News & opinion Houston Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Houston Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Houston Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Do you always wear a helmet while riding your motorcycle in Houston? If so, that constitutes a safe and wise decision.

If not, then you need to get up to speed on the laws, facts, and realities of riding a motorcycle in Houston without a helmet. In this blog, we discuss motorcycle helmet laws in Houston, as well as the safety benefits of helmet use. We encourage you to read it through and to get to know your rights and obligations, the risks you face by riding without a helmet, and how a skilled motorcycle accident lawyer can help if you do get hurt in a wreck. We also encourage you to reconsider your decision not to wear a helmet—because as much as we love delivering results for motorcycle accident victims, we’d love it a lot more if they hadn’t gotten hurt, or worse, to begin with.

By Law, Some Motorcyclists Can Ride Without Helmets in Houston

Let’s cover the basics of Texas’s motorcycle helmet law first. This law applies to everyone who rides a motorcycle anywhere in the Lone Star State, residents and visitors alike. Houston-specific traffic laws do not impose any additional helmet requirements on motorcycle riders.

If you are under 21 years of age and ride a motorcycle in Houston, then under Texas law, you must wear a helmet—no exceptions.

If you are 21 years old or over and ride a motorcycle in Houston, then under Texas law you have a choice:

  • You can wear a helmet (our preferred option); or
  • You can choose not to wear a helmet, provided that you either (a) take a state-approved motorcycle operator training and safety course (you can find licensed instructors here), or (b) you have health insurance coverage that includes medical benefits for injuries incurred because of an accident while operating or riding on a motorcycle.

Many health insurance plans will pay the cost of medical care for injuries you suffer in a motorcycle crash, subject to the ordinary deductibles and copays. However, if you haven’t taken an operator training and safety course, then you should check with your health insurance carrier and make sure you have adequate coverage before taking to the open road helmet-less in Houston. Of course, it’s also always a good idea to take that operator training and safety course, because it will help keep you safe on the roads.

Police can’t stop you for the sole purpose of finding out your age to determine whether you comply with the state’s helmet laws. That said, police can usually come up with some other purpose for pulling you over if they want to, and of course, if you get hurt in a crash and police respond, they’ll figure out whether you’ve complied with the law or not.

Long story short: wearing a safety standard-compliant helmet while motorcycling in Houston constitutes the easiest way to avoid legal complications under Texas law. If you choose not to wear a helmet, then make sure you pay attention to the laws above.

You Should Wear a Helmet Regardless of Your Age

Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle in Houston provides many benefits. Some of those benefits include not dying or suffering catastrophic head injuries in a wreck. You’ve probably already heard the spiel about why motorcycle helmet use is so important, but it won’t hurt you to hear it again. So, here it goes.

Motorcycle helmets save lives. That’s true and not really up for discussion. Thousands of pages of research and reporting, conducted over decades, have confirmed it. Wearing a helmet reduces your risk of dying in a wreck by 37%, according to official data. Riders who go without a helmet face a risk of a traumatic brain injury that’s three times higher than the risk to helmeted riders. States with strict helmet laws have markedly lower rates of motorcycle crash deaths than states without such laws.

So, while you can legally go without a helmet when you ride your motorcycle in Houston, we recommend wearing one. Please understand, the aftermath of a motorcycle crash involving an un-helmeted rider almost always results in more severe injuries than what follows a wreck where the rider wore a helmet. Trust us, we’ve seen both situations, and while we’re always ready to fight for the rights of an injured motorcyclist in Houston, it breaks our hearts when wearing a helmet could have spared our clients and their families the pain and grief they ended up suffering.

Just Consider These Houston Motorcycle Accident Statistics

Still don’t believe us?

Below, we provide some official accident statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation Crash Reporting Information System (CRIS) to make the point crystal-clear:

  • Over a recent five-year period, 3,314 motorcycle crashes occurred on Houston roads.
  • Those crashes affected 3,238 motorcyclists, mostly riders, but also some passengers.
  • Of those riders and passengers, about 35.5% chose not to wear a helmet (after excluding riders whose helmet wearing was unknown).
  • However, un-helmeted riders and passengers accounted for about 40.5% of fatalities in those accidents, and about 43% of victims with serious injuries.

Now, it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out what that means. If the%ages of riders who suffered serious and fatal injuries in Houston motorcycle wrecks exceeded the%age of un-helmeted riders as a whole, that means that going without a helmet made riding more dangerous for those bikers. To put it another way, wearing a helmet could have saved at least some of those riders and passengers from death or catastrophic injury.

Here’s another notable statistic: almost half of all motorcycle accidents that happened on Houston city streets over those five years involved bikers who chose not to wear helmets. By comparison, fewer than a quarter of bikers who got into accidents on Houston highways weren’t wearing helmets. That suggests to us that at least some bikers only wear helmets when they ride on highways, and that they go without when riding in-town.

Now, we get why riders might think in-town riding poses less danger than highway riding.

