bicycle rider wearing a helmet through los angeles

Are bicycle helmets required in California?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

In California, bicycle riders over the age of 18 are not required to wear a bicycle helmet, however, riders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet when riding on a public road, bikeway, or public bicycle path. This law is designed to promote safety and reduce the risk of head injuries for young riders. If you are under 18 years old and riding a bicycle in California, you are legally required to wear a helmet if you travel on public property.

Even though adults (18 years and older), are not required to wear a bicycle helmet under California law, it is strongly recommended for safety reasons. Laws can change over time, so it’s a good idea to check the most current regulations to ensure compliance with any updated requirements. You can consult the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or local authorities for the latest information on bicycle helmet laws in the state.

What California laws pertain to bicycle helmets?

The primary California law pertaining to bicycle helmets is found in California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 21212. Here are the main points of the law:

  1. Age Requirement: California law requires that any person under the age of 18 must wear a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet while operating a bicycle, riding on a bicycle as a passenger, or riding in a trailer towed by a bicycle.
  2. Helmet Specifications: The helmet must meet the safety standards established by either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These standards ensure that the helmet provides adequate protection.
  3. Helmet Fastening: The helmet must be fastened securely with the chinstrap while riding.
  4. Parental Responsibility: The law places the responsibility for ensuring that a child under 18 wears a helmet on the parent or legal guardian of the child.
  5. Penalties: Violation of this law can result in fines for the parent or legal guardian of the child. The fine amount may vary by jurisdiction, but it is typically less severe than other traffic-related fines.

Always prioritize safety and wear a helmet when cycling, especially if you are under 18 years old, even if it’s not legally required for adults in California.

What does CVC Section 21212 say?

  1. ARTICLE 4. Operation of Bicycles 21212.
    1. (a) A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle, a nonmotorized scooter, or a skateboard, nor wear in-line or roller skates, nor ride upon a bicycle, a nonmotorized scooter, or a skateboard as a passenger, upon a street, bikeway, as defined in Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code, or any other public bicycle path or trail unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards of either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or standards subsequently established by those entities. This requirement also applies to a person who rides upon a bicycle while in a restraining seat that is attached to the bicycle or in a trailer towed by the bicycle.
    2. (b) A helmet sold or offered for sale for use by operators and passengers of bicycles, nonmotorized scooters, skateboards, or in-line or roller skates shall be conspicuously labeled in accordance with the standard described in subdivision (a), which shall constitute the manufacturer’s certification that the helmet conforms to the applicable safety standards.
    3. (c) A person shall not sell, or offer for sale, for use by an operator or passenger of a bicycle, nonmotorized scooter, skateboard, or in-line or roller skates any safety helmet that is not of a type meeting requirements established by this section.\
    4. (d) A charge under this section shall be dismissed when the person charged alleges in court, under oath, that the charge against the person is the first charge against that person under this section, unless it is otherwise established in court that the charge is not the first charge against the person.
    5. (e)
      1. (1) Except as provided in subdivision (d), a violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a fine of not more than twenty-five dollars ($25).
      2. (2) The parent or legal guardian having control or custody of an unemancipated minor whose conduct violates this section shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for the amount of the fine imposed pursuant to this subdivision.
    6. (f) A record of the action shall not be transmitted to the court and a fee shall not be imposed pursuant to Section 40611 upon a citation for not wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet pursuant to subdivision (a) if the parent or legal guardian of the person described in subdivision (a) delivers proof to the issuing agency within 120 days after the citation was issued that the person has a helmet meeting the requirements specified in subdivision (a) and the person has completed a local bicycle safety course or a related safety course, if one is available, as prescribed by authorities in the local jurisdiction.
    7. (g) Notwithstanding Section 1463 of the Penal Code or any other law, the fines collected for a violation of this section shall be allocated as follows:
      1. (1) Seventy-two and one-half percent of the amount collected shall be deposited in a special account of the county health department, to be used for bicycle, nonmotorized scooter, skateboard, and in-line and roller skate safety education and for assisting low-income families in obtaining approved bicycle helmets for persons under 18 years of age, either on a loan or purchase basis. The county may contract for the implementation of this program, which, to the extent practicable, shall be operated in conjunction with the child passenger restraint program pursuant to Section 27360.
      2. (2) Two and one-half percent of the amount collected shall be deposited in the county treasury to be used by the county to administer the program described in paragraph (1).
      3. (3) If the violation occurred within a city, 25 percent of the amount collected shall be transferred to, and deposited in, the treasury of that city. If the violation occurred in an unincorporated area, this 25 percent shall be deposited and used pursuant to paragraph (1).

How often do bicycle accidents occur in California?

Bicycle accidents can occur frequently, and the frequency of these accidents in California can vary depending on various factors, including location, population density, infrastructure, and cycling habits. California is a populous state with many cyclists, so the number of bicycle accidents may be relatively high compared to less densely populated areas.

In fact, just recently on November 28, 2023 in Stockton, CA, a bicyclist was hit and killed by a car on Highway 4 near Wilson Way. According to the California Highway Patrol, the deadly bicycle accident happened around 5:30 p.m. Sunday. For unknown reasons, a driver struck a bicyclist in the No. 3 eastbound lane of the highway. The driver pulled over after realizing that an accident had occurred. Soon after, paramedics reached the scene to assess the victim, but the unidentified cyclist passed away.

To get the most accurate and up-to-date information on the frequency of bicycle accidents in California, you can refer to statistics and reports from agencies like the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the California Highway Patrol (CHP), or local law enforcement agencies. They often compile and publish data on traffic accidents, including bicycle accidents, which can provide insights into the frequency and trends.

