IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO EXCUSE EVEN FOR COPS
Originally posted by Buck Lovell on Wednesday, 02 November 2011 in Buck Lovell’s – American Biker Blog
ABOUT THE HELMET LAW
Regarding the recent Nevada “Helmet Law” lawsuit it would seem that the majority of law enforcement officers simply fail to recognize the existing law or are ignorant of the specifics regarding legal helmets. Ignorance of the law for citizens has never been an excuse for violating the law, and law enforcement personnel should be educated by their police department regarding those specifics. During a motorcycle ride in California one Sunday afternoon my wife and I were stopped by City of Orange Police officers who claimed the motorcycle helmet my daughter (the passenger on the motorcycle my wife was operating) was wearing to be illegal, even though a DOT sticker was in clear and plain view. He claimed he could tell by observation that the helmet was not legal. He then “confiscated” the helmet for evidence, leaving my daughter without protection. The helmet was returned immediately when we went to the Orange Police Department, but had an accident occurred on the way resulting in head injuries to my daughter, the City of Orange would have been liable.
The fact that the manufacturer of the helmet in question applies a DOT sticker to the helmet makes it legal, according to existing law. I repeat, the fact that the manufacturer of the helmet in question applies a DOT sticker to the helmet makes it legal, according to existing law. A law that this police officer was either ignorant of, or was intentional ignoring. Either way, the police officer had no probable cause to stop us. That applies to all bikers. The manufacturer or any manufacturer of motorcycle helmets, by placing A DOT sticker on the helmet is certifying that the helmet meets the standards set forth in FMVSS No. 218. This makes the helmet legal until DOT/NHTSA and only DOT/NHTSA determines otherwise. The reason NHTSA does not, will not, and cannot “approve” of a given helmet is because in doing so DOT or NHTSA would be required to assume at the very least a portion of the liability if the helmet in question was found to contribute to injuries during a crash. The bottom line being you can’t tell whether a helmet is in fact legal or not simply by looking at it, or even having it in your hands and examining it. It is not within the responsibility or capability of an individual to determine whether or not his helmet is legal. He or she can only rely on the fact that a DOT stocker is afixed to that helmet.
But law enforcement has been doing just that ever since the helmets laws were passed, especially in California, and Nevada. Law enforcement stops riders on the pretense that their helmets are illegal visually. Law enforcement then proceeds with searches and other behavior claiming probable cause. It’s time law enforcement obeyed the law and laws they are sworn to uphold.
DOT or NHTSA does not “approve” motorcycle helmets, thus, there is no list of “approved” helmets. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the statutory authority to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) applicable to motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment, including motorcycle helmets. The law establishes a self-certification process in which the motorcycle helmet manufacturers certify that their products are in compliance with FMVSS No. 218, which establishes minimum performance requirements that the products must meet. NHTSA enforces the standard by randomly selecting and purchasing motorcycle helmets from the marketplace and testing to the requirements of the standard at independent test labs.