Helmet Laws

Helmet Laws

Florida has a motorcycle helmet law. If you are 21 or older and have health insurance, you can operate or ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. 

Florida provides riders with more flexibility than states with universal helmet laws. But the state has also seen an increase in motorcycle fatalities and head injuries.

Here is some information about Florida helmet laws and why you should consider wearing a helmet, even if Florida’s law does not apply to you.

Florida’s Helmet Law

Florida’s Helmet Law

In the late 1960s, Congress passed a law requiring states to pass a universal helmet law to receive their full highway funding. This mandate was eliminated in the mid-1970s. However, most states had already passed universal helmet laws by that time.

Florida had a universal helmet law. It was found to be constitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 1969. But in two separate decisions in the 1990s, the Florida Supreme Court gutted the motorcycle helmet law.

Rather than passing a new universal helmet law, Florida’s legislature passed an age-based helmet law that went into effect in July of 2000. 

This new law maintained the helmet requirement for motorcycle operators and passengers under 21 years old. However, those who are 21 years and older have the choice to ride without a helmet if they have at least $10,000 in health insurance.

The idea was to give motorcycle operators and passengers the freedom to ride without a helmet if they had the means to deal with the consequences of their choice.

Enforcement of Florida’s Helmet Law

Florida’s helmet law does not specify whether the police should enforce helmet use as a primary or secondary offense. As a result, police officers can stop you from not wearing a helmet to check your age and insurance status.

In most cases, police officers will avoid doing this because of the difficulty in ascertaining someone’s age from a distance. If someone lacking a helmet clearly looks younger than 21, such as a child passenger, police officers can stop you and cite you, even if you have not broken any other traffic laws.

But these situations rarely occur. Instead of looking for helmet violations as a primary offense, police officers will often issue a citation for a helmet violation only after stopping you for another violation, like speeding.

Since the age requirement of the law makes it largely unenforceable, many experts in motorcycle safety consider age-based helmet laws to be equivalent to having no law at all.

Reasons to Always Wear a Helmet

Even if Florida’s law exempts you from wearing a helmet, you should consider wearing one anyway. Researchers have been able to measure the overall effectiveness of helmet use. Here’s what they found:

Decreased Risk of Death

The replacement of Florida’s universal helmet law with the age-based helmet law in 2000 was followed almost immediately by an increase in fatal motorcycle accidents. Using just the raw numbers, motorcycle deaths increased by almost 49% the year after repeal.

But the repeal of the helmet law also led to an increase in the number of registered motorcycles and the average number of miles motorcyclists drove. Researchers adjusted the raw numbers to account for the increased usage. 

Deaths still increased by 38% when normalized to the number of miles driven. When normalized to the number of registered motorcycles, deaths increased by 22%.

This means that by every measure, deaths increased after the legislature ended universal helmet requirements.

Florida’s experience matches that of other states. Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky also repealed their helmet laws around the same time. 

Texas saw motorcycle accident deaths increase by 31%. Arkansas motorcycle deaths increased by 21%. Kentucky’s motorcycle fatalities increased by 50%, and Louisiana saw a 100% increase in motorcycle deaths after they repealed their universal helmet laws.

Based on these statistics, researchers have concluded that wearing a helmet reduces your risk of dying in a motorcycle accent by around 40%.

Decreased Risk of Brain Injury

The risk of a brain injury increases if you do not wear a helmet. After the state repealed its helmet law, Florida saw a 32% increase in serious motorcycle accident injuries and an increase of 28% in minor motorcycle accident injuries. 

But adjusted for the increase in ridership after the change in the helmet law, these increases are negligible. This probably means that injuries shifted upward in severity.

Motorcycle accidents that would have produced no injuries to a helmeted motorcyclist caused minor injuries without a helmet. Minor injuries became severe injuries when helmet use declined. 

As a result, a minor bump on the head with a helmet could result in a concussion or worse without a helmet.

These numbers match the statistics in other states. Texas saw the number of serious injuries remain relatively stable after it ended universal helmet requirements. But the proportion of brain injuries increased. 

According to insurance industry research, unhelmeted motorcyclists are three times more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury than helmeted motorcyclists.

Equally concerning, the cost of treating brain injuries also increased. This implies that the brain injuries after the helmet law repeal were more serious and required more treatment and therapy.

Greater Likelihood of Recovering Injury Compensation

Going without a helmet comes with many consequences:

  • Increased risk of death
  • Increased risk of brain injury
  • Increased medical expenses after an accident

Another consequence arises from Florida’s comparative negligence statute. If an accident victim contributed to their injury, a judge must reduce their damage award. For example, if a jury finds that you were 15% at fault for your injuries, you can only recover 85% of your damages.

If you fail to wear a helmet, you risk losing the right to recover all of your damages after an accident. A jury could find that your decision to ride without a helmet contributed to your head or brain injuries. This will result in a reduction of your damage award.

The risks of riding without a helmet are high and numerous. Even though it may not be a legal obligation, it remains a good idea to wear a helmet while operating or riding on a motorcycle.

To discuss how your helmet use might affect your compensation after your motorcycle accident, contact Allen Law Firm, P.A. for a free consultation. We’ll explore the facts of your case with you and help you to find a plan to move forward.