The Great California Motorcycle Helmet Debate

As the great motorcycle helmet debate in California doesn’t look like slowing down, an experienced Los Angeles motorcycle accident attorney looks at the ‘whys and wherefores’ of wearing motorcycle helmets when getting on your bike.

If you look at the statistics since the law was passed in California in 1992, then the compulsory wearing of safety helmets does prove a convincing argument on paper. For example in 1991 the year before motorcycle helmet laws were introduced, there were 512 motorcycle accident fatalities in the state of California. However, in 1992 the year the law was introduced, that figure dropped to 327, which is a drop of around 36.5%. In addition to this, serious head trauma caused by motorcycle accidents dropped from 1258 in 1991 to 588 in 1992. This again is a 46.8% decrease.

You would probably be forgiven for thinking that taking these figures as a whole it seems that the compulsory wearing of safety helmets has been proven (well, at least on paper anyway). However, these figures fail to take into account two events that were also happening around this time that have a bearing on these figures. Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyers explain…


In 1986 the state of California introduced the California Motorcycle Safety Program (CMSP). This was an award-winning project funded by the state in which thousands of motorcycle riders took part. The aim was to make bikers and indeed vehicle owners more safety aware. The results were somewhat astounding. In the first four or five years that the CMSP was in operation fatalities in the state dropped by 43% and serious injuries also decreased by 40%. Even now experts say that the program continues to reduce accident and fatality levels by around 10% every single year.

The Gulf War

Between August of 1990 and Feb of 1991 the Gulf War raged and as a result, oil prices shot to an all time high. This in turn meant that gas prices also rose rapidly. For bikers who had motorcycles as second forms of transport, many could no longer afford to run them. This meant that there was a sharp decrease in motorcycle users on California’s roads. This was the catalyst that caused the continued decline in motorcycle use that we witness today. In fact last year motorcycle sales in the US were down 15% and have been decreasing on average by around 12% year on year.

When you put these two events into perspective, then suddenly the safety figures do seem somewhat tainted, given the fact that they fail to take into the whole picture. Also just to rub more salt into the wounds, anti helmet wearers suggest that these safety figures which were originally compiled by the NHTSA, have long been in favor of compulsory safety helmets for motorcyclists and therefore the report is biased.

As a motorcycle accident lawyer it is fair to suggest that from a legal perspective, if it came to an accident and one party was disputing negligence with another party, then there is a pretty good chance that a jury would look more favorably on a motorcyclist who has taken all the safety precautions necessary, (such as the wearing of a safety helmet) over one who didn’t.

The freedom of speech and equal freedom of rights is something that we as a nation are very proud of, and although around 70% of Californian motorcyclists wear safety helmets most of the time, very few of them believe that the state should enforce them to do so. This then is clearly more than a safety issue, it also become a rights issue. Until such times as figures can be more accurately proven then the great motorcycle helmet accident debate will ravage on.

Clearly any motorcycle accident would be inclined to believe that this evidence points to the fact that the wearing of safety helmets does indeed save lives and would endeavor to support this fact. However in this case there is definitely more to it than meets the eye.