Motorcycle Helmet Camera Laws | It’s [a little bit] complicated!
In the past few years, one item that recorded an explosive rise in popularity is the action camera.
(Relax, they haven’t broken the sales records of the iPhone and the iPad yet)
Honestly, you can generate a ton of stunning footage by using a GoPro. No wonder many riders are affixing one to their favorite motorcycle helmets.
But what about the motorcycle helmet camera laws? Is it illegal to wear a GoPro on your motorcycle helmet?
The answer is not quite straightforward. Let’s dig deeper and find the answers.
Is It Illegal to Have a GoPro on Your Helmet?
To put it simply, the federal laws about using devices like a GoPro on a motorcycle helmet are vague. None of the regulations in any state clearly mention that attaching action cameras to a helmet is illegal.
Does that mean attaching a GoPro on the helmet isn’t illegal?
Wait a minute. I didn’t say that.
In fact, eagle-eyed observers will point you toward the regulations in the 49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218 determined by the Department of Transportation.
It mentions that the original structure of a motorcycle helmet can’t be modified in any manner. Nor should there be any rigid projections inside the helmet.
In addition, there should be no projections on the outer surface, other than essential accessories. The protrusion of any such accessory should be no more than 0.20 inches (5 mm).
In short, no permanent alteration should be made to the helmet structure for mounting the camera. So, you can’t drill holes into the helmet body for fixing any device by using a screw.
To understand why this isn’t allowed, you need to understand the structure of a motorcycle helmet.
The first thing is, there are two global standards for manufacturing motorcycle helmets. These are the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) certification and the ECE (the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) standard.
The DOT certification is used on US roads and The ECE certifications are prevalent in Europe.
Based on these standards, motorcycle helmets are made from an internal and external structure. It’s the tough outer shell that resists the high-impact forces in case of a collision.
Both shells are pressed together with a high-quality adhesive to create an impact-resistant structure.
And impact absorption is the most important aspect of helmet design. In fact, both DOT and ECE have specified special impact tests to simulate crash scenarios for helmet testing.
If this structure gets damaged or deformed in any way, the structural integrity of the helmet will be compromised.
Admittedly, if you want to be in the thick of the action, action cameras are the best option.
But damaging the helmet in the process is risking a cracked skull. Is it worth it?
For me, the answer is a plain and simple no.
What about securing the cameras using adhesives, suction cups, or straps?
That again is a grey area. You may receive a ticket if the helmet is considered non-DOT compliant by legal authorities.
In fact, some law enforcement officers can consider a camera attached by non-permanent means a safety threat for other drivers and pedestrians. Under rough driving conditions, the camera can fly off and act as a dangerous piece of debris.
The good news is, that’s not a common scenario.
However, there’s another side that we can’t afford to overlook. Having a camera attached to the helmet during an accident can help you to find out the exact cause.
In fact, the police have confiscated helmet cams in some scenarios related to traffic offenses.
You can use it as a piece of irrefutable evidence to prove who is at fault during the accident or a road rage altercation.
(Or, it can be used against you Mr. Smarty-pants)
Mounting a GoPro on Motorcycle Helmet: Safety Aspects
The fact is, most action camera users use the mounts provided by GoPro which provide incredible versatility. You can mount the camera on the front or at the side to capture a wide variety of shots.
But what about safety?
As per GoPro, you need to “follow the helmet manufacturer’s instructions on safe helmet use”. They mention that it’s the customer’s responsibility to ensure a safe mounting for the camera.
Quite simply, if the mounted camera impacts the rider’s safety, GoPro won’t take any liability.
(Well, they’re taking no chances)
Obviously, action camera brands don’t have the necessary testing resources at their disposal to assess the impact of a mini-camera on helmet performance.
However, these mounts aren’t designed to withstand heavy impacts. So, they are most likely to break away without causing any damage to the helmet structure.
Likewise, helmet manufacturers aren’t willing to test the safety of their products with mounted devices that come from a different manufacturer.
But here’s an interesting piece of news.
BBC Safety conducted a test on the safety performance of helmets with a mini-camera mounted on them.
It was expected that a solid object mounted on the helmet would increase the transfer of the impact forces. This will cause an increase in the chances of injury.
Surprisingly, the results indicated that the deformation of the camera mount helped in absorbing some of the impacts. In most scenarios, it provided an additional layer of protection.
However, in some cases- especially when the impact was at a specific angle- the force transmitted to the head was more.
But hang on a minute…
These tests were conducted on climbing helmets. There are different standards for testing these helmets. Motorcycle helmets are subjected to higher forces while testing.
So even though the results are encouraging, the physics is different while riding a motorcycle.
So, is it legal to have a GoPro on your helmet?
Yes and no.
Ultimately, it comes down to your preferences as a rider. If you love documenting your trips there are no motorcycle helmet camera laws that prevent you from doing it.
But the law prevents you from compromising the integrity of the helmet in any manner. Beyond that, you shouldn’t use it in a way that can impact riding safety.
Most importantly, don’t forget to wear a reliable helmet every time you head out on your motorcycle.
Honestly, you can’t be too careful while riding a motorcycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you put a GoPro on your helmet?
There are no federal laws that provide a direct answer to the question. So, it’s subject to speculations. However, you can’t modify the structure of a helmet in any way that can impact its “structural integrity”. Also, you can’t attach a projected device on the outer surface that’s longer than 0.20 inches.
Can you have a GoPro on your helmet in NY?
You can attach a GoPro on your helmet in NY as long as you are not breaking any laws or modifying the structure of the helmet for mounting it.
Is it illegal to have a GoPro on your helmet in California?
As in all other states, there are no specific laws that prevent you from having a GoPro on your helmet in California. As long as you’re not modifying your helmet or violating any other laws, you should be ok.