What Are The Motorcycle Helmet Laws in PA?

Clients often ask this question, especially after being involved in some sort of motorcycle accident. Here are the facts.

Is It Illegal To Ride A Bike (Bicycle) Without A Helmet In PA?

Under Pennsylvania’s helmet law (75 Pa. C.S.A. Section 3525), riders are not required to wear helmets if they are over 21 years of age and have completed the state’s motorcycle safety course or have two years of driving experience. What is required of all riders is to have correct protective eyewear? According to Pennsylvania’s helmet law, no person can operate or ride a motorcycle without protective eyewear that has been approved by the department of motor vehicles. With that being said, even though helmets are not mandatory for all riders, the risk of getting into a motorcycle accident is the same for everyone.

In Pennsylvania, motorcyclists 21 or over are not required to wear motorcycle helmets to ride, as of a 2003 repeal of the helmet law. Riders without at least two years of licensed experience or who are under 21 are, however, required to wear motorcycle helmets. While licensed riders over 21 enjoy the freedom of riding without a helmet, this choice can, and does, have lethal consequences.

A full-face helmet credited for saving its user.
A full-face helmet is credited for saving its user.  © by Jeff Dean

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reports that one out of every five motorcycle crashes result in head or neck injuries and that riders wearing helmets are 50 percent less likely to be seriously injured in a crash than those not wearing helmets. This makes the use of a helmet vital. And even though helmet use might be optional for some, all riders are required by Pennsylvania state law to wear eye protection while operating a motorcycle. The use of goggles is a fine means to protect your eyes, but a good helmet will come equipped with an effective face shield.

How Old Does a Passenger Have to Be on a Motorcycle in PA?

There is no minimum age requirement for passengers of motorcycles in Pennsylvania. If you are going to have passengers on your motorcycle, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the motorcycle must be equipped with a passenger seat and footrests. That being said, if your passenger cannot reach the footpegs, for their safety, you might want to reconsider having them as a passenger on your motorcycle.

What States Require Motorcycle Helmets?

Although Motorcycle helmet laws are still not very strict across the US, 20 states have laws that require riders to wear a helmet while riding on a motorcycle. In some states, the law only considers the use of helmets under some conditions, such as in Pennsylvania. In other states like Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire, there are no laws requiring the use of helmets while riding a motorcycle. While some states do not require motorcyclists to wear helmets, state agencies strongly encourage that riders do wear helmets. Even if you are properly trained and respect the rules of the road, accidents still happen. In the event of an accident, the single most important piece of gear a rider can have is the proper helmet.

How To Measure Yourself For A Motorcycle Helmet?

Measuring yourself for a motorcycle helmet is easy. Acquire a measuring tape that is flexible, also called a tailor’s tape or sewing tape, and measure the circumference of your head. Note the measurement carefully to compare this to the brand’s size for final selection.

A helmet that does not fit correctly can actually contribute to your injuries. Try helmets of different sizes — a helmet that sits loose on your head is not right, and if it is too tight it could cause discomfort over time. A snug but comfortable fit is best. Adjust the straps when you try on the helmet: make sure you can achieve a tight hold without restricting your ability to open your mouth. The bottom line is: your helmet should move as though it were a part of your head — it shouldn’t slide around.

Some Advice on Choosing the Right Motorcycle Helmets

Motorcycle helmets come in all sorts of colors and designs but not all of them will protect your head from injury if you are involved in a motorcycle accident. So then how does a consumer know which helmet is best for him? Two factors which may help a motorcyclist decide are the safety standard met and the shape of the helmet.

In the U.S. all motorcycle helmets must meet the Department of Transportation (DOT) helmet standards. These helmets are designed to help protect the skull from 90% of impact types. A non-profit organization, SNELL, also tests impact resistance on motorcycle helmets but uses different criteria. SNELL claims to have the industry’s toughest standards and is focused on shock-absorbing during an impact. While there is much controversy over which standard is better, it is ultimately up to the individual rider to determine which one is more beneficial to him.

In addition to deciding which safety standard is most beneficial, riders should also choose a style of helmet that will offer the amount of protection they are looking for. There are three types of a motorcycle helmets:

  • The full-face helmet – covers the entire head including the chin, and front of the face,
  • The three quarter “flip-down” helmet – does not cover the chin but usually has a piece that flips down to protect the eyes, and
  • The half “beanie” helmet – only has the basic components

Generally, the full-face helmet offers the most protection in the event of an accident. On the other hand, the flip-down helmet protects the head only 55.5% of the time. Even worse, the beanie helmet is the most likely to come off during an impact and therefore, only protects the rider’s head 38.6% of the time.

This graphic can help you choose the motorcycle helmet that will keep you the most comfortable and safe on the roads.

How to Choose the Right Motorcycle Helmet- Motorcycle Accident Attorney in Philadelphia- Carpey Law

Why You Should Wear A Motorcycle Helmet?

Since the repeal of the Pennsylvania motorcycle helmet law, not only has the number of riders in the state increased, but so has the number of deaths attributed to riders without motorcycle helmets.

  • According to a study performed by the University of Pittsburgh comparing the rates before and after the repeal, deaths increased by 32% following the repeal. Helmets reduce the risk of fatal head injuries by 37%, the same study posited: that means that one of every three riders could potentially save his or her life by choosing to wear a helmet.
  • A 2008 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 91% of bikers fatally wounded in traffic accidents were not wearing protective headgear.
  • The same study also found that the number of riders hospitalized for head injuries after the repeal increased by 42%, which, coupled with rising health care costs, means not only gambling one’s life, but one’s wallet.

These statistics demonstrate that a helmet can be, and often is, what separates a motorcycle injury from a motorcycle fatality. Hospital costs for head injuries have always been steep, but with a flood of motorcyclists choosing to ride without protection, those costs only rise and put more strain on hospitals and, by proxy, taxpayers.

So, while Pennsylvania has yet to reinstate a comprehensive helmet law, it is always worthwhile to consider safety when riding— because a helmet costs a lot less than a hospital visit.

If you or a loved one is injured in a motorcycle accident, contact the offices of Carpey Law. Mr. Stuart Carpey is an experienced and compassionate motorcycle accident attorney in Philadelphia.

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