Helmet Laws in California. What they don’t tell you

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Helmet laws in California
Helmets laws in California. Present and future.

Helmet laws in California

Freedom is the cultural cornerstone of life in America, and California has epitomized the essence of American democracy.


Route 66, Easy Rider, Beach Boys, and the rejection of established culture have their roots in California. This is the state that the pioneers opened, the Wild West, the state that started the Hippie movement.


There is nowhere in the world that has embraced the concept of personal expression more than the Golden State. Northern California has been liberal to the point where national politicians use “San Francisco values” as a derisory term.

When did bicycle helmets become law in California?

In 1986, California was the first state to propose bicycle helmet laws. California helmet law at that stage was only for under 5-year-olds.


They introduced partial helmet laws in California were introduced i helmet use for all riders under 18. 


The state that grew from the search for enlightenment and the rejection of conventional values is leading the country in curtailing civil liberty. 


It is mournful that the “freedom state” was one of the first to introduce helmet laws for motorcycles and bicycles. The Cato Institute assessed California helmet law ranking the state as the lowest in the country for personal freedom.

Draconian helmet laws in CA

The “freedom” state has the strictest helmet laws for motorcycles. Helmet laws for bicycle riders in California are also the toughest in the country.


Helmet laws in CA require all bicycle riders under 18 years old to wear approved headgear. All passengers 5 and under must wear headgear. Helmet laws in California arn’’t only for bicycles. Restrictions extend to skateboards, scooters, roller skates, mobility scooters, ATVs, and rollerblades. 


For adults over 18, most of the state will still allow riders to choose whether they wear protection.


They enforce additional restrictions in the cities of Chico and El Cerrito. These jurisdictions require all bicycle riders to wear a helmet regardless of age. There are no allowances for religious beliefs or medical conditions.

If caught riding without a helmet, the state could issue you with a $25 citation.

Article 4 of vehicle code section 21212 mandates the use of helmets must for non-motorized transport. Put a small motor on the vehicle and the law becomes more restrictive.


Skateboarding laws in California are the same as bicycles. Section 21212 covers other dangerous sports like roller blading, roller skating, and scooters.


If they slap you with a fine, it is possible to obtain a refund if you take a safety course within 120 of the incident. You must also show that you have an approved, correctly fitted helmet. 


For social outlaws who defy state concern for their wellbeing, the fine is most often the preferred option.

For electric bikes, the helmet laws in California become more complex. As a rough rule of thumb, Californian e-bikes that cannot exceed 20MPH (Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes) are bound by the laws that apply to bicycles.


The Class 1 standard electric bicycles mirrors European e-bike restrictions. The law permits adults in this severely restricted e-bike class not to wear a helmet if they wish.  


Understandably then, European e-bike manufacturers dominate the booming eMTB market. 

E-bike manufacturers have done a great job in finding a niche to get the most from the restrictive Class 1 standard. 


Manufacturers have rushed to the electric mountain bike sector, as we can still have as considerable fun when riding downhill tracks.

No helmets laws in California for horse riding

Given the choice, most Californian e-bike riders would, of course, prefer a more supportive, higher power, throttle controlled, motor. Here again, the Golden Bear State restricts our choice.


The land of liberty limits the maximum power of a Class 3 electric bike to 750 Watts. Further restrictions on Class 3 e-bikes limit speed to 28MPH. 

You would think then that there is a modicum of hope for the American e-bike then. After all, Jeep and Rambo manufacture 750 Watt, class 3 hunting bikes that comply with Class 3 legislation.


Unfortunately, though, restrictions don’t stop at helmet laws in California. Additional restrictions on Class 3 electric bikes make them impractical for most recreational purposes.


California helmet laws are more restrictive for Class 3 electric bikes. Helmet laws in CA mirror motorcycle helmet legislation. It is mandatory for all riders to wear approved headgear.


Although enthusiasts don’t need a licence to operate a Class 3 e-bike, riders under 16 years old may not ride these bikes.

Even when we comply with helmet laws in CA, it is almost impossible to have fun on a Class 3 e-bike.


