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What Are the Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Virginia?

The issue of whether or not motorcyclists should wear helmets and the level of safety afforded by them is a hot topic in the biking community. Virginia has a mandatory law that requires drivers and passengers on motorcycles to wear helmets. It’s one of 47 states that have a helmet law, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Under Virginia law, all motor vehicles classified as motorcycles require drivers to wear helmets that meet the specifications of the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute, or the Federal Department of Transportation, which Virginia has adopted. Whether one has a slower-moving motorcycle with a smaller engine or a souped-up motorcycle that can drive at high speeds, it does not matter. No motorcycles are excluded from Virginia Beach helmet laws.

If you were involved in a motorcycle accident and were not wearing a helmet, this fact could complicate a personal injury claim. A defense lawyer could argue that the extent of your injuries is a result of your failure to wear a helmet. For this reason, it is crucial to have an experienced motorcycle accident attorney by your side. Recently, attorneys Griffin O’Hanlon and John Baker at Cooper Hurley secured a  $7 million settlement for a motorcycle accident victim who suffered a traumatic amputation of their foot. With such expertise, our lawyers can create a solid defense against the prosecution’s arguments and vigorously fight for you.

The History of Federal and State Helmet Laws

But while most states have a law these laws vary in their breadth. Virginia is one of 20 states to require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Laws apply only to younger riders in many states including Utah, Texas, and Ohio. Although Virginia enforces helmet wearing more widely than many other states, there are exemptions for riders of some lower-powered motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles with roofs.

In the past the federal government has intervened in the issue, linking state compliance to funding. In 1967, the federal government moved to mandate states to enact universal motorcycle helmet laws to be able to access certain highway safety funds.

However, in 1975, the power to impose penalties for non-compliance was removed by Congress, leading to a relaxation of laws in many states. The helmet debate has pitted issues of safety against riders’ choice for decades. Before the 1950s few riders wore helmets but an upsurge in head and neck injuries prompted government agencies to get in on the act.

One safety body that developed without government intervention was the Snell Memorial Foundation which was founded in memory of William “Pete” Snell, a sports car racer who was killed in 1956.

The foundation rigorously tests helmets and has set the safety standard ever since. “There is no manufacturer representative on the Snell Board of Directors. The Snell name and sticker on every certified helmet have become symbols of head protection assurance,” Snell states on its website.

Riders are also advised to wear helmets approved by the federal Department of Transportation. Standards of helmets riders should wear are written into the laws of some states, including Virginia’s.

Bill OMara

Ask The Car Crash Experts - Does Virginia Have a Motorcycle Helmet Law?

Bill O'Mara, Personal Injury Lawyer

“Some states don’t require you to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. Virginia, however, does have a mandatory law in place that requires you to wear a helmet if riding on a motorcycle.”

Impact of Helmet Use in a Personal Injury Case

The helmet issue relates to traumatic brain injuries. Lawyers in Virginia see many serious head injuries sustained in crashes by motorcyclists who lack the additional protection afforded by the frame of a car. Head and brain injuries are also one of the biggest causes of motorcyclist deaths.

Not only can helmets prevent severe injuries and fatalities, but the law is also clear that wearing a helmet while operating a motorcycle in Virginia Beach is mandatory. That same law is explicit in noting that a failure to wear a motorcycle helmet does not constitute negligence in and of itself in a civil proceeding. While someone might be punished, and while they violated a traffic law by not wearing it, it cannot be used as proof of negligence against them in a personal injury civil proceeding.

Contributory Negligence in Virginia Beach

Negligence is when another person, often the driver of a car, truck, or motorcycle, fails to use due care and act as a reasonably prudent person would under similar circumstances. If someone is negligent, they can be held financially responsible for injuring others. As a defense to a negligence claim, that same negligent driver may argue that the person he injured was contributorily negligent.

Under Virginia law, if the injured person shares any fault, even as small as one percent, in contributing to the cause of the accident and their own injuries, then the injured person is arguably contributorily negligent. If the judge or the jury finds the injured person is contributorily negligent, and the contributory negligence is a proximate cause of cause of their own injuries, they are barred from recovery under Virginia law.

Stated another way, claiming that an injured person is contributorily negligent is the argument that the injured person did not use due care for their own safety and did not act as a reasonably prudent person would act under like circumstances. This rule is known as pure contributory negligence. When the injured person shares any fault for causing their own injuries, they are barred from recovery. This is true even if the other party is almost entirely at fault.

Talking to an Attorney About Helmet Laws

If you are concerned that your failure to follow Virginia Beach helmet laws will affect your personal injury case, reach out to a skilled personal injury attorney for assistance. They could review the facts of your case and explain the possible outcomes. If the defense tries to argue that not wearing a helmet played a role in your injuries, an experienced attorney could come to your defense. Call today to schedule a consultation.

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