Bicycle Safety: The Florida Helmet Law
Over the last 20+ years that I’ve been a lawyer, I have represented many injured victims who experienced closed-head injuries, many with associated trauma to the brain and resulting in permanent brain injury. The cause of the head trauma they experienced varies, ranging from falls from an elevated construction scaffolding or roof due to inadequate or defective fall protection, heavy motor vehicle collisions, motorcycle and bicycle accidents. No matter what the cause, most of the time, the severity of a closed head injury can be reduced by the use of a helmet. That’s common sense, especially for bicycle accidents. And yet, many kids still ride bicycles without helmets.
Under Florida law, a bicycle rider or passenger who is under 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet properly fitted, fastened securely upon the passenger’s head by a strap and that meets the federal safety standard for bicycle helmets, as defined by the Code of Federal Regulations (16 C.F.R. Part 1203). The term passenger includes a child riding in a trailer or semi-trailer attached to a bicycle.
If the helmet was purchased before October 1, 2012, and met the standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI Z90.4 Bicycle Helmet Standards), the standards of the Snell Memorial Foundation (1984 Standard for Protective Head Gear for Use in Bicycling), or any other nationally recognized standards for bicycle helmets, then they could be worn by a bicycle rider or passenger until January 1, 2016. So now, all helmets must meet CFR standards.
Law enforcement officers and school crossing guards may issue a bicycle safety brochure and a verbal warning to a bicycle rider or passenger who violates this subsection. A bicycle rider or passenger who violates the subsection may be issued a citation by a law enforcement officer and assessed a fine for a pedestrian violation, as provided in Section 318.18. The Court will dismiss the charge against the bicycle rider or passenger for a first violation of the helmet law upon proof of purchase of a bicycle helmet that complies with this subsection. Under 318.18, the penalty is $15.00.00. Further, under subsection 8, no parent of any minor child and no guardian of any minor ward may authorize or knowingly permit any such minor child or ward to violate any of this Section. As an inducement to comply with the helmet law, Section 18 provides that:
The failure of a person to wear a bicycle helmet or the failure of a parent or guardian to prevent a child from riding a bicycle without a bicycle helmet may not be considered evidence of negligence for contributory negligence.
A story this week in the Palm Beach Post emphasized the importance of wearing a helmet. Jaden Rivera, an 11 year-old 5th grader in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, fell off his bike but appeared to be OK, only suffering scrapes on his elbows and knees. Jaden had also suffered a closed head injury. A couple of days after he fell, Jaden woke up feeling lethargic and wanted to go back to sleep. His mother, Tiffany Rivera, knew something was wrong and took her son to St. Mary’s Hospital. Jaden threw up on the way to the hospital and that’s when Tiffany knew there was something seriously wrong. A CAT scan revealed that Jaden had a skull fracture and an epidural hematoma. An epidural hematoma is bleeding in the skull between the inner lining of the skull and the dura, which is the lining that protects the brain. When the bleeding occurs, the blood has nowhere to go and when it pools, it creates intense pressure on the brain. If left untreated, the hematoma can cause permanent brain injury or death.
Fortunately, Jaden underwent a craniotomy to evacuate the hematoma. In this surgery, surgeons identify the location of the bleed and remove the part of the skull just above it to allow the bleeding to escape and relieve the pressure on the brain. Jaden was very lucky, he was operated on promptly and only has 32 staples in his head to show for what could have been a life-ending experience. Tiffany shared her story on Facebook hoping to create awareness that helmets should be worn when riding . The story went viral and has been shared over 32,000 times. NBC’s “Today” Show contacted the Rivera’s and interviewed them for a future story.
Now, Jaden is an advocate for bicycle helmet safety. It is a shame he had to learn his lesson the hard way, but I am thankful that he’s OK and is encouraging others to be safe. Helmets are affordable, but if you can’t afford one for your child, then visit www.JacktheBikeman.com in West Palm Beach and Jack will be happy to give you one!