You can also search your local news for stories regarding bicycle accidents to learn even more information about bicycle accidents and how you can stay safe while riding your bicycle.

How can you best avoid accidents and injuries while riding a bicycle?

Avoiding accidents and injuries while riding a bicycle is crucial for your safety. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while cycling:

  1. Wear a Helmet: Always wear a properly fitting bicycle helmet. Helmets can significantly reduce the risk of head injuries in case of a fall or collision.
  2. Follow Traffic Rules: Bicycles are considered vehicles in many places and must follow the same traffic rules as cars. Obey traffic signals, signs, and lane markings, and ride in the same direction as traffic.
  3. Be Visible: Make sure you are visible to drivers, especially in low-light conditions. Use lights and reflectors on your bicycle, wear bright and reflective clothing, and consider using hand signals to indicate your intentions.
  4. Stay Alert: Pay close attention to your surroundings and be aware of potential hazards. Avoid distractions such as using your phone while riding.
  5. Use Bike Lanes and Paths: Whenever possible, ride in designated bike lanes or on bike paths. These areas are designed to provide a safer environment for cyclists.
  6. Be Predictable: Signal your turns and stops using hand signals. Maintain a straight line while riding and avoid sudden swerving.
  7. Yield the Right of Way: Follow right-of-way rules, and be cautious at intersections. Always yield to pedestrians and other vehicles as required by traffic laws.
  8. Check Your Equipment: Regularly inspect your bicycle to ensure it is in good working condition. Check your brakes, tires, and gears before each ride.
  9. Avoid Riding on Sidewalks: In many places, it’s safer to ride on the road rather than the sidewalk, as drivers are more likely to see you on the road. Check local regulations to understand where cycling on sidewalks is allowed.
  10. Be Mindful of Parked Cars: Be cautious when passing parked cars, as doors can open suddenly. Give parked cars a wide berth to avoid “dooring” accidents.
  11. Ride Defensively: Assume that not all drivers see you, and be prepared for unexpected actions from other road users. Defensive riding means being ready to react quickly to potential hazards.
  12. Maintain a Safe Following Distance: Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you to allow time to react to sudden stops or obstacles.
  13. Avoid Riding at Night: If possible, avoid riding at night, especially on poorly lit roads. If you must ride at night, use strong lights and wear reflective gear.
  14. Stay Sober: Riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair your judgment and coordination. Don’t ride while impaired.
  15. Take Cycling Courses: Consider taking a cycling safety course to improve your riding skills and knowledge of traffic rules.

Remember that safety is a shared responsibility. While these tips can help reduce your risk of accidents and injuries while cycling, it’s also essential for motorists to be aware of cyclists and share the road safely. Always be cautious and prioritize safety when riding your bicycle.

What should you do if you have been injured on a bicycle in California?

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident in California, it’s important to take several steps to ensure your safety, document the incident, and protect your legal rights. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Seek Medical Attention:
    • Your health and safety should be your top priority. If you are injured, call 911 or seek medical help immediately. Even if your injuries seem minor, it’s important to get evaluated by a healthcare professional, as some injuries may not be immediately apparent.
  2. Report the Accident:
    • If the accident involves a motor vehicle, report it to the local police or law enforcement agency. They will create an official accident report, which can be valuable for insurance claims and legal purposes.
  3. Exchange Information:
    • Exchange contact and insurance information with the driver involved in the accident. Obtain their name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, and insurance details.
  4. Gather Evidence:
    • If you are physically able to do so, gather evidence at the scene. Take photos of the accident scene, including your bicycle, the motor vehicle involved, any road conditions, and any visible injuries. Collect contact information from any witnesses who may have seen the accident.
  5. Document Your Injuries:
    • Keep detailed records of your injuries, medical treatment, and expenses related to the accident. This includes medical bills, doctor’s notes, and photographs of your injuries as they heal.
  6. Contact Your Insurance Company:
    • If you have auto insurance or health insurance, notify your insurance company about the accident and your injuries as soon as possible.
  7. Consult with an Attorney:
    • Consider consulting with a personal injury attorney who specializes in bicycle accidents. They can help you understand your legal rights, provide guidance on pursuing a claim against the at-fault party, and help you navigate the legal process.
  8. Report to the DMV:
    • In some cases, you may be required to report the accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Your attorney can guide you on whether this is necessary and how to do it.
  9. Follow Medical Advice:
    • Follow all medical advice and treatment plans provided by healthcare professionals. This includes attending follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and rehabilitation if necessary.
  10. Preserve Evidence:
    • Keep any evidence related to the accident, such as damaged bicycle parts, clothing, or other items, in case they are needed for a legal claim.
  11. Be Cautious with Statements:
    • Avoid making any statements or signing documents related to the accident without first consulting with your attorney. This includes statements to insurance adjusters.
  12. Understand the Statute of Limitations:
    • Be aware of the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in California. The time limit for filing a lawsuit can vary, so consult with an attorney to ensure you meet any deadlines.

Remember that every bicycle accident is unique, and the steps you need to take may vary based on the specific circumstances of your case. Consulting with a personal injury attorney is often a wise decision to protect your legal rights and seek compensation for your injuries and damages.

Contact Our California Bicycle Injury Attorneys Today

If you have been injured on a bicycle due to no fault of your own, you deserve compensation for your injuries, medical bills and loss of quality of life after the accident. Call J&Y Law Firm in Los Angeles, CA today. We have helped thousands of people like you to hold those accountable that caused your injuries. Call us now at (877) 310-2104 for a free consultation to get started now.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.