Motorcycle riders and passengers in Virginia are required by state law to wear helmets that meet or exceed the safety standards for head protection of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Snell Memorial Foundation or the American National Standards Institute whenever they venture out onto public roads. Riders with machines that do not have windshields are also required to wear helmets equipped with face shields or goggles. The law does not apply to motorcycles with three wheels or wheels with a diameter of 8 inches or less. Violating this law is a Class 4 misdemeanor, but exceptions are made for motorcyclists who ride helmetless during organized parades.
Why motorcyclists should wear helmets
Helmet laws are passed because motorcyclists lose their lives in worryingly large numbers and head protection greatly reduces the chance of being killed or suffering a serious personal injury in an accident. States that pass these laws have reductions in both traffic fatalities and accident-related health care costs. Calls for helmet laws in states that do not yet have them have grown louder in recent years because motorcyclist deaths have doubled since 1997.
The reason some motorcyclists choose to ignore the law
Motorcyclists who choose to ride without head protection often do so because they believe helmet laws infringe on their personal liberty. There are also a small group of riders who question the safety benefits of helmets and eye protection. These riders claim that helmets and goggles make accidents more likely because they impeded vision and hearing and give riders a false sense of security.
The Code of Virginia states that not wearing a helmet and either a face shield or goggles does not make motorcyclists negligent per se. This means that they can still pursue civil remedies if they are injured in an accident caused by the reckless actions of others. This is important because Virginia is one of only a handful of states that follow the contributory negligence doctrine. If motorcyclists were not granted this exemption, failing to wear a helmet would prevent them from recovering damages.