California Bicycle Helmet Laws Overview

30 January

Most California bicyclists hop on their bikes without hesitation, take to the streets or local park and relish the opportunity to soak up the sun while enjoying a refreshing breeze. The focus is on exercise, spending time outdoors, and enjoying the Golden State’s lovely scenery.

However, there is a California bicycle helmet law every rider should know about. It is in every bicycle rider’s personal and legal interest to understand the nuances of the bicycle helmet law in California, regardless of whether they ride alone or in groups with family or friends.

An Explanation of the California Bicycle Helmet Law

Bicycle helmet laws differ by state and municipality. As an example, those who move from California to Texas are sometimes taken aback by the fact that Lone Star State does not have a statewide bicycle helmet law. In contrast, the California law on bicycle helmets is quite strict. Those under the age of 18 are legally required to don a protective helmet while riding a bicycle in the state of California.

Children aged 5 and under who ride on bicycles as passengers, be it on the back of a bike, in a bicycle trailer towed behind, or even in a stroller, are also legally mandated to don a protective helmet. Wearing a hat or other headgear will not suffice.

Every California bicyclist under the age of 18 and passenger on a bicycle under the age of 5 is to wear a protective bicycle helmet at all times, regardless of whether the bike ride takes place in the suburbs, a rural area, or an urban center. The few exceptions to the law are touched on below.

Though it is not guaranteed that officers of the law will enforce the California bicycle helmet law at all times, it is in every bicyclist’s legal interest as well as their personal and financial interest to be aware of it. Furthermore, wearing a helmet at the time of the collision solidifies a plaintiff’s legal footing all the more in the context of a California personal injury lawsuit after a bicycle accident.

Why the California Bicycle Helmet Law Is on the Books

The primary purpose of the state’s bicycle helmet law is to reduce the number of personal injuries that occur while riding through California streets. Wear a bicycle helmet to reduce the chances of a serious injury after colliding with:

  • An automobile
  • A pedestrian
  • A fellow bicyclist
  • A stationary object

A bicycle helmet protects against the impact of a potential collision as well as that of a fall, wayward rocks/pebbles, and other hazards on the road.

Mind the Subtleties of the Bicycle Helmet

Now that we’ve provided a brief introduction to the California bicycle helmet law and explained the reasoning behind it, let’s shift our attention to the nuances of the legalese. The California bicycle helmet law states that kids and even young adults are to wear a helmet. The bicycle helmet must be approved for use while riding a bicycle as the operator or passenger.

The law is also applicable to other non-automotive forms of transportation on wheels including:

  • Scooters
  • Skateboards
  • Rollerblades
  • Traditional skates
  • E-bikes

The bicycle helmet required for use must adhere to certain state standards. If the helmet does not meet the safety standards of California, do not purchase it. However, the vast majority of the bicycle helmets sold in local bike stores meet the state’s standards for safety. Such standards are either the CPSC, short for the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, or those ASTM, short for the American Society for Testing and Materials.

When in doubt, shop locally as opposed to online as web-based merchants tend to sell bicycle helmets made for the entirety of the country, regardless of their idiosyncratic bicycle helmet laws. Such universal bicycle helmets are not guaranteed to meet the standards of California’s comparably strict bicycle helmet law. When in doubt, give preference to bicycle helmets with a label that states “Safe in California.”

The Letter of the California Bicycle Helmet Law

Read through the language of California’s bicycle helmet law to obtain a better understanding of what it states, its potential impact on bike riders, and also the potential impact on a personal injury lawsuit.

California Motor Vehicle Code ß 21212 (a) states those under the age of 18 are required to wear a bicycle helmet when traversing:

  • Public roads
  • Bike paths
  • Public bikeways
  • Trails

However, the language of the law is less clear in the context of riding a bicycle on sidewalks. Though sidewalks are included in the law, some police officers will overlook helmetless riders on sidewalks as they are not in the direct path of automobile traffic.

The only exception to the state’s youth bicycle helmet law is that of riding on private property. If a child, tween, or teen is riding their bicycle on a private road, they can do so without a helmet. When in doubt, be safe as opposed to sorry, and wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.

The Penalties for Violating the California Bicycle Helmet Law

Failure to comply with the requirements of the bicycle helmet law in California can lead to a financial penalty. Examples of such penalties include fines and legal liability that carries additional ramifications stemming from civil personal injury lawsuits. It is also possible that wearing a bicycle helmet will increase the amount of money awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. An injured party who suffers a concussion or other traumatic brain injury (TBI) or even a non-brain injury will be viewed in a much more sympathetic and positive light if they responsibly wore a bicycle helmet at the time of the collision.

We would be remiss not to mention the fact that parents are responsible for their children, even when those kids are not inside the house. Though a child, tween, or teen might not be aware of the California bicycle helmet law, every adult should be aware of the law.

An individual under the age of 18 caught riding a bicycle without the proper helmet will be fined $25. Furthermore, there is also the potential for the police officer to issue a fine or warning if the helmet impedes the rider’s vision, is not properly fitted, or is not properly fastened. The parent of the minor is required to pay the financial penalty for their child’s negligence. However, if the infraction is the individual’s first, they might be excused with a warning.

What About Adult Bicyclists in California?

Adults can legally ride a bicycle in the state of California without a helmet. No state or federal law mandates adults to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. However, there is one exception to legal helmetless bicycle riding in California.

Adult bicyclists riding in Bidwell Park within the city of Chico are required to wear a bicycle helmet when traversing areas that are off pavement along the Upper Park and Middle Park spaces.


All individuals aged 18 and under are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle in California

  • Those aged 5 and under are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle as a passenger or in tow
  • There is a financial penalty for failing to comply with the California bicycle helmet law
  • Wearing a bicycle helmet helps strengthen a potential personal injury case
  • Contact our legal team for guidance after suffering an injury while riding a bicycle