New York Motorcycle Helmet Laws and How They Affect Motorcycle Accident Claims

The protection afforded by a motorcycle helmet cannot be overstated. Wearing a helmet reduces a rider’s chance of fatal injuries by 37 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2013, helmet use saved the lives of 1,630 motorcyclists, the NHTSA reports. Unfortunately, helmet use was estimated at just 60 percent in 2013. Many states, including New York, have motorcycle helmet laws that require helmet use.

In New York, riders must wear a helmet every time they ride. But not all helmets meet the required specifications. In order to ensure safety and compliance with states laws, helmets must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 218, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Not only do helmets protect you from fatal or catastrophic head injuries, they also protect you from liability. If you’re ever in an accident and not wearing a helmet, you might hold partial liability for your injuries.

New York Motorcycle Helmet Laws

All riders must wear an approved motorcycle helmet in New York. NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law, Section 381(6) states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate or ride upon a motorcycle unless he wears a protective helmet of a type which meets the requirements set forth in section 571.218 of the federal motor vehicle safety standards…” Furthermore, an operator of a motorcycle must also wear an approved face shield or goggles.

Violating the helmet law accomplishes three things.

  • It makes you significantly more prone to head injury and death.
  • It potentially hurts your rights to compensation if you’re ever injured in a wreck (or your family’s right to compensation if you die).
  • It puts you in violation of the law, a crime that’s punishable by up to a $100 fine and up to 30 days imprisonment.

Does your helmet meet the federal standards?

When selecting a helmet, not just any one will do. In fact, some can be downright unsafe. As mentioned, it is a state law in New York that the helmet meets FMVSS 218 requirements.

Below are some ways to ensure your helmet is safe according to New York standards.

  • Check the manufacturer’s label. To show the helmet meets the Federal safety standard, the manufacturer must have a label on the outside or inside of the helmet that provides the name of the manufacturer, month and year it was manufactured, model, size, owner’s information, and construction materials.
  • Look for a DOT sticker. The outside of the helmet should have a sticker on the back that reads “DOT.” This certifies it meets FMVSS 218 requirements.
  • Check for an ANSI or Snell label. These non-profit organizations are dedicated to promoting helmet safety, and their standards meet FMVSS 218 standards.

Features to Look for in a Motorcycle Helmet

Even with the aforementioned stickers and labeling, the potential exists that some helmets are counterfeits and don’t actually meet the safety requirements. Novelty or substandard helmets will do little to shield you. It’s important to look for certain features that indicate real protection.

Check the following features when looking for a motorcycle helmet that meets FMVSS 218 requirements.

  • Design – Safe helmets are full-face and don’t have elements that stick out more than two-tenths of an inch from the helmet. Unsafe helmets may be thinner and smaller in diameter.
  • Weight – The best helmets are sturdy and typically weigh about three pounds when they meet requirements. Lighter weight helmets may be unsafe.
  • Inner liner – The inner liner should be about one inch thick and made of durable polystyrene foam. Avoid helmets with no padding or that have liners made with soft foam.
  • Chinstrap and rivets – Inspect the chinstrap to ensure it is durable and that rivets are strong.

How Substandard Helmets Can Affect Your Motorcycle Accident Claim

Donning a helmet that doesn’t meet the required standards – or failing to wear a helmet at all – can adversely affect your accident claim if ever you’re injured in a crash.  This is because New York subscribes to a law referred to as comparative negligence. This rule provides that when you’re partly at fault for an accident, you can only recover partial damages.

What happens in many motorcycle accident cases is that the other party or the insurer will try to pin some of the blame for your injuries on you if you weren’t wearing an approved helmet. This is a common defense against a motorcycle accident claim. They will argue that you would’ve sustained less or no injuries had you been wearing your helmet.

If you’re partly responsible for the accident, it will reduce your settlement in proportion to your degree of fault. So, let’s say that you sustained $100,000 in damages in a motorcycle accident. Because you were only wearing a novelty helmet, the insurer says you’re 30 percent at fault for your injuries.  In this case, your settlement check will be reduced to $70,000.

Note: Lack of helmet use may only impact your claim if your injuries were head-, face-, or eye-related. If your leg was fractured, for instance, the fact that you weren’t wearing an approved helmet wouldn’t affect your injury and should not affect your settlement.

Injured in a motorcycle accident? Call Gacovino, Lake & Associates

If you or your loved one were hurt in a motorcycle accident, call Gacovino, Lake & Associates in New York. We can assist you with your claim, help identify and shield you from liability, and then help you maximize your recovery. Contact us today at 800-550-0000 to set up a free consultation with a motorcycle accident attorney.

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