Texas Motorcycle Helmet Laws Explained
While most motorcycle riders know that wearing a helmet is good, you might be wondering if it is necessary. Some states require all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet while they ride a motorcycle, some require only those under 21 to wear helmets, and still others have more- or less-forgiving requirements. What is the law in Texas, and what changes will this law be undergoing in the future?
In most situations, it is your decision whether or not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. This is conditional upon your obtaining the requisite motorcycle insurance and completing a state-mandated safety course. You must be over the age of 21 in order to satisfy these requirements. If you are not, you will have to wear a helmet. The same rules apply to passengers. As of current law, you cannot be pulled over simply for not wearing a helmet, but those laws are subject to change based on proposed legislation. You will want to speak with a Texas motorcycle lawyer about any questions you may have rather than making assumptions and landing yourself in hot water.
At The Queenan Law Firm, P.C., we stay on top of what is going on in Texas law so that our clients don’t have to. Our Dallas motorcycle accident lawyers can help you with any questions you might have about developments in motorcycle helmet law in Texas. For more information about the current law or questions about representation, call us for a free consultation. We can be reached at (817) 476-1797.
Our Arlington, TX car accident lawyers serve injury victims statewide, and whether you live in Odessa, Houston, Dallas, or Austin, we are happy to speak with you for free about your case.
Do You Need to Wear a Helmet on a Motorcycle in Texas?
Speaking as injury attorneys, we always urge everyone to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle – or even a bicycle. Traumatic brain injury is one of the most serious injuries you can sustain, and since your head is completely exposed without a helmet, these injuries are quite common in motorcycle crashes and bicycle accidents. Especially if you are hit while riding a motorcycle at highway speeds, you could suffer traumatic head injuries and potential death if you are not wearing a helmet.
It is estimated that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69% and reduce the risk of death by 37% in cases of motorcycle accidents. This is critical, because motorcycle accident deaths outnumber car accidents deaths 29 to 1. Roughly 45% of motorcyclists killed in accidents each year were not wearing a helmet at the time of their accident, which is significant, because only about 19% of motorcycle accidents involve a rider who was not wearing a helmet.
With all of that said, the decision to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle is your personal choice in most instances. However, the law in Texas requires all riders under 21 to wear a helmet. This means that minors and young adults who operate a motorcycle must wear an approved helmet – no exceptions.
Requirements to Legally Ride a Motorcycle Without a Helmet in Texas
If you are 21 or over, you must generally wear a helmet, but you can get permission not to wear a helmet. The rules governing Texas motorcycle safety requirements can be found in Section 661 of the Transportation Code. Section 661 applies to all motorcycle operators, whether they are residents of Texas or just passing through the state. It also applies to other similar vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and four-wheelers, that can be lawfully driven on public roadways.
There are also additional requirements for safety features and gear that apply for motorcyclists in Texas. All motorcycles must have some of the most basic features of any other vehicle. These features include reflective mirrors, headlights, taillights, brakes, a speedometer, and a license plate on clear display. All motorcycles must have valid registration and display the registration sticker clearly on the license plate. To maintain registration, motorcycles, just like any other vehicle, must be subjected to annual inspection.
Exceptions to Texas Motorcycle Helmet Requirement
Section 661 contains an exception that states that you can ride without a helmet if you meet both of the following criteria:
- You complete a motorcycle safety course
- You carry both motorcycle insurance and health insurance that will cover your motorcycle accident injuries
Motorcycle Safety Course
In order to ride a motorcycle in Texas under any circumstances, you must have first completed a state-issued motorcycle safety course. The most basic course offered by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Training Operations Division (TOD) is the Basic Rider Course (RBC). The RBC costs $30 to enroll and consists of both classroom and riding portions and is meant to cover the basic functions of the motorcycle and safe driving practices. You will not need your own motorcycle, helmet, or gloves to participate in the class, as they will be provided for you. However, you are encouraged to dress in appropriate attire for riding while attending the classes, such as pants, close-toed shoes, and a sturdy jacket.
Sufficient Motorcycle and Health Insurance
All drivers in the State of Texas must carry a minimum amount of automobile insurance coverage to operate lawfully, and motorcycles are no exception. In Texas, the minimum coverage amounts for motorcycle insurance coverage are as follows: $30,000 per injured person, $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident. Additionally, if you wish to ride without a helmet, you must also retain at least $10,000 of health insurance coverage that would apply to any injuries you might sustain in a motorcycle accident.
