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Basis for Virginia Helmet Laws

Summary: This page explains why Virginia has so many nearly identical local helmet laws and no state law.

Virginia cities and counties can only adopt ordinances that are authorized by the State. Below is the text of the Code of Virginia enabling law that is the basis for all local bicycle helmet ordinances in Virginia. At least 29 Virginia communities have passed such laws. All bike riders and passengers under age 15 are required to wear a bike helmet by local ordinance.

In one key respect, this statute is outdated: the CPSC bicycle helmet certification standard, which is similar to those cited, now applies to virtually all bike helmets now sold, and few helmets can be bought today with ANSI or Snell certifications. The last paragraph, absolving unhelmeted bicyclists of contributory negligence, is recommended by most bicycle advocates.

We have a page up with a Model Helmet Law.

§ 46.2-906.1. Local ordinances may require riders of bicycles and electric power-assisted bicycles to wear helmets.

The governing body of any county, city or town may, by ordinance, provide that every person fourteen years of age or younger shall wear a protective helmet that meets the standards promulgated by the American National Standards Institute or the Snell Memorial Foundation whenever riding or being carried on a bicycle or an electric power-assisted bicycle on any highway as defined in §46.2-100, sidewalk, or public bicycle path.

Violation of any such ordinance shall be punishable by a fine of twenty-five dollars. However, such fine shall be suspended (i) for first-time violators and (ii) for violators who, subsequent to the violation but prior to imposition of the fine, purchase helmets of the type required by the ordinance.

Violation of any such ordinance shall not constitute negligence, or assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle or electric power-assisted bicycle, nor shall anything in this section change any existing law, rule, or procedure pertaining to any civil action. (1993, c. 924; 1994, c. 56; 1995, cc. 42, 671; 2001, c. 834.)

With thanks to Virginia bicycle advocate Alan Muchnick for the introduction.