Before you ride your motorcycle into the Montana sunset, make sure you’re obeying all the state’s motorcycle laws. Obeying the law can improve your safety, prevent accidents, and help you avoid legal responsibility for wrecks. One of the most important rules to follow has to do with motorcycle helmet use. Although Montana doesn’t have a universal helmet law, it does require helmets for certain riders. Find out whether Montana’s laws mandate the use of motorcycle helmets, and why you should wear one no matter what the law says in your state.
Montana does not have a universal law requiring every motorcyclist to wear a helmet. Instead, the law only requires certain riders and passengers to wear helmets, based on their age. Montana Code Annotated Section 61-9-417 states that all motorcycle (and quadricycle) operators and their passengers under 18 years of age must wear protective headgear. Headgear must meet the federal safety and performance standards according to the U.S. Department of Justice. No motorcyclist may ride in the state unless minor passengers comply with this law.
If you ride a motorcycle in the state without a helmet under the age of 18 – or allow a passenger under 18 to ride without a helmet – you could receive a traffic citation and fine. Even more alarming is that you could become liable for damages in a personal injury lawsuit. In the event of a motorcycle accident, the at-fault driver could allege that you contributed to the injuries by failing to wear a helmet. This could reduce the amount of compensation you can receive due to Montana’s comparative negligence laws.
Even if you’re over 18 and don’t legally need to wear a helmet in Montana, failure to wear one could reduce your odds of compensation in an accident. If you seek restitution for injuries to your head, skull, brain, face, or neck, the defendant may argue that you contributed to your damages by choosing not to wear protective headgear. The courts will reduce your judgment award by your percentage of fault for not wearing a helmet. If this results in 25% fault, for example, you would receive $75,000 of a $100,000 award. The best way to protect yourself from serious injuries – and shared fault – is to wear a motorcycle helmet.
Breaking the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement comes with a fine of just $5 – not a very strong incentive for motorcyclists of any age to wear helmets. If a $5 fine doesn’t scare you, however, perhaps motorcycle crash facts will. In 2017, 12 Montana motorcyclists died and 19 suffered serious injuries in traffic accidents, according to the Montana Department of Transportation. Many of these deaths may not have happened if the motorcyclists had been wearing helmets.
Motorcyclists died six times more often than passenger vehicle occupants in 2016, based on crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA estimated that if all motorcyclists involved in traffic accidents that year had been wearing helmets, 802 riders would not have died. As it was, helmets saved the lives of approximately 1,859 motorcycle operators and passengers in 2016. In Montana, five helmeted and 12 un-helmeted motorcyclists died in motorcycle accidents in 2016.
The NHTSA states that motorcycle helmets are about 37% effective in preventing fatal accident injuries to operators, and 41% to passengers. Yet almost 35% of motorcyclists in the U.S. don’t wear helmets. Helmet use rates are significantly higher in states with universal helmet laws. In Montana, helmet usage rates are relatively low. Don’t be a motorcyclist who puts him/herself at unnecessary risk of fatal head injuries. Always wear an approved helmet, whether the law requires you to or not.