Motorcycle Helmets

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After the passage of the Highway Safety Act of 1966, the federal government issued a highway safety standard encouraging states to enact mandatory motorcycle helmet use laws.  If a state failed to comply, federal highway funds could be withheld.  As a result of this legislation, by 1975 all but three states had enacted mandatory helmet use laws.  In 1969 Arizona passed a law requiring all operators and passengers of motorcycles to wear a protective helmet.

Motorcycle Helmets in ArizonaIn 1976 the U. S. Congress reacting to pressure from opponents of mandatory helmet laws, revoked the federal Department of Transportation’s authority to withhold federal highway funds.  Arizona and 27 other states quickly repealed their helmet laws or amended them to apply only to motorcycle riders under 18 years of age.  As amended in 1976, A.R.S. § 28-964 applies only to persons under the age of 18 years.

As of July 2013, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet.  Arizona is one of 28 states that requires some motorcyclists to wear a helmet.  Three states have no motorcycle helmet use laws at all.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that per miles traveled, the number of deaths on motorcycles in 2001 was 30 times the number of deaths in cars.  Motorcycle helmets decrease the severity of head injuries, the likelihood of death and the cost of medical care. Helmets are highly effective in preventing brain injuries, which often require extensive treatment and may result in long term disability. NHTSA estimates that in the event of a crash, helmetless motorcyclists are 3 times more likely than those with helmets to suffer traumatic brain injuries, and that motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37%.

As previously mentioned Arizona’s helmet law was amended in response to pressure from motorcycle enthusiasts for the “freedom of choice” of whether or not to wear a helmet.  If you decide not to wear a motorcycle helmet and are injured in a motorcycle accident due to the fault of another person you may, under Arizona law, be held  partially responsible for your failure to wear a motorcycle helmet.

In 1988 the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division I, in Warfel v. Cheney, 157 Ariz. 428, 758 P.2d 1326 dealt with the issue of whether the jury should have been allowed to consider ifthe plaintiff motorcycle rider’s damages should be reduced due to his failure to wear a helmet.  At trial a medical doctor testified that Mr. Warfel’s head injuries would not have been as severe had he been wearing a helmet.

The Court began by taking judicial notice of the fact that motorcycle helmets are a safety device that generally reduce risk of death and significant head injury in the event of a traffic accident.  The Court further noted several studies that found full coverage helmets restricted drivers’ field of vision by less than 3%.

Warfel cited an older Arizona case which in 1969, when the statute also applied to adults, found that the statute’s primary purpose was to prevent injuries to motorcyclists from cranial trauma.

The Court in Warfel went on to hold that a helmet-less driver who was injured and brings an action to recover in tort must bear the consequences of the free choice not to wear a helmet by reduction of damages in the amount the jury determines the helmet would have reduced the injury.

Fortunately, for injured motorcyclists the burden of proof is upon the defendant to show, (1) the nonuse of the helmet was unreasonable under the circumstances, (2) that the nonuse caused injuries that would not have occurred had the helmet been used, and (3) the degree of enhancement of the injuries due to nonuse shown to a reasonable probability.  This is a tremendous burden upon the negligent defendant, particularly showing the degree of enhancement of the injuries.  This would certainly require the testimony of a physician.

Whether or not you choose to wear a helmet drive defensively!