If you own a Class 3 Californian ebike, legislation prevents you riding on bikeways, equestrian tracks, and bicycle or recreational trails.  Specific ordinance has to be written to permitting the use of Class 3 e-bikes.


Legislation also prohibits the use of any e-bike on dedicated bicycle paths.


Legislators know well that horses are 3 times faster than class 3 e-bikes?  They also know that the injury rate for horse riding is higher than both motorcycle riding and car racing.


As e-bikes are both more popular and safer than horse riding, wouldn’t it be better to ban horses from Class 3 e-bike tracks rather than banning e-bikes from equestrian trails?

If you comply with all the helmet laws in California, do you think you can ride on the street? Think again! There are parts of California that prohibit vehicles to drive along the same road in a 6-hour period. This essentially restricts access to residents only.

Is it acceptable that we restrict public roads to the benefit of private residents? Here is the sign on “The Snake” off Mulholland Drive.

Laws to prohibit bikes in California
Current legislation against bikes shows where the future is heading

Helmet laws in California for horse riding

Horse riding is more dangerous than car racing or motorcycle riding. You would expect then that there would be legislation to reduce injury from this pastime. 


Surprisingly then, there are no helmet laws in California to prevent injury from equestrian incidents. Perhaps politicians don’t want to limit the enjoyment of their weekend ranch R&R.


There are a few local ordinances (Norco for example) that require under 18’s wear head protection.

Helmet laws by state for motorcycle

What States require helmets for motorcycles? There is an ever-growing list of states that have introduced legislation similar to the helmet laws in California:

  • Alibama, 
  • Alaska,
  • Arizona,
  • Connecticut,
  • Delaware,
  • District of Columbia,
  • Florida
  • Georgia, 
  • Hawaii,
  • Illinois,
  • Kansas,
  • Kentucky,
  • Louisiana, 
  • Main,
  • Maryland, 
  • Massachusetts, 
  • Michigan,
  • Mississippi, 
  • Missouri,
  • Montana,
  • Nebraska, 
  • Nevada, 
  • New Hampshire,
  • New Jersey, 
  • New Mexico,
  • New York, 
  • North Carolina, 
  • ohio,
  • oklahoma,
  • Oregon, 
  • Pennsylvania,
  • Rhode Island,
  • Tennessee, 
  • Texas,
  • Vermont, 
  • Virginia, 
  • Washington, 
  • Washington DC,
  • West Virginia, and
  • Wisconsin.

Of course, the law is there to protect. Youth fatalities have dropped by around 19% in states that have introduced legislation. The introduction of helmet laws in California also saw bicycle riding drop by around 5% in these states.


I understand the practicality of wearing a helmet, especially on a motorcycle. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates 7,400 lives saved across the nation in the past 10 years. 

That seems a lot until you consider that this is about 1/8th of the deaths that result from people simply crossing the road. We could save 8 times more lives if we ban walking.

We have to analyze the end point of legislation. After all, helmet laws provide some protection, but it is far more logical to tackle the problem at its source. 

Riding bicycles is dangerous regardless of Californian helmet laws. The logical progression of these restrictions is to pass legislation to outlaw bicycles, motorized bikes, and motorcycles.

We see, the helmet laws in California are being adopted by other states. Once helmet laws are the norm across the country, it smooths the path for the next restriction. The logical next step must be the progressive increase in legislation against other minorities. 

Class 3 e-bikes are already in the crosshairs of legislators. Where will it stop? Gas powered motorized bicycles will most likely be the next to go. E-bike riders are a relatively small group, so increased legislation will be difficult to stop.

What about ATVs, bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller blades? They all pose a danger to the participants.

Motorcycle riders may be a tougher audience to ban. This group is sizable and has a more influential backing. There is no doubt, though, that many top politicians would be happy to ban motorcycles. 

Motorized Bikes
Helmet laws in California. What you need to know
Power Bicycles
Helmet laws in California. What you need to know
Information about motorized bikes
I detail the helmet laws in California for both motorcycles and bicycles. I compare these helmet laws in CA for electric bikes with those for skateboarding and horse riding. I detail many helmet law issues that you didn't know. Finally, I identify pointers to show the legislation that is just around the corner.
Power Bicycle
Steve - Power Bicycle