In many cases, this insurance is not high enough to actually cover your full needs after an accident, and you should speak with a Dallas car accident lawyer if you or a family member is injured in a motorcycle accident. However, you must carry this motorcycle health insurance if you want to ride your motorcycle without a helmet, even if you will need additional coverage after an injury.
What Other Protective Gear Should You Have While Driving a Motorcycle in Texas?
While Texas law stops short of requiring any protective accessories other than a helmet, wearing proper attire and gear can prove critical in avoiding serious injury in the event of an accident. Even if your motorcycle has a windshield, the government advises riders to wear goggles that protect the eyes from debris and wind. While sunglasses do provide some protection, they are not the most effective form, and they may cause the driver’s eyes to water or inhibit peripheral vision. Gloves also protect the hands from debris cuts and keeps the fingers warm and flexible.
The most important piece of attire for a motorcyclist is the jacket. Flimsy fabrics may erode quickly in a skid and provide little protection for the rider who finds themselves involved in an accident. Your best bet is a leather jacket that is purpose-built for riding. These materials are often made with additional support and padding specifically intended to protect a rider from common injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
You should wear shoes that provide ample grip and traction so that your feet do not slip off the motorcycle pegs or on the ground when stopping. Long or untied laces can get caught in the critical areas of the machine. If riding in rainy conditions, a visor is recommended to keep a clear line of vision. Clothing that leaves skin exposed is not only dangerous in the instance of a skid but can also lead to burns when the body makes contact with certain parts of the motorcycle that may heat up with use. Reflective clothing is always helpful for other drivers who might otherwise have a difficult time seeing the motorcyclist, particularly at night.
Texas Motorcycle Helmet Laws for Passengers
Since 2015, a motorcycle must be equipped with a permanent passenger seat, footrests, and handholds in order to lawfully carry a passenger. Any passenger under the age of 21 must wear a helmet at all times. Passengers who are over 21 may ride without a helmet provided that the driver has met the proper requirements outlined above (i.e., completion of safety course and sufficient health insurance coverage). The passenger does not need to pass the course or carry insurance. However, if the motorcycle operator has not met the requirements, a helmetless passenger may also be cited in addition to the driver for the violation. Citations may lead to points against the motorcyclists’ license. If the driver obtains enough points against their license, they are subject to suspension or revocation of their license under Texas law.
Texas law is the same for all motorcycle passengers regardless of the location on the vehicle at which they sit. Passengers riding in combinations, outfits, rigs, or other variations of side car extension are all the same in the eyes of the State of Texas.
What Kind of Helmet Does Texas Law Require for Motorcycles?
Texas requires that motorcycle helmets comply with the guidance of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (FMVSS 218). While federal law requires that motorcycle helmets sold in the U.S. must meet these standards, some retailers get away with skirting the guidelines by categorizing their product as a “novelty” item. In the eyes of the law, however, these helmets are insufficient to keep you safe (or to prevent you from being fined at a traffic stop), so it is important that you keep an eye out for discrepancies.
FMVSS 218 requirements highlight key characteristics of what constitutes an acceptable helmet under the law. The helmet must feature an inner liner that is at least one inch thick and made of a hard foam such as polystyrene. Helmets that contain soft foams or no lining at all are almost assuredly insufficient. Approved helmets all must have chin straps and should weigh around three pounds. FMVSS 218 prevents helmets with large decorative pieces or protrusions, such as spikes.
A Department of Transportation (DOT) sticker can be a helpful indicator of whether a helmet meets the FMVSS 218 specifications. The sticker will typically be placed on the back of the helmet. However, some novelty retailers will also provide fraudulent stickers made to look like the official ones. Before you decide to ride, make sure that you have the proper headgear by utilizing the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), researching the helmet brand, or consulting your Texas motorcycle helmet lawyer.
Will You Be Pulled Over for Riding Without a Helmet?
Some riders are allowed to ride without a helmet in Texas. Therefore, police cannot pull you over just for riding without a helmet. Helmetless riding cannot be the “primary offense” for which a cop pulls you over. However, if they notice reckless driving, speeding, or another offense, they can pull you over and give you a citation for riding without a helmet in addition to the other offense.
Can Police Pull You Over if They Suspect You Are Violating the Helmet Law?
