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Helmet law is focus of lawsuit

A local motorcyclist and four others filed a civil lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol on Thursday alleging that the state’s helmet law is unconstitutional.

The seven-page suit, filed on behalf of the motorcyclists by attorney Wendy Lascher of Ventura, argues that the 14 year-old law is vague and violates the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights because it doesn’t adequately describe a correct helmet.

“I have spent thousands of dollars fighting this and I’ve committed thousands more,” said Don Blanscet of Penn Valley.



The suit cites an August 16, 2006, ruling by a Santa Cruz judge dismissing a plaintiff’s traffic citations for not wearing a helmet on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. An appeal of the decision is still pending in the 6th District Court of Appeals.

The plaintiff in the August ruling, Richard Quigley of Aptos, was one of the five who filed the lawsuit on Thursday. Quigley said one of the reasons behind the lawsuit was to force the issue of the constitutionality of the helmet law. His perception is that the courts are slow to respond to the August ruling.




“After the judge told the CHP what they were doing was unconstitutional, and they said that they didn’t care, I was sort of compelled to make them care,” Quigley said. “They didn’t leave me much choice.”

Lascher said that she thought the case had “an excellent chance” of winning.

“The issue here is limited,” Lascher said. “It’s whether the helmet law we have creates a clear enough standard that anyone who looks at it can say, ‘this helmet qualifies. This helmet doesn’t qualify.'”

Both this summer’s ruling and the suit filed by Lascher focus on a catch-22 within California Vehicle Code statutes 27802 and 27803 that define the law.

Statute 27803 requires that motorcycle drivers and passengers wear a helmet that complies with Statute 27802. But a quick read-through of Statute 27803 reveals requirements imposed on manufacturers and sellers of motorcycle helmets. The law requires that helmets meet regulations imposed by Federal Safety Standard 218, a test protocol that requires laboratory tests.

Lascher argues in her complaint that it’s impossible to tell by visual inspection whether or not a helmet passes these tests.

Blanscet was hopeful that the helmet law could be overturned after fighting 63 tickets for violating the helmet law. He said that his week he spend two days in a Placer County traffic court fighting a ticket.

“I’m starting to think that the dam is cracking,” Blanscett said. “If the judge issues an injunction, you can kiss this law away.”

The California Highway Patrol could not be reached for comment.

