witnesses, reviewing police reports, and collecting medical records.

Determine liability

The lawyer will use the evidence collected during the investigation to determine who was liable for the accident. In a negligent bike accident, these may implicate the person driving the vehicle that struck the bicyclist. They may also involve other parties who may have contributed to the accident.

Negotiate with insurance companies

The lawyer will handle all communication and negotiations with the insurance companies involved in the case. This includes presenting the evidence of liability and damages to the insurance company and negotiating a fair settlement for the victim.

Representing the victim in the claims

A personal injury lawyer will represent the victim in the claims process with the negligent party’s insurance company. If the case goes to trial, they will represent the victim in court and present evidence to support the claim for damages.

Overall, the primary role of a personal injury lawyer in a negligent bike accident case in California is to protect the rights of the victim. They can help victims obtain fair compensation for their losses and ensure fair treatment throughout the legal process.

Did you know?

Six cities in California are on Cliq’s 2021 list of the most dangerous cities for cyclists in America. These cities include Stockton, Sacramento, Modesto, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, and Bakersfield.

Visit the Personal Injury Center to Find the Right Lawyer  

California’s bike helmet law is simple. Bike helmets are mandatory for cyclists below 18 and optional for older riders. Violators pay a $25 fine or avoid it by meeting certain conditions. 

What might be complicated is getting into a bike accident and seeking rightful compensation. It becomes even more complex for helmetless cyclists in California. However, all cyclists can generally sue for compensation regardless of helmet use.

Suppose you sustained injuries in a bike accident in California. In that case,  The Personal Injury Center can help. We have resources to educate you about negligent accidents and personal injury claims. We can also help you find the right lawyer to fight for your right to compensation. 

Get a free consultation at The Personal Injury Center. It is the first step in matching you with a competent lawyer for your bike accident claim. 

FAQs on the California Bicycle Helmet Law

A bike helmet citation will not appear on your driving record. You do not need a driver's license to ride a bicycle.

This is why you should double-check your ticket online. Ensure it states you were riding a bicycle, not a motorcycle. Note that stricter penalties apply to motorcycles. Suppose you were wrongfully cited for riding a motorcycle without a helmet. In that case, the citation would appear on your driving record.

There is no specific method for calculating pain and suffering in California. However, two are commonly used: multiplier and per diem.

Insurance companies typically use the multiplier formula. They take the total value of economic damages and multiply it with a number from 1.5 to 4 (multiplier). The more serious the victim's injuries, the higher the multiplier.

Lawyers typically use the per diem formula. They ask the jury to assign a daily rate for the victim's pain and suffering. The lawyers multiply that by the number of days the jury believes the victim will experience pain and suffering.

Suppose a bike accident results in injuries or property damage. In that case, you must file a lawsuit within two years of the incident. The same deadline holds for filing a wrongful death lawsuit for a family member. If the victim is a minor, the two-year statute begins on the child's 18th birthday. 

When filing a claim against the government, you have six months to file your claim. If you miss the applicable deadline, you will lose all chances of compensation. The court may grant extensions in some cases, like when the liable party is out of the country.