Note: This article is not intended to be used as legal advice. Please consult a lawyer if you have received a ticket or citation or if you have been in an accident or other riding-related altercation.
As a motorcycle rider, having a camera affixed to your helmet can be a great way to record your trips and keep you safe in the face of an accident or altercation.
With varying helmet laws across the country, though, many riders may question whether or not motorcycle helmet cameras are legal in the US. The short answer: yes, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a ticket.
The Law & Motorcycle Helmets
Each state in the US has the option to determine whether motorcycle riders are required to wear a helmet.
- 19 states have laws requiring all riders to wear helmets
- 29 states have laws requiring riders under a certain age to wear helmets
- 2 states have no laws requiring riders to wear helmets
While 48 states require some or all riders to wear helmets, their laws are limited to the actual use of a helmet, not the helmet’s specifications. That’s where the federal government comes into play.
Here’s what you need to know:
- There is no federal law preventing the use of cameras on motorcycle helmets in the US.
- The Department of Transportation has laid out a series of regulations for motorists, including motorcycle riders.
- The regulations for motorcycle helmets outline the standards that helmet manufacturers must adhere to in order for their helmets to be DOT compliant.
According to 49 CFR § 571.218 – Standard No. 218; Motorcycle helmets, the only consideration that riders need to be aware of if using a camera is how they affix it to their helmet. The regulation states that purchasers of helmets must:
“Make no modifications.”
In addition, the regulation states:
“A helmet shall not have any rigid projections inside its shell. Rigid projections outside any helmet’s shell shall be limited to those required for operation of essential accessories, and shall not protrude more than 0.20 inch (5 mm).”
Gray Area with Motorcycle Helmet Cameras
The regulations do not explicitly state that cameras cannot be mounted to a helmet.
However, if a mount is drilled into the helmet, the structural integrity could be compromised, and the mount would likely protrude from the helmet beyond 0.20 inches (5 mm).
These permanent modifications may render a helmet non-compliant with DOT standards (as required by the federal regulation).
Using mounts like straps or adhesives that would not be considered permanent falls into more of a gray area in the legal world. A rider may potentially receive a ticket for wearing a helmet that is no longer DOT-compliant or get pulled over and asked to remove the camera, although it is not common.
Use of Motorcycle Helmet Camera Footage
Many riders use their helmet camera footage to learn from their riding behaviors and help protect themselves on the road. It’s important then to understand how helmet camera footage can be used, especially in legal situations.
As Evidence in Your Favor
We’ve all heard or read “Look Twice, Save a Life.” Motorcycle riders are more at risk on the road than other motorists simply because they are smaller and less protected than those in other vehicles.
Riders are often blamed for accidents due to poor on-scene reporting of an accident. An advantage to using a helmet camera is that it acts as a witness for riders involved in an incident where another motorist is at fault.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Camera footage, including any conversations that are captured on audio, can be used in court as evidence.
- If a rider is not at fault for the incident, video camera footage can be used as undeniable proof that the other motorist(s) were at fault or the aggressor.
- Footage can help a rider to win compensation for damages or injuries incurred due to the accident or altercation.
- Riders need to consider recording consent laws. It’s a good practice to notify other motorists at the start of a conversation that they are being recorded.
Helmet camera footage not only serves as a witness for riders in accidents but it can also:
- Provide insight into the severity of the impact at the time of the accident
- Showcase the damage done to the bike and/or rider
- Allow the court to witness a rider’s injuries in real-time
- Show a timeline of events for the accident
- Give relevant perspective for which parties were at fault
- Provide details that riders might not remember due to their injuries
As Evidence Against You
Just as helmet camera footage can be used as evidence in your favor, it can also be used against you.
You want to ensure that you truly were not at fault before submitting footage.
For instance, if a rider was speeding, they could be deemed partially at fault for an accident. It is also entirely possible that your footage could be subpoenaed by the court to be used in a trial.
Challenges of Helmet Camera Footage
The usability of helmet camera footage is going to be dependent on several factors.
- Video quality – some cameras with lower quality video may not capture details like license plate numbers
- Battery life – riders should make sure they keep their camera batteries charged and ready to go before each ride, this will ensure the camera lasts long enough to record a full trip
- Impact-resistance – if a camera isn’t properly protected, it could be damaged or broken upon impact during an accident, which could prevent the footage from being useable
- Mounting – regardless of where they mount their camera, riders should ensure that it’s mounted firmly/securely so that the camera remains relatively steady in order to effectively capture footage
- Weather – the elements like heat, wind, and rain can impact video quality, distort the footage, or fog the lens
Benefits Outweigh the Potential Challenges
When it comes to mounting a camera to your motorcycle helmet, you have to consider whether you believe the benefits of using a camera outweigh the potential challenges.
At most, a rider may receive a ticket for wearing a helmet that is no longer considered DOT compliant due to a camera mounted to its shell. However, according to some legal experts, this isn’t a common scenario.
On the other hand, having a helmet-mounted camera can help a rider in other legal situations like an accident, road rage altercation, or a hit-and-run. The legal system loves evidence, and if a rider has video evidence that supports their side of the story, they can avoid fines, fees and may even receive compensation.