With year-round sunshine, plenty of beautiful scenery, and dining opportunities, Tampa offers excellent opportunities for motorcyclists. However, many riders have one question when coming to Tampa: “Do I have to wear a helmet?” The state generally sets helmet laws, which can vary widely depending on location.
For example, some states have universal helmet laws that prohibit riders from operating a motorcycle without a helmet, while others do not require anyone to wear one. Most states—including Florida—fall somewhere in between, requiring helmets for younger riders while leaving the choice to those who are older or more experienced.
If a Tampa motorcycle accident injured you and you didn’t wear a helmet, you may still seek compensation for your injuries.
What Motorcycle Helmet Laws Are Intended to Do
Motorcycle helmets decrease the likelihood of death and traumatic brain injuries resulting from accidents. Studies show that using a helmet can reduce the risk of death for a rider or passenger by up to 42 percent. Not wearing a helmet increases your risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury in an accident by three times.
Beyond the concern for the safety of riders, helmet laws often become about saving money on societal costs, such as paying for emergency services, medical services for uninsured riders, the cost of lawsuits, and an increase in insurance premiums for everyone to deal with these costs.
There have been arguments that a helmet can increase a rider’s risk in some circumstances by cutting down their field of vision and reducing the ability for the rider to hear. However, the most significant point made by those who are against motorcycle helmet laws is that they take away the personal freedom of the rider to decide what gear they want to use when they ride.
In the 1970s, the federal government attached the requirement of states to pass universal motorcycle helmet laws to be eligible to receive specific safety and highway construction funds. All but three states in the nation passed these laws. However, many have repealed their universal helmet laws in the decades since, often working out a compromise that allows most riders to decide independently.
What These Laws Don’t Do
While motorcycle helmets protect riders, choosing not to wear a helmet in a state that doesn’t require them does not make you a dangerous rider or an adrenaline junkie, despite how certain special interest groups and common societal stereotypes portray you.
Whether your accident occurred at the intersection of U.S. 92 and I-275 or while enjoying the 82-mile North Tampa Circuit ride, you have the same right to seek compensation for injuries caused by others’ negligence as any other road user.
The Laws Don’t Make You Responsible for Your Accident
Helmet usage is not a duty of care that riders owe to other roadway users to protect them from physical harm or property damage. If a motorcyclist causes an accident by failing to yield, speeding, or other risky driving behaviors, they are responsible for the accident. However, a motorist who injures a motorist after failing to practice safe driving behaviors is liable for the accident and the injuries they caused.
The Laws Don’t Prevent You From Seeking Compensation for Your Injuries
Motorcyclists injured by someone else’s negligence can seek compensation. If the motorcyclist is over 21, they can legally ride without a helmet and face no potential impacts to their claim.
Those under 21 who are injured by a negligent motorist while not wearing a helmet may recover less compensation. However, they may file a claim and seek the maximum payment available to them.
Other Laws that Protect a Motorcyclist’s Right to Seek Compensation in Tampa
According to a recent study from the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, Florida ranks among the worst states for driving safety laws. The study considered the types of laws that states implement to increase safety on roadways, including a universal motorcycle law and others, such as graduated driver’s license laws, laws requiring rear-facing car seats through age two, and ignition interlocks.
The study gave states with 11 to 16 of these recommended safety laws green lights and red lights to states with fewer safety laws.
Florida had six recommended laws in place.
Despite the ranking, motorcyclists have a right to operate on the roadway the same as everyone else. Many of the traffic laws in Tampa preserve your right to seek compensation for your injuries from careless or reckless motorists. These laws include the following.
The Wireless Communication While Driving Law
Distracted drivers are a significant cause of motorcycle accidents throughout Florida and the U.S. One type of driver distraction of particular concern to traffic safety experts is texting and driving. The reason texting while driving is so concerning is that it poses all three types of driver distractions: manual, as the driver is holding their phone and using their finger to input information; visual because the driver is looking at their phone to read or respond to a message; and cognitive, because the driver is focusing on communication rather than on driving.