As the current law stands, a police officer or state trooper may not use a motorcyclist’s lack of helmet to instigate a traffic stop. That does not mean that you will not get a ticket if you are found to be in violation of the helmet law. All this means is that violations of the helmet law are not a “primary offense.” A primary offense is a traffic violation that officers may act upon when they observe or suspect that a driver is in violation. An example of a primary offense would be speeding.
If you were pulled over while riding your motorcycle without a helmet and the officer who conducted the stop failed to provide a reason for the stop other than the fact that you weren’t wearing a helmet, you may have been the victim of an unlawful stop. If the officer assessed any citations or fines or made an arrest as a result of an unlawful stop, you would likely have grounds to contest any of the charges against you in a Texas court. Contact one of our Houston motorcycle attorneys if you are interested in hearing more about what we can do to fight a charge or citation stemming from an illegal stop.
When Can Police Write a Ticket for Violating the Helmet Law?
While violations of the helmet law are not primary violations, they are still punishable as secondary violations. This means that if an officer pulls you over for some other violation and discovers that you have not met the requirements to operate a motorcycle without a license, they can write you an additional ticket for this offense as well, adding to the already considerable cost that your initial violation carries.
What Are the Penalties for Violating the Helmet Law?
If you are pulled over while riding your motorcycle without a helmet and do not have the requisite insurance coverage, the officer will write you a citation for Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility. For first-time offenders, the fine associated with this citation is $315. For each subsequent offense, penalties will include higher fines, points against your license, and even the suspension of the motorcyclist’s license and registration.
The above information about when a police officer may stop a motorcyclist is only true according to current law on helmetless riding. Keep reading below to find out more information about proposed changes to the current law that would give officers the ability to conduct stops of helmetless riders.
Proposed Changes to Texas Motorcycle Helmet Laws in 2021
The helmet law as it stands today is already the product of various changes. Before 2009, the Texas motorcycle helmet law required riders to carry medical insurance with at least $10,000 of coverage before they could ride without a helmet. This ended in 2009 when Gov. Rick Perry removed that minimum threshold. While your medical insurance still needs to meet the statutory requirements for motorcycle health coverage, a $10,000 coverage minimum is no longer a part of that. If you aren’t sure what your health insurance covers regarding motorcycle accident injuries, speak to a qualified Fort Worth motorcycle attorney today.
Texas House Bill 748
The motorcycle helmet laws in Texas may undergo other proposed changes this year. Texas legislators reintroduced House Bill 748. The bill would make wearing a helmet a primary offense that police can pull you over for. This means that if you are caught riding a motorcycle without a helmet, police could pull you over even if you do not commit any other offenses. This would help close a “loophole,” according to many critics of the current motorcycle law.
It is yet to be seen how this law will change in the future since this proposed law is still going through the legislative process and has not been passed into law. The bill has been kicked around the legislative body since early 2019, and has its share of opponents.
Arguments Against Texas House Bill 748
Arguments against the bill suggest that increasing the capability of law enforcement officers to pull motorcyclists over constitutes government overreach. At a time when police conduct is at such a heighted level of scrutiny, many rightly wonder whether putting officers in the position where they are required to stop a motorist just to ensure compliance isn’t asking for dangerous complications.
Others further suggest that the bill represents a half-measure. Asking police officers to engage in more traffic stops where the motorcyclist may be operating fully within the law could be no more than an inconvenience to both parties. Instead, many suggest, the government should pass legislation that simply makes helmetless driving illegal. This measure would remove any blurred lines from the officer’s determination and make motorcyclists in Texas safer.
The opponents of the bill are of two minds. Some feel that the bill creates too much legislation, and others feel that it fails to create enough legislation. With that in mind, it is hard to estimate whether the substance of the bill will come to fruition in the near future. To hear more about current developments with proposed legislation, we recommend that you speak to one of our Houston personal injury attorneys.
Does Wearing a Helmet Affect a Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit?
In cases of serious brain injury or head injury after a motorcycle accident, people may blame the rider for not wearing a helmet. If you sue the other driver for injuries after a motorcycle accident, they may argue that your lack of a helmet made the injuries worse and that they should not be responsible for that harm. However, this argument does not always work, and you can still sue for compensation.
Victim-blaming accusations are not always good legal arguments. First and foremost, if someone causes an accident by driving dangerously, they are responsible for all of the effects of that crash, even if the victim is especially vulnerable to injury. In other words, pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated as a result of the crash are still the responsibility of the party that caused the accident. Because the accident and subsequent injuries would not have occurred at all without the defendant’s negligence, these arguments can often be overcome.
