Helmet Laws in Austin
Austin, TX, has a love-hate relationship with helmets. The city knows helmets protect motorcyclists in motorcycle accidents. But it also has a powerful anti-regulatory streak that convinces lawmakers to limit the scope of their helmet laws.
As a result, Texas has an age-limited motorcycle helmet law, and Austin has an age-limited bicycle helmet law. These laws go largely unenforced due to the difficulty in determining the age of a motorcyclist or bicyclist from a distance, but they still do matter.
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Every state except Illinois, New Hampshire, and Iowa has a motorcycle helmet law. This trend started in 1967 when the U.S. government made part of the State Highway Fund contingent on passing a universal motorcycle helmet law.
By 1975, most states, including Texas, had a motorcycle helmet law. Texas’s law required everyone to wear a motorcycle helmet when riding on public roads and highways.
However, in 1975, the federal highway funding laws changed. Congress dropped the penalty for states without helmet laws, and many states began to repeal or modify their laws. Today, only 19 states have universal helmet laws.
Texas has a statewide motorcycle helmet law. Austin has a bicycle helmet law that applies to public lands, including streets, parks, and bike trails. These two laws cover all the requirements for helmet use in Austin.
While Texas’s motorcycle helmet law requires all riders to wear a motorcycle helmet, there is a major exception to that rule. Texas law does not require riders or passengers over 21 to wear a motorcycle helmet if they have health insurance or have completed a motorcycle safety course.
Since motorcycle operators must complete a motorcycle safety course to receive a motorcycle license, the law essentially exempts all motorcycle license holders over 21.
Also, police officers cannot determine a motorcyclist’s age, license status, or health insurance status from a distance. If they err in stopping a motorcyclist over 21, the officer has wasted time and effort.
As a result, police officers tend to avoid enforcing the motorcycle helmet law except after an accident or for obvious violations like an unhelmeted child passenger.
Austin also has an age-limited bicycle helmet ordinance. This law requires children under 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, skateboard, or scooter on public property. It also requires adults to put a helmet on children riding in child bike seats, bike trailers, and bike sidecars.
Austin’s police department misused the bicycle helmet law. Instead of using it to promote the safety of child cyclists, the police department issued tickets in a racially discriminatory manner. Over 90% of tickets for bike helmet violations were issued to Hispanic and black children over the three years after the law’s enactment.
Rather than improving training for its officers in enforcing the law, the Austin police department chose to stop enforcing it.
The motorcycle helmet law and bicycle helmet ordinance are still on the books. But they are rarely enforced.
Even though you will likely not get a ticket for riding without a helmet, you should still wear one. Motorcycle helmets reduce your chance of a head injury by 69% and your chances of death by 37%. Bicycle helmets reduce head or brain injuries by as much as 88%.
If you get injured in an accident, your failure to wear a helmet could impact your compensation. Texas uses comparative negligence to allocate blame after an accident. An insurance adjuster or jury can reduce your damages if they determine you acted negligently in failing to wear a helmet.
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Wearing a helmet is not convenient, but it could save your life. Depending on your age, failing to wear a helmet might also get you a traffic citation.
However, even if you wear a helmet, you could still get injured in an accident with a passenger car. To discuss your injuries with an experienced Austin motorcycle accident lawyer, contact FVF Law for a free consultation.
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