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EASYRIDERS FREEDOM v. HANNIGAN

May 25, 1995

EASYRIDERS FREEDOM F.I.G.H.T., an unincorporated association of motorcyclists, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MAURICE HANNIGAN, as Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NAPOLEON A. JONES, JR.

 This case is before the court on a motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' request that the court issue a permanent injunction against officials of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Plaintiffs are motorcyclists who have been issued citations under the California Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Law, California Vehicle Code § 27803, for wearing helmets that were alleged not to comply with federal safety standards. Plaintiffs ask the court to enjoin defendants, specifically officials of the California Highway Patrol, *fn1" from enforcing the law in an unconstitutional manner.

 The California Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Law, Vehicle Code § 27803, makes safety helmets mandatory for all drivers and passengers of motorcycles. Further, the law requires that a helmet may not be worn unless it meets certain specifications set out in Vehicle Code § 27802. This section states,

 
The department may adopt reasonable regulations . . . for safety helmets . . . as it determines are necessary for . . . safety. . . . The regulations shall include . . . the requirements imposed by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218 (49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218) . . . . Each helmet sold . . . shall be conspicuously labeled in accordance with the federal standard which shall constitute the manufacturer's certification that the helmet conforms to the applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.

 Pursuant to section 27802, the Department of the California Highway Patrol has adopted Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218 (FMVSS 218) as its sole standard to determine which helmets may legally be worn in California. "Motorcycle and motorized bicycle safety helmets governed by Vehicle Code Section 27802 shall meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218." 13 California Code of Regulations § 982.

 FMVSS 218 is largely a technical standard which focuses on several characteristics of the helmet, many of which can be determined only through laboratory testing. Under the federal regulations, helmet manufacturers are responsible for undertaking their own testing to determine compliance with FMVSS 218. Helmet manufacturers certify that their helmets are in compliance with FMVSS 218 by placing a sticker on the outside of the helmet with the initials "DOT" for "Department of Transportation". 49 C.F.R. § 571.218. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts its own safety testing of selected helmets to determine if they are in fact in compliance with FMVSS 218. If not in compliance, the manufacturers are asked by the United States Department of Transportation to conduct a voluntary recall of the helmet and to stop selling the helmet with the certification affixed. However, the helmet may still legally be sold without certification as a "novelty." If the manufacturer refuses to voluntarily recall the helmet, the government issues a statement of noncompliance.

 In the context of the helmet law, a California court has interpreted section 27802 to mean that "it is clear the law requires only that the consumer wear a helmet bearing a certification of compliance." Buhl v. Hannigan, 16 Cal. App. 4th 1612 (1993). A later court has refined this statement to take into account the situation where a rider knows that a manufacturer certified helmet has been subsequently determined not to comply with FMVSS 218, but nevertheless continues to use the helmet. Bianco v. California Highway Patrol, 24 Cal. App. 4th 1113 (1994). Bianco held that "the statement in Buhl that consumer compliance with the state law only requires the consumer to wear a helmet bearing the DOT self-certification sticker does not apply when a helmet has been shown not to conform with federal standards and the consumer has actual knowledge of this fact." Id. at 1123 (emphasis in original).

 Based on the foregoing holdings of Buhl v. Hannigan, 16 Cal. App. 4th 1612 (1993) and Bianco v. California Highway Patrol, 24 Cal. App. 4th 1113 (1994), a motorcyclist will violate the law by wearing a substandard helmet in two situations:

 
(1) where the helmet did not bear a certification of compliance at the time of sale or
 
(2) where the helmet did bear a certification but
 
(A) the helmet has been shown not to conform with federal safety standards and

 Thus, according to the California courts' interpretation of the helmet law and the regulations promulgated thereunder, law enforcement officials should only issue a citation in two situations: (1) when a helmet does not bear a certification of compliance or (2) when a rider actually knows that a helmet was purchased with a certification of compliance has been shown not to conform to federal standards. In a previous order filed March 15, 1995, this court has held that these guidelines sufficiently narrow law enforcement discretion to overcome any argument that the law is void for vagueness under the Fourteenth Amendment.

 II. FINDINGS OF FACT

 Plaintiffs ask for an injunction which would prohibit defendants from enforcing the helmet law according to guidelines that do not conform to the law as interpreted by the California courts. According to the court's review of the evidence presented in connection with this motion, the parties do not dispute the fact that defendants cite motorcyclists wearing helmets which bear certifications of compliance, and that the citations are issued without regard ...


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