Additionally, if the court does consider your lack of a helmet your own fault, that does not bar you from recovering compensation. In Texas, courts and juries can assign partial blame to any, both, or all parties involved in the accident. If the court finds that the other driver was at fault for your crash, but you contributed to the crash, your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault in the crash. For example, if your lack of a helmet is considered 5% fault in causing the accident, you will still recover 95% of the damages. As long as you were 50% at fault or less, you can still recover damages for a motorcycle crash without a helmet.
Comparative Negligence for Injuries vs. Causing the Motorcycle Accident
While a motorcycle rider’s inattention or carelessness could be considered a contributory cause of the crash, the lack of a helmet usually does not actually cause a crash. In general, failing to wear a helmet is not going to make you crash your bike unless you get hit in the face or head with some debris, causing you to lose control of the bike. Instead, the lack of a helmet usually makes the injuries worse.
In a motorcycle accident case where the rider was wearing a helmet, it is less likely that the rider would suffer serious head injuries. Without a helmet, the odds of serious injury go up. According to studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), motorcyclists and passengers who ride without helmets are three times as likely as those who wear helmets to suffer traumatic brain injuries as a result of accidents.
The defendant will often argue that your injuries were made worse because you didn’t wear a helmet, and that any increase in damages should be allocated to you instead of them. A court would essentially have to break down the injury by determining how bad the injuries might have been with a helmet, then comparing them to how bad they actually were without a helmet.
How Do You Get Compensation for Your Motorcycle Accident Injuries if You Weren’t Wearing a Helmet?
Rest assured, you may still be able to obtain compensation to help you with the consequences of your motorcycle accident, even if you weren’t wearing a helmet. The key factor for determining how you get your compensation after a motorcycle accident is whether there was fault involved.
If another driver was at fault for causing the accident, you can look to file a claim with their insurance provider or, preferably, name them in an injury lawsuit to recover damages. A lawsuit is always the most lucrative option where available because your recovery will not be limited based on available insurance coverage. However, if there was no fault involved in the accident, you can still recover from your own insurance provider.
In these scenarios, your recovery will be limited to the amount of coverage provided under your plan. For instance, as mentioned above, the minimum threshold of health insurance to drive helmetless is $10,000. Even if you suffer more than $10,000 in damages, you won’t be able to recover the full amount through an insurance claim with your own provider. Therefore, it is always best to consult with an Irving motorcycle accident attorney before making a decision to make sure you aren’t giving up any of the money that you deserve.
What if Your Insurance Won’t Cover Your Motorcycle Accident Injuries?
If you go through the process of obtaining the insurance coverage that will allow you to operate your motorcycle as you see fit, you deserve the protection of the insurance company. In no-fault motorcycle accidents, you can file a claim with your insurance company to have your medical care covered, even if you were not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
However, some insurance companies would rather drag their feet or issue frivolous denials of insurance claims than pay their clients what they deserve. Insurance companies are only interested in protecting their bottom line. To that end, they may decide to take advantage of policy holders when they are at their most vulnerable, in hopes that they will get away with avoiding their legal responsibility to provide financial assistance after a motorcycle accident leaves the policy holder injured.
Bad faith behavior from insurance companies is much more common in instances where they know or suspect that the claimant does not have their own lawyer. This is because insurance company representatives and claims adjusters know that an experienced attorney will be able to spot their underhanded tactics immediately.
If you feel that your insurance company is being unfair to you after you submitted a motorcycle accident injury claim, we urge you to contact us immediately. Our Texas bad faith insurance attorneys can negotiate with the claims adjuster and bring the insurance company to court if necessary. If you win a bad faith insurance lawsuit, you may recover not only the money that you were originally owed, but additional damages on top of that figure. Talk to The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. today to find out more about your options.
Our Dallas Motorcycle Accident Lawyers Can Help if you Got into a Wreck
If you or a loved one suffered motorcycle accident injuries in Texas, do not let the Texas motorcycle helmet laws discourage you from talking to a personal injury lawyer or taking the responsible parties to court. Our personal injury lawyers may be able to file your claim in court and work to get you and your family the compensation you need for serious motorcycle accident injuries. To schedule a free legal consultation, call our law offices today at (817) 476-1797.