When traveling on I-275, in the time it takes to read or reply to a text, a driver has traveled the length of a football field without paying attention to the road, which is plenty of time to miss the presence of a motorcyclist in their path.
Florida’s wireless communication while driving law allows police to stop a driver they see texting and driving and cite them for the risky driving behavior even if there is no other reason for the traffic stop. It also helps a motorcyclist prove liability if they can show that the driver was distracted by a handheld device when the accident occurred.
Nearly half of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve alcohol impairment. Tampa’s vibrant nightlife provides entertainment for people of all types. Unfortunately, it provides plenty of chances to drink alcohol. The deficits to driving skills do not start when a driver over the age of 21 reaches the legal impairment limit of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, nor does it begin when a driver under 18 or one that holds a commercial driver’s license reaches the legal impairment limit of 0.04.
Instead, it begins with the first drink and progressively worsens as the driver continues to drink. These deficits can include the inability to track moving objects, stop at intersections, control speed, lane position, or make good driving decisions. These issues can cost a motorcyclist their life or health if an accident occurs.
If the police believe an at-fault driver was impaired, they generally must submit to an alcohol screening. They can even be arrested, charged, and convicted of a Florida alcohol-related offense. All of these actions can produce evidence that can show that the impaired driver was liable for the accident.
At times in Tampa, all roadway users must yield the right-of-way to others, such as at stop signs or stoplights. One of the most common motorcycle accidents involves a motorist attempting a left turn at an intersection that doesn’t have a green arrow and instead requires the driver to yield the right-of-way to traffic traveling straight through the intersection.
Often, drivers will fail to see an approaching motorcyclist and turn into its path. Motorcycles lack the visibility afforded by four-wheeled vehicles due to their slimmer frame and fewer headlights. Accidents involving motorcycles are generally the motorist’s fault for failing to yield, not the motorcyclist for not being more visible (unless, of course, they’re driving without headlights).
Laws Against Lane-splitting
Lane-splitting is a common practice motorcyclists use to get through heavy traffic congestion by riding in the same lane alongside stopped or slow-moving vehicles. However, lane splitting is illegal in Florida. While it means that you cannot legally lane split to get through congestion, it also means that you are legally entitled to the full use of the lane. A driver who causes an accident by encroaching on your lane can be liable for not providing you full use of the lane.
Product Liability Laws
While many motorcycle accidents result from a negligent motorist, defective motorcycle parts cause other crashes. Florida laws state that a manufacturer is strictly liable for product defects that result in injury due to the normal or foreseeable use of the product.
In other words, if you are operating your motorcycle following the user’s manual and state laws and suffer injuries in an accident caused by a defective part on the motorcycle, you can seek compensation from the manufacturer of the bad part or product. Product liability laws also pertain to your helmet and other riding gear.
How an Attorney Can Help You Seek Compensation for Your Injuries
An experienced Tampa motorcycle accident lawyer can investigate the details of your accident to determine all sources of liability and their associated resources. They can establish value to your claim based on the severity of your injury, the expenses and impacts you have incurred due to the injury, and those you will likely face in the future.
Once your lawyer determines liability and your claim’s value, your attorney can send a demand to the at-fault party’s insurance provider, seeking the total value of your claim. The provider can either accept or deny the claim or offer to settle the claim for less than its total value. Your attorney can negotiate on your behalf to seek a higher settlement offer from the insurance provider.
If the provider fails to pay the claim or make a fair settlement offer, your attorney can file the claim in court for you as a personal injury lawsuit and present your case to a jury or judge. At the resolution of your claim, your attorney can also assist you in collecting your court award or negotiated settlement.
As a motorcyclist in Tampa, you have a right to use the roadway and to expect others to take reasonable actions to avoid causing an accident that would result in you sustaining physical injuries or property damage, regardless of whether you choose to wear a helmet. You also have the right to seek compensation for your injuries from the responsible party.