Motorcycle Helmet Laws in Washington and Oregon: What to Know Before You Ride

The Pacific Northwest offers some of most scenic motorcycle routes in the United States. Highway 20 in Washington and the Aufderheide Memorial Drive in Oregon are just two routes that offer more than 60 miles of natural beauty. Traveling these roads, or any other road throughout Washington and Oregon, by motorcycle requires the use of a helmet. Both states adhere to the universal helmet law, which requires all riders to wear helmets. Understanding the specific helmet requirements makes your ride safer—and legal—as you cruise along on your adventure.

Standards and Regulations for Motorcycle Helmets

Research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that helmets reduce a rider’s risk of head injury by 69 percent and risk of death by 37 percent.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that helmets sold within the United States meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. This federal standard sets the minimum requirements for protecting the head and brain during a crash. Helmets that meet the standard have a DOT sticker on the outside, back of the helmet.
Counterfeit DOT stickers are a threat to motorcyclists’ safety. When inspecting a helmet, a DOT-approved helmet should contain the following features:

  • A thick, inner lining
  • Sturdy chin strap with thick rivets
  • Helmets meeting FMVSS 218 generally weigh about three pounds

The DOT conducts intense testing on helmets, including:

  • Visual conditioning
  • Force of impact
  • Penetration resistance
  • Retention system strength

Despite claims by opponents of helmet laws, helmets do not restrict a rider’s vision or hearing. Helmets that do not meet FMVSS are known as novelty helmets. While these helmets may appeal to some riders as more attractive, research shows that riders wearing such helmets are twice as likely to die in the event of a crash.
DOT-approved helmets include half-shell, open-face, and full-face helmets. A certified, full-face helmet is the ultimate defense against injury while traveling on a motorcycle.

Universal Helmet Laws at Work

Washington and Oregon are part of a group of 19 states and the District of Columbia that have universal helmet laws. According to a 2017 study, 97 percent of riders wore DOT-approved helmets in states that require helmet use.
Universal helmet laws date back to 1967. The federal government required states to adopt stricter helmet laws to receive federal safety and highway construction funds. By 1975, most states had complied; however, the power of Congress to control such regulation faltered throughout the years.
Research continues to show the advantages of helmets in saving lives and minimizing serious injury. In Washington alone, nearly 75 motorcyclists die in accidents every year. With the proper gear and training, motorcyclists can avoid a majority of accidents, except for those caused by the negligent driving of other drivers.

Motorcycle Injuries

The blunt force trauma of a motorcycle collision with a car or commercial vehicle can result in serious injuries. Most drivers understand the meaning of share the road, yet many continue to engage in risky and unsafe behaviors behind the wheel.
When a driver fails to yield the right-of-way or pulls out in front of a motorcycle, the impact often ejects the rider from his or her bike, and the driver will then strike anything in his or her pathway before colliding with the ground.
Heavy clothing, gloves, boots, helmets, and other safety gear only go so far in protecting riders. Many drivers face multiple broken bones to their legs and arms. Drivers also face serious neck, back, internal, and other injuries that may require months for recovery.
Far worse are the injuries from which a rider has no chance for a full recovery. These types of injuries include traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or spinal cord injuries (SCI). Both of these injuries affect a person’s quality of life and can require a lifetime of medical and personal care.

Get Your Motor Running

Driving defensively and using your safety training skills will provide you with the best chance for avoiding a serious collision. Enjoying the freedom of the open road is your right as a licensed motorcycle driver.
Cruising throughout the scenic states of Washington and Oregon, either as a resident or a visitor, is a welcome change from your usual routine. When another driver violently interrupts your ride and causes your serious harm, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer without delay.
There are a variety of reasons why passenger and commercial vehicle operators crash into motorcycles. All it takes is one risky behavior to create devastation and injuries that last a lifetime. Examples of risky and negligent behavior include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving—includes texting, talking on a cellphone, reaching for items, eating, or applying makeup
  • Failing to check blind spots for motorcycles or to properly adjust mirrors
  • Failure to estimate the distance and speed of an approaching motorcycle
  • Not paying attention to slowed or stop motorcycles

No one should suffer long term medical, financial, or emotional consequences due to the negligence of another driver. If you suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident, contact a motorcycle crash lawyer for more information.

Stay Safe and Obey Helmet Laws

The state governments of Washington and Oregon want motorcyclists to travel safely, which is why they’ve implemented the universal helmet law. While a helmet doesn’t completely eliminate your chance of injury, wearing a helmet is your best protection against a serious head or brain injury.
Serious injuries may occur during a crash caused by a distracted or drunk driver. When this happens, you have a right to refuse low-dollar settlement offers from insurance companies and to instead contact a personal injury lawyer.
Stay safe and get your motor running this summer. Obey helmet laws and map out your route through the Pacific Northwest.
Everyone has a right to safely enjoy the scenic beauty of Washington and Oregon, especially by motorcycle. Should the unthinkable occur, a motorcycle accident lawyer stands ready to assist you with your personal injury claim.

June 20, 2019

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