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What Happens When a Motorcyclist Is in an Accident Without a Helmet?

Published on Apr 14, 2022 at 12:00 pm in Motorcycle Accidents.

motorcyclists wearing helmets

Motorcycles offer a sense of flexibility and freedom that many people do not find when behind the steering wheel of a larger motor vehicle. Riding a motorcycle can also make more financial sense for some people, as they both cost less and have better fuel efficiency.

These benefits come with a tradeoff, though. In accidents, motorcyclists face much higher injury and fatality rates compared to other drivers. There are several ways to improve chances of survival and limit injuries in a motorcycle accident. Jackets made from thick leather or Kevlar help prevent road rash and lacerations, while sturdy boots protect the feet.

The helmet is by far the most important piece of motorcycle safety gear. Motorcyclists who don’t wear a helmet not only break West Virginia law, but they also risk debilitating injuries.

West Virginia Motorcycle Helmet Laws

West Virginia is one of only 18 states that has a universal helmet law. This means that everyone who rides on a motorcycle, regardless of age, is required to wear a U.S. Department of Transportation certified helmet. Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that these laws are effective at:

  • Raising the number of motorcyclists who wear helmets
  • Reducing the severity of motorcycle injuries
  • Decreasing motorcycle accident fatality rates

One of the things that makes universal helmet laws so effective is that they are easy to enforce. Many states only enforce helmet laws for young riders, and more specifically, those who are under the age of 18 or 21. Enforcing age-specific helmet laws is difficult as police officers cannot accurately determine a motorcycle rider’s age in passing, especially when both vehicles are traveling at high speeds.

West Virginia’s universal helmet law is much easier to enforce since police officers only need to identify whether a motorcyclist is wearing a helmet and not their age as well.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also shows that these laws are effective. In 2020, researchers observed that 94% of motorcyclists wore helmets in states with universal helmet laws in place. Only 60% of motorcyclists in states without these types of laws wore helmets.

How to Pick a Motorcycle Helmet

You’ll need a helmet that’s been certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to legally ride a motorcycle in West Virginia. When buying a helmet, look for helmets that have a sticker on the back with either “DOT FMVSS No. 218 Certified” or “DOT.”

Certain non-profit organizations also rate helmet safety. Look for labels on the inside of a helmet to see if non-profits like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Foundation have rated its safety.

Of course, a helmet could have the best accolades in the world and still not be the right fit for you. Before purchasing any helmet, make sure that it fits securely and snugly on your head without being too tight. Carefully examine it for any defects before buying. Never buy a helmet that has any of the following:

  • Cracks
  • Loose padding
  • Frayed straps

If your current helmet is showing any of the signs above or has significant wear and tear, it is time to replace it.

What Happens in a Motorcycle Accident Without a Helmet?

For all the freedom that motorcycles afford their riders, they are also the most dangerous type of motor vehicle transportation in the United States. In 2019 alone, 84,000 motorcyclists were injured and another 5,014 were killed.

Improved helmet usage could have a huge impact on these figures, and 750 lives could be saved every year if more people wore helmets.

Motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets are far more susceptible to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), including:

  • Concussions – These are the most common type of TBI and result from direct impact trauma. When it comes to motorcycle accidents, this trauma may occur if a motorcyclist’s head makes contact with the pavement, their motorcycle, another vehicle, or some other object during a collision. Symptoms of a concussion include confusion, dizziness, and headaches.
  • Contusions – Contusions are localized bleeding located on the brain and result from direct impact trauma. This type of TBI is potentially fatal if a blood clot forms at the site. Victims often need surgery to have contusions removed to avoid life-threatening complications. Seeking medical care soon after a motorcycle accident is key to detecting contusions as soon as possible.
  • Penetration Injuries – During a motorcycle accident, sharp objects can pierce the skull and hit the brain. These penetration injuries can cause brain tissue loss that may lead to short-term or long-term damages, and may even be fatal.

While this is far from an exhaustive list of injuries that you could suffer in a motorcycle accident, these are three key examples of injuries that can be limited or even prevented with a helmet.

You are also more susceptible to the following when you do not wear a helmet:

  • Broken jaw
  • Lost teeth
  • Vision damage
  • Road rash

Can I Get Compensation If I Wasn’t Wearing a Helmet?

Getting compensation after a motorcycle accident can be complicated. When filing a personal injury claim, you have to be prepared to show that the other driver was at fault for the accident and your subsequent injuries.

If you weren’t wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, you could be partially at fault for your own injuries. This might not prevent you from securing the compensation you need to recover, though. In West Virginia, comparative negligence laws only require that the other party was 51% or more responsible for your accident and injuries. Not wearing a helmet might have contributed to the severity of your injuries, but if that contribution was less than half, you can still recover compensation.

Compiling the evidence you need for your claim can be a herculean task while you are also trying to focus on your recovery. Personal injury claims can be tricky, as they involve precise documentation and strict deadlines. Even a seemingly minor mistake can be enough for the insurance company to deny your claim.

The motorcycle accident attorneys at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC know how important it is to have someone on your side. We are proud of the hard work and dedication we provide to every client. We would be happy to discuss how we can support your personal injury claim during a free case evaluation.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice. Viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Prior case results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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