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Helmet Laws in Massachusetts: An Overview

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With the summer months fast approaching, you’ll see more Bay Staters hitting the roads and trails to enjoy their hobbies wearing a variety of sturdy and colorful helmets. Modern helmets have evolved to include high-tech materials, but their basic structure is largely the same. Across sports and activities, most helmets feature a layer of foam contained in a hard plastic shell. The foam absorbs the force of an impact, while the plastic shell allows a person’s head to slide across the impact surface, further deflecting potential damage.

This structure is so effective in reducing the risk of injuries that some states, including Massachusetts, have put wearing a helmet into the letter of the law.

Helmet Laws in Massachusetts

In the state of Massachusetts, a helmet is required when operating four types of vehicles:

  • Motorcycles
  • Bicycles
  • Recreation / Off-Highway Vehicles
  • Snowmobiles

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the helmet laws for each vehicle type as well as some other legally mandated safety requirements.

For Motorcycles

Motorcycles are a fun and fuel-efficient way to get around, especially in the warmer months, but they can also be very dangerous. In 2020, there were 52 fatal motorcycle accidents in Massachusetts – that’s one every week. In the Commonwealth, a DOT-approved helmet is required for every person operating a motorcycle. Passengers are also required to wear one, whether riding as a “backpack” or in a sidecar. The only time a helmet is not required by law is if the rider and passenger are participating in a permitted parade and are over the age of 18.

In addition to the helmet, Massachusetts law requires that you wear some form of eye protection – eyeglasses, goggles, or a protective face shield – if the motorcycle you’re operating doesn’t have a windshield/screen.

For Bicycles

If a pedal-powered mode of transportation is more your speed, then you’ll want to get familiar with MGL c.85 § 11B. This is the main law that regulates bicycle operation in Massachusetts. It spells out where and how bicycles can be ridden, how a cyclist should navigate traffic, and, of course, required safety equipment. Children aged 16 years or younger are required to wear helmets while riding a bicycle or riding as a passenger on a bicycle on a public road or bike path. The helmet must meet the safety standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and must be fitted and worn properly. 

Children riding as a passenger in an enclosed trailer or seat which holds the passenger in place and/or otherwise protects their head from impact in the event of an accident are not required to wear a helmet.

For Recreation Vehicles and Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs)

Massachusetts law defines “recreation vehicle” or “off-highway vehicle” as any motor vehicle designed or modified for use over unimproved terrain for recreation or pleasure while not on a public way. That means these helmet laws apply to ATVs, dirt bikes and other off-road motorcycles, and recreation utility vehicles (side x sides). The helmet laws in Massachusetts for these vehicles are pretty straightforward: anyone operating, riding on, or being towed by a recreation vehicle must wear a DOT-approved helmet. 

However, there are also some age requirements to be aware of:

  • If you’re under 18, you must successfully complete an approved safety and responsibility course before you can operate a recreation vehicle.
  • Anyone under the age of 16½ must be directly supervised by an adult (18+ years old) when operating a recreation vehicle.
  • Kids from 14-16 years old may only operate an ATV or a recreation utility vehicle with an engine capacity of 90 ccs or less and must be directly supervised by an adult.
  • Kids from 10-14 years of age may only operate a recreation vehicle while preparing for or participating in a sanctioned race, rally, or organized event. The vehicle’s engine capacity must be 90 ccs or less and must be operated under the supervision of an adult.
  • Kids under 10 can only operate age/size appropriate dirt bikes on private property under direct adult supervision while preparing for or participating in a sanctioned race, rally, or organized event.

For Snowmobiles

Snowmobiling is a popular wintertime activity across New England, and Massachusetts is no exception. According to the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts, there are more than 17,000 registered snowmobiles in the state and over 2,100 miles of trails. Helmet laws in Massachusetts for snowmobiles are very similar to those that govern other off-road vehicles. Anyone operating or riding on a snowmobile or attached sled, tube, or similar device must wear an approved helmet, and, like recreation vehicles, the operation of snowmobiles is governed by a set of age requirements:

  • Anyone under the age of 16½ must be directly supervised by an adult (18+ years old) while operating a snowmobile
  • Kids between 10-14 years old may only operate snowmobiles while preparating for or participating in a sanctioned race, rally or organized event and under direct adult supervision
  • Kids under 10 may only operate an age/size appropriate snowmobile with an engine capacity of 150 cc or less while at home and under the supervision of an adult

Keep Your Head Healthy

Helmets are made to save lives and they’re quite good at it. The use of bicycle helmets alone has been found to reduce serious head injury by 60%, and traumatic brain injury by 53%. For motorcyclists, helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%. Regardless of whether head protection is legally required, we encourage everyone to wear a helmet while participating in any of the activities described in this post.

When Things Go Wrong

Unfortunately, a helmet isn’t always enough to protect you from someone else’s negligence. If you’ve been injured in a crash involving a car, truck, bicycle, or OHV, or if a loved one has been killed in a vehicle crash, and you suspect negligence on the part of the other parties involved, contact our team for a free consultation. At KJC Law Firm, we understand the impact of a serious injury or unexpected death on you and your family, and we know the methods the insurance companies will use to blame you, even when it’s not your fault. Our firm has more than 125 years of combined experience litigating major cases. We have the resources to investigate your claim, hire the necessary experts, and get you the compensation that you deserve.

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