Florida Motorcycle Helmet Issues Continue to Stir Debate

At The Pittman Firm, your Panama City accident law firm, we believe in keeping the community educated about both legal and safety concerns. We try to cover a range of topics in this blog, but some issues dominate the local headlines with such frequency that it seems important to address them more often. Motorcycle safety is one such concern.

WJGH is reporting on a newly released study from the Center for Disease Control ("CDC") about the impact state law appears to have on motorcycle safety. According to the study, states that lack a universal motorcycle helmet law report a higher number of fatal accidents than states that require that every motorcycle rider wear a protective helmet. The existing law in Florida only requires helmets for riders under 21 years of age or who carry less than $10,000 in medical insurance. According to the article, Florida had nearly 400 fatal motorcycle accidents in 2010 and 52% of those fatalities were unprotected riders.

Some people have suggested that the CDC's data is skewed because it includes figures relating to other vehicles, such as scooters that may be rented without a motorcycle license. One rider quoted in the article may speak for a segment of motorcyclist drivers when he said that he personally wears a helmet but does not support universal helmet laws because he worries it will lead to a "slippery slope" of legislation with the government dictating personal behavior. Nonetheless, the CDC suggests that instituting mandatory helmet laws would reduce the number of motorcycle fatalities in states like Florida that do not have such legislation currently.

In an earlier study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, helmet use was close to 100% in jurisdictions that mandate helmet use by all riders. This is in sharp contrast to the 34-54% usage rates observed in states that had no helmet laws or age-specific mandates. Helmet laws appear to be observed, likely because it is so easy for police to spot a rider who is violating the requirement.

Just last week, a motorcycle accident claimed the life of a local rider. According to another report on WJGH's website, 34-year-old Steven Smith was riding a motorcycle on the Hathaway Bridge shortly after 9 P.M. on Wednesday, June 20. 27-year-old Daniel Lemon was also travelling in the westbound lanes of the bridge. Police believe that Smith clipped the rear of Lemon's bike. While Lemon was able to maintain control and stay on his motorcycle, Smith fell off his bike and suffered serious head injuries. He was taken to Bay Medical Center where he died Thursday evening. Smith was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

We hope that riders in Florida and elsewhere follow safe riding protocols, including the use of helmets, whether or not they are mandated by law. Likewise, we hope that it is a very long time before another life is claimed by a motorcycle accident in Panama City or elsewhere in Bay County. We also want to remind readers that when a rider is injured due to someone else's negligence, they may be entitled to civil damages. This can be true even if the injured rider is not wearing a helmet. Please call our law office for a free consultation to discuss how Florida law may apply to your unique case and how Panama City motorcycle accident attorney Wes Pittman can help you recover all the damages the law allows.

For additional information on the use of motorcycle helmets, see the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's PDF on “What You Should Know About Motorcycle Helmets” and visit the CDC's Motorcycle Safety page.

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