Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Liability in Pennsylvania

motorcycle riding safetyIt is incumbent upon all motorcycle drivers to know the risks presented by operating a motorcycle for the safety of themselves, their passengers, and automobile drivers with whom they share the road. The very reasons that many people love to ride motorcycles are also the things that can make them dangerous: their speed capability, their maneuverability, and their lack of an enclosed, protective cabin. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 26 times more motorcycle deaths than there were automobile deaths per mile traveled in 2013.

Know the Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Laws governing the need for motorcycle drivers to wear helmets vary from state to state and have undergone many changes in recent years. In Pennsylvania, the motorcycle helmet laws requiring all drivers to wear helmets was changed in 2003. Currently, motorcycle operators and passengers under the age of 21 must wear helmets without exception. Any driver over the age of 21 who has held a motorcycle license for at least two years OR who has completed an approved rider safety course are exempt from the requirement to wear a helmet. Further, all motorcycle operators and passengers are required to wear protective eyewear that has been approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Should You Wear a Helmet While Operating a Motorcycle?

riding motorcycle without a helmetStatistics show that helmets are highly effective in preventing death and injuries to drivers and passengers. National statistics show that helmets are more than 35% effective in protecting against motorcycle deaths and more than 65% effective in preventing brain injuries. Hospital bills tend to be significantly higher for non-helmeted crash victims than for those who were wearing a helmet at the time of a crash. The injuries prevented by wearing helmets also saves money in lost wages and may even save municipalities in reducing policing costs. Not all motorcycle riders are convinced, however. Some claim that they can both see and hear what is going on around them better without a helmet, thereby allowing them to avoid accidents. Some also believe that wearing a helmet increases the chances of sustaining a cervical spine injury, although the evidence does not support this idea. And, of course, there are those motorcycle riders who feel that wearing a helmet takes much of the fun out of riding their “bike.” In most circumstances, the choice is up to you.

The Impact on Accident Claims

insurance for motorcyclesIt is often said that if you ride a motorcycle, it’s not a matter of whether you’ll have an accident; it’s more a matter of when. Motorcycle accidents happen all of the time, often without involving any other vehicles. With only 2 wheels, a motorcycle — particularly a fast moving one — is far less forgiving of operator error than a car is, and far more prone to crash. If you’re involved in a motorcycle accident with another vehicle, whether you are wearing a helmet or not has no bearing on a potential lawsuit. Depending on the type of motorcycle insurance you have, you might in fact be able to sue the other driver.

Choosing the Right Motorcycle Insurance

For both automobiles and motorcycles, Pennsylvania is a Choice No Fault state. Motorcyclists can choose either full tort or limited tort options for their required insurance. Full tort allows a driver to sue another driver or drivers if there is an accident for a wide range of damages and expenses. Choosing a limited tort option for motorcycle insurance serves to limit the ability to sue another driver. It is a good idea to consult a law firm that specializes in this area, such as Donaghue & Labrum, to more fully understand these provisions. If the limited tort option is selected under Pennsylvania law, as with automobile drivers, Pennsylvania motorcycle accident victims can recover money in the following areas:
  • Medical costs due to injury
  • Lost wages
  • Compensation for loss of services
  • Funeral expenses, as a result of deathno fault insurance motorcyclists
  • Permanent impairment of a body function and/or permanent serious disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium claim – this refers to any negative effect on the marital relationship
  • Death benefits after death occurs
It is important to note that the limited tort benefits do not include pain & suffering, inconvenience, or emotional distress as a result of a Pennsylvania motorcycle accident under most conditions. However, these claims are not entirely ruled out. Pennsylvania motorcyclists with limited tort insurance can sue for severe injuries and pain and suffering that meet certain conditions, called a verbal threshold. Unless these conditions are met, under Pennsylvania law you cannot sue for tort liability arising out of a motorcycle accident in PA.

What If I’m Injured in a Motorcycle Accident in PA?

Remember, you can sue another driver who causes you harm while you are driving a motorcycle whether or not you were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. At Donaghue & Labrum, we understand the pain that is caused not only for the victim, but for the victim’s family as well. If you are unfortunate enough to have been in a motorcycle accident, please contact us immediately. We will vigorously pursue the best possible award for the damages you’ve been caused by a reckless driver.