Motorcycle riders and their passengers are both obligated to wear helmets under California law. Technically, they are required to wear a U.S. DOT-compliant motorcycle safety helmet as opposed to a non-U.S. DOT-compliant helmet. The right helmet makes it safer to ride a motorcycle, but it is still a fact that passengers on the back of the bike are more likely to suffer whiplash or head injuries that cause traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
The hot seat
In states where helmets are optional, the levels of helmet use vary. In a survey of 86,000 riders and passengers, 66% of drivers wore helmets while 57% of passengers used one. Reasons could be that the passenger did not own a helmet or the owner did not have a spare with them. Even when both rider and passenger use helmets, 36% of passengers suffer TBI in a crash versus 31% for the drivers – TBI can still occur and is more likely when the motorcycle is traveling at faster speeds.
Why the difference?
Motorcycles are inherently dangerous for riders and passengers. Still, passengers are at higher risk because they do not have handlebars to hold onto, nor a windscreen between themselves and the pavement. Without these additional protective measures, passengers are more likely to be ejected when there is a collision or loss of control. The passenger may also have less reaction time because they may not be aware of or cannot see the hazard they are about to encounter. Regardless of being a passenger or a driver, helmets save lives and reduce the chance of injury.