Although riding a motorcycle in Florida can be done safely, it is almost common knowledge that riding a motorcycle carries some inherent risks and dangers. It is also well known that head injuries are among the most serious and potentially fatal, and that motorcycle accidents are a leading cause of head trauma.
With those basic facts in place, you may think that there are strict laws requiring motorcycle riders to use basic safety equipment, such as motorcycle helmets, but you would be wrong.
Florida’s Helmet Laws
As long as you are over the age of 21 and have minimum medical insurance coverage of $10,000, Florida law allows you to legally ride a motorcycle without a helmet. The insurance must actually cover a rider for motorcycle accidents and injuries—many policies do not. In most cases, riders will need a liability policy to get the medical coverage because the medical coverage is usually not available on its own.
Your standard health insurance may cover you, but you should make certain motorcycle accidents are not excluded by requesting information from your health insurance provider. Passengers also need to meet the health insurance coverage requirement, either through their own policy or through yours, if it covers passengers.
The law is the same for those who do not reside in Florida. So, if you spend part of the year here but live somewhere else, you will still need to comply with Florida’s laws.
Laws Were Once Stronger
Florida actually did at one time have a helmet requirement, but that law was repealed in 2000, and there have been no attempts to bring it back.
The repeal of the law had the unfortunate effect that many thought it would. From an average of 160 motorcycle deaths per year prior to 2000, from 2001 onward, that number skyrocketed to 246. By 2006, the number had reached 550.
That number fell a bit when motorcycle training laws were enacted, but by 2012, the death toll had crept back up to 457. Those training laws require riders to complete a basic course which includes a knowledge test to obtain a Florida Motorcycle Endorsement.
For underage riders who have to wear helmets, or adults who (wisely) opt to do so, not any helmet will do. Helmets must be DOT approved. Many companies sell helmets that say they are for motorcycle riding, but they are not actually approved. Athletic helmets like football or lacrosse helmets are not approved. Approved helmets will often have a DOT sticker on them and may say they are approved by either Snell or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Approved helmets will usually have at least an inch of padding; unapproved helmets will often have less, or simply be plastic with no foam lining.
Repealed Laws and Death Tolls
Florida’s motorcycle death toll remains among the nation’s highest, and many states seeking to pass their own helmet laws look to Florida as an example of why such laws are needed. Still, only 19 states have mandatory helmet laws.
Those against such laws claim that the increasing death tolls have nothing to do with weakened laws, but simply an increased amount of motorcycle riders. They claim that the death toll has gone up, but remains proportionate given the increase of motorcyclists on the road overall.
Florida does require that all riders use eye protection, such as goggles or a raised windshield.
Florida motorcyclists face significant risk. Our weather means that there are simply more days of the year that motorcyclists can be on the road. Additionally, baby boomers and retirees are now taking up the hobby. Florida is of course one of the most desirable areas in the country for retirees, but many fear the demographic may not have the expertise, training, or simply the physical reflexes, to ride safely.
Legal Problems if You are Injured
Remember that complying with helmet laws will not prevent potential legal problems if you are injured in a motorcycle accident and you are not wearing a helmet. Defendants can still allege that you are responsible for your own injuries in full or in part if you are not wearing a helmet.
For example, assume you are on a motorcycle without a helmet and are hit by a car, and you are not at fault at all for the accident. The driver of the car that hit you can claim that your injuries are not caused by the accident itself, but by the failure to wear a helmet. In other words, it is a viable legal defense to say that had you been wearing a helmet, you may not have been injured (or that your injuries would have been lessened).
This can present difficult problems for those who sustain head injuries without a helmet. If a jury believes that the lack of a helmet made your injuries worse, you could be prevented from recovering anything at all from the other side, even if they are the negligent party.
Remember that on a motorcycle you are riding at high speeds, with cars weighing tons of pounds all around you, and no barrier between your head and the pavement. Use common sense, and regardless of what the law requires, take advantage of safety equipment that can help you avoid catastrophic injury.
Motorcycle injuries can be particularly catastrophic, and carry their own set of unique legal issues. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your case.