Freedom isn’t free, as many people say, and when it comes to the freedom to operate a motorcycle without a helmet in Texas, this principle definitely applies.
The Texas helmet law isn’t particularly strict compared to other states, and a motorcyclist can take steps to become exempt from it. But there are a couple of important issues to be aware of before choosing to ride helmetless.
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way. The Texas law does enforce one mandate without exceptions: Any rider under age twenty-one, operator or passenger, must wear a helmet.
You can receive a ticket for a violation, although the amount—$10 to $50—isn’t much of a deterrent.
An operator over age twenty-one doesn’t need to wear a helmet, as long as you meet one of two criteria. You have to have completed a state-approved motorcycle safety course or have valid health insurance.
Even when these conditions haven’t been met, you can still go helmetless and expect to have no trouble with law enforcement—unless you’re stopped for another infraction. In Texas, you can’t be pulled over only for a helmet violation, but you can be ticketed for one if you’ve been stopped for something else.
Even though it’s allowed, should you ride without a helmet? Because of safety concerns and liability issues, doing so probably isn’t a good choice.
Some still argue that motorcycles aren’t inherently less safe than cars, or that a helmet can cause more injury than it prevents. They’re entitled to their opinions, but let’s not sugarcoat the real risks.
Like it or not, when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a much greater risk of being injured or killed than when you’re in a car. Data from 2015 found that motorcyclists were five times more likely to be injured and 29 times more likely to be killed per vehicle mile traveled than those in cars.
That year, just under 5,000 motorcyclists died in crashes, accounting for one of every seven traffic fatalities. Considering that fewer than one in twenty-five vehicles on the road is a motorcycle, that’s a disproportionate risk.
When it comes to helmet use, studies have been getting the same results for years: All things being equal, about one-third of helmeted riders will survive a crash that otherwise would have killed them, while about two-thirds of serious head injuries would have been avoided.
That’s no magic bullet, but it’s much better odds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 740 of those killed in 2015 would have survived if 100 percent of motorcyclists had worn helmets.
Crash survivability isn’t the only issue. Consider this fact: About half of all motorcycle accidents are single-vehicle crashes (only the biker is involved). The others involve a second vehicle—a passenger car or truck.
The motorcycle operator is not the one at fault in many of those crashes. So what happens if a biker is seriously injured in a crash that he didn’t cause, but the injury was at least in part due to not wearing a helmet? In many cases, this can shift at least part of the blame from the driver who caused the crash to the biker who was a victim of it.
Texas allows defendants to claim contributory negligence by the victim, which means any damage award can be reduced by the amount a victim contributed to an injury. In fact, the injured party will get no compensation at all if the court finds him or her to be more than 50 percent responsible for his or her own injury.
It all boils down to this: If you’re in a motorcycle crash and you’re not wearing a helmet, you could be found partially responsible for your injuries, even if you were 100 percent blameless.
Rear-ended by a speeding drunk driver? Hit by a distracted teen who wandered over the yellow line? Run into by a careless driver who took a left turn across your path? If the injury would have been less severe or could have been prevented by wearing a helmet, your damage award can be reduced because you didn’t take available steps to protect yourself from possible injury.
You might not think this is fair, but it’s the law and it’s not likely to change soon. For your own protection—physical and legal—our advice is that you always ride with a helmet.
When you’ve been the victim of a crash involving a motorcycle, you need help that only an experienced personal injury firm can offer. Denena Points, PC understands motorcycle accident law, and we’ll provide a free consultation to discuss your case.
Call us at 713-807-9500 or fill out the online contact form below to get started.