A motorcyclist not wearing a helmet is more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a motorcycle accident than a motorcyclist who is wearing a helmet approved by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT). Most states have laws requiring some motorcyclists to wear a helmet. What does New Jersey say about the use of helmets, and what are the consequences of not wearing a helmet if you suffer an injury in a motorcycle accident?
Helmet use on the rise
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the use of motorcycle helmets was up in 2018. The use of DOT-approved helmets stood at 71 percent in 2018, an increase from 65.2 percent in 2017. Helmet use by motorcyclists on surface streets rose to 70.1 percent from 55 percent. Helmet use in slow traffic increased to 69.1 percent from 44.2 percent. Helmet use among motorcyclists with passengers was up to 73.8 percent from 51.3 percent.
Saving lives and money
A 2016 NHTSA survey shows motorcycle helmet use saves lives and money. The use of helmets saved around 1,859 lives in the United States and could have saved 802 more lives. The use of helmets saved $3.4 billion in economic costs – things like lost productivity and medical costs – and $21 billion in comprehensive costs – economic costs and the valuation for lost quality of life. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, another $1.5 billion in economic costs and $9.2 billion in comprehensive costs could have been saved.
According to the survey, there were 71 motorcycle fatalities in New Jersey in 2016. In 63 of the fatalities, the motorcyclist wore a helmet. The motorcyclist did not wear a helmet in three fatal accidents, and whether a helmet was worn was not known in five accidents. The use of a helmet saved 40 lives and could have saved another life.
Different laws in different states
Helmet laws differ from state to state. When the NHTSA conducted its survey in 2018, 19 states, as well as the District of Columbia, mandated that all motorcyclists wear helmets. Twenty-eight states required some riders to wear helmets, for example, persons under the age of 18. Three states – Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire – did not require a helmet.
New Jersey’s helmet law
A New Jersey law requires all persons, regardless of age, who operate or ride a motorcycle to wear a securely-fitted protective helmet of the proper size and of a type approved by the federal DOT. A helmet that complies with DOT standards has an identifying sticker on the back. A compliant helmet covers the motorcyclist’s ears and is at least one inch thick.
New Jersey law is not limited to motorcyclists. The New Jersey Driver’s Manual defines a motorcycle as a motorbike, a bicycle with a motor attached or a motor-operated vehicle of the bicycle or tricycle type. It does not include a motorized bicycle. So, no matter what type of motorcycle, on or off the road, the rider must wear a helmet.
Proving liability for a motorcycle accident is much like proving fault in a car crash. To recover compensation for their injuries, a motorcyclist must prove the driver of the vehicle who struck the motorcycle was at fault. The motorcyclist’s failure to wear a helmet does not necessarily preclude the recovery of compensation.
Under New Jersey law, the motorcyclist cannot recover compensation for their injuries if they are more than 50 percent at fault for those injuries. The motorcyclist can recover if their fault is 50 percent or less. However, the compensation amount is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the motorcyclist.
For example, if the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet and suffered a broken arm in the motorcycle accident, the failure to wear a helmet would not affect the ability of the motorcyclist to recover for their injury. But if the motorcyclist suffered a head or neck injury and wearing a helmet would have prevented or made the injury less severe, the other party could argue the motorcyclist was at fault for the injury.
The manufacturer of motorcycle helmets is responsible for ensuring that a helmet carrying the DOT stamp of approval meets regulations. If the helmet is defective, causing a motorcyclist to suffer a more severe injury, the manufacturer may be liable. The motorcyclist may be able to file a product liability suit against the manufacturer. In the suit, a lawyer does not have to show the manufacturer was negligent. The lawyer only has to prove the helmet was defective and made the motorcyclist’s injury worse.
Get legal help
If you suffered an injury in a motorcycle accident, or your loved one was killed, a motorcycle accident attorney will provide a free consultation to evaluate the case. Although New Jersey law requires you to wear a helmet, the failure to wear a helmet does not necessarily bar your ability to recover compensation from the party responsible for the accident.
Talk to an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer at Petrillo and Goldberg at 856.249.9295.