As we’ve written on this blog, CRIS data locates most of Houston’s motorcycle accident hot spots on local highways and highway interchanges, like:

  • The I-45 and I-69 interchange;
  • I-610 (The Loop) at Westheimer Road;
  • I-610 north of downtown at its interchanges with I-69 and I-45; and
  • I-45 and the Hobby airport access road.

Still, Houston bikers shouldn’t think that makes it safe to ride in-town without a helmet. Hundreds of motorcycle crashes happen on Houston city streets, especially intersections, every year. And, here’s the thing. Even at the relatively slow speeds of city street riding, hitting your helmet-less head on the pavement or against the side of another vehicle can result in massive brain trauma. Or, to put it another way, just because crashing without a helmet at 60 mph puts you at extremely high risk of a catastrophic or fatal head injury does not mean that you should feel a whole lot safer about hitting your head in a 30 mph wreck. In-town riding still endangers unhelmeted motorcyclists.

How dangerous? Very dangerous. According to CRIS, over that five-year period we’ve been talking about, about 87% of all motorcycle accidents on Houston city streets resulted in injuries to the biker, and nearly a quarter of those injuries were classified as severe or fatal. We’d call a one-in-four chance of catastrophic injury or death pretty dangerous, wouldn’t you?

Motorcycle Helmets and Your Rights to Accident Compensation in Houston

Helmets don’t just protect your head and brain. They also protect your legal rights to compensation if you get into a motorcycle wreck in Houston because of someone else’s careless, reckless, or flat-out dangerous actions.

Generally speaking, under Texas law, anyone whose wrongful conduct causes a motorcycle wreck will owe damages to injured accident victims.

At-fault parties can include individuals, businesses, or even government entities. In a lawsuit against the at-fault party, crash victims can often recover compensation for:

  • Past and future medical expenses for treating crash injuries and related health complications.
  • Past and future out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of the crash and injuries.
  • Past and future lost wages and income due to missing work or losing the ability to work because of crash injuries
  • Pain and suffering caused by the accident and injuries.

To get that compensation for a client, a motorcycle accident lawyer generally needs to prove a clear connection between the motorcycle rider’s injuries and the wrongful conduct that led to the crash.

In Texas, we’re all about personal responsibility, and we believe in holding fellow Texans and others to account for their behavior. But, in a motorcycle crash lawsuit, that basic principle goes both ways. Houston judges and juries may feel less inclined to award full damages if it appears that a rider bore some fault for his or her own injuries.

Here’s an example to illustrate what we mean. Suppose a truck simultaneously strikes two bikers, one wearing a helmet and one not, at an intersection on Westheimer Road. Fault for the accident lies squarely with the truck driver. Both bikers get thrown from their rides, and both land hard on the pavement. Both also suffer the same injuries to their bodies from the neck down—broken bones and whatnot—but the helmeted rider escapes with a concussion after hitting his head on the road, while the un-helmeted rider suffers a severe traumatic brain injury that leaves him in a coma.

Both bikers hire the same lawyer, and except for helmet use, their cases share similar facts and circumstances. Will the injured bikers recover the same damages? Probably not. In fact, even though the unhelmeted rider got hurt worse overall, he stands a good chance of getting less than the helmeted rider. Why? Because judges, juries, insurance adjusters, and defense lawyers might very well blame him for some of his own injuries. He could have worn a helmet, but he didn’t. So, the costs of any injury he suffered that he could have avoided by wearing that helmet might be on him, not the at-fault party.

We know that seems harsh, but it’s also just a reality that if you take a known risk, like riding a motorcycle on Houston’s crowded roads without a helmet, Texas law says you can expect to pay at least some costs in terms of your health and your finances if things go wrong.

What the Right Houston Motorcycle Accident Attorney Can Do For You, Helmet or No Helmet

Now, let’s talk about what an attorney can do for you after you get hurt in a Houston motorcycle crash, regardless of whether you wore a helmet.

Stewart-J.-Guss-Attorney
Motorcycle Accident Attorney, Stewart J. Guss

A good Houston motorcycle accident lawyer will always fight tooth and nail to get you maximum compensation for your motorcycle crash injuries. Because, although we like motorcycle helmets, and we want our clients to wear them, we also believe strongly in the rule of law. If our clients exercise their right under Texas law not to wear a helmet, then we will do battle with anyone who tries to use that as an excuse for avoiding responsibility for an accident.

If you got hurt in a Houston motorcycle wreck because of someone else’s bad decisions or risky actions, contact a lawyer who represents injured motorcyclists like you day-in, day-out. Not sure what caused your crash? That’s ok. You should still call a lawyer right away. Skilled motorcycle accident attorneys can investigate the causes of a crash to figure out exactly what happened and who to blame. It’s not always who you initially think.

So, here’s our parting shot. Wearing helmets keeps you safe. You have the right to choose not to wear a helmet, so long as you meet the requirements under Texas law. Either way, if you get hurt, a skilled motorcycle accident attorney can help you pursue compensation for the full cost of your injuries.

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