California law requires all motorcycle drivers and passengers to wear a safety helmet. California Vehicle Code, Division 12, Chapter 5, Article 7, Section 27803 states that is it illegal to operate a motorcycle or be a passenger on a motorcycle without wearing a safety helmet.

What are the standards for these safety helmets? California law requires that the helmet worn by the motorcycle rider or passenger must be fastened with straps and fit the person’s head securely without excessive lateral or vertical movement.

Recent media reports show that nationwide, including in California, novelty helmets are boosting motorcycle accident fatalities. What are novelty helmets? These are basically head gear for motorcyclists and passengers that are designed to do little more than giving a false impression of compliance with helmet use laws.

In several states where motorcycle helmets are mandatory, motorcyclists wear novelty helmets as a symbol of resistance to such laws. Others use them simply because they “look cool,” are much cheaper than the DOT-approved ones or are less bulkier and more comfortable to wear.

Novelty Helmets are Useless in a Crash

Novelty helmets do not meet federal safety requirements. In fact, government safety agencies have released several reports after testing numerous brands of the novelty helmets finding that they failed all or most of their safety tests. Six years ago, NHTSA hired an independent laboratory to research seven novelty helmet models and found that all of them were absolutely useless in a crash.

The analyses gave 100 percent probability of brain injuries and skull fracture indicating that the person wearing the helmet is likely to sustain fatal head trauma. What’s worse, these helmets give riders and passengers a false sense of security. Also, it remains legal to make and sell novelty helmets as long as they are not falsely represented as meeting federal standards. California is one of several states that has made them illegal, but this law is ill-enforced in the Golden State.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 54 percent of road riders wore an approved helmet in 2010, which was down from 67 percent in 2009. More than 800,000 novelty helmets are sold in the United States each year with the number of the motorcycle accident fatalities mounting.

A NHTSA rule taking effect next month will hopefully make it easier for police to spot helmets with fake safety labels. Many of these labels and stickers are sold online for as little as 50 cents. Numerous tests over the years have clearly shown that certified helmets, those meeting federal standards, save hundreds of lives every year and prevent traumatic brain injuries.

Higher Number of Motorcycle Crash Fatalities

In 2011, motorcycle crashes killed 4,612 people, more than twice the number of motorcyclists killed in the mid 1990s. NHTSA has estimated that as many as 754 people die each year in states with mandatory helmet laws because they wore novelty helmets instead of the safer helmets. That amounts to one in six rider fatalities. In the 19 states that require all riders to be helmeted, including California, novelty helmets account for about one of every five helmets sold.

Crashes Involving Novelty Helmets

NHTSA has estimated that as many as 754 people die each year in states with mandatory helmet laws because they wore novelty helmets instead of safe headgear, which amounts to nearly one in six rider fatalities. Yet in the 19 states that require riders of all ages to wear some form of protection, the novelty versions account for about one out of every five helmets sold. Novelty helmets are sold in stores and online by numerous companies. Prices start at around $30 and top out at $305.99.

California has particularly seen an increase in accidents involving novelty helmets, officials say. Most recently on March 14, 2013, 56-year-old William Rivers was killed in a Riverside County car accident after the driver of another vehicle failed to yield the right-of-way to his motorcycle at a street intersection. Officials said Rivers was wearing a novelty helmet and died from his injuries although both the pickup and motorcycle were traveling at or below the speed limit at the time.

These are injuries and fatalities that can easily be prevented. A DOT-approved full-face helmet can help significantly reduce the probability of a traumatic head injury or a fatal injury.

Protecting Victims’ Rights

Regardless of the type of helmet, if a motorcycle accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, the at-fault party can be held liable for the injuries, damages and losses caused. Injured victims or families of deceased victims would be well advised to contact an experienced California personal injury lawyer who will analyze all aspects of the incident and ensure that the negligent parties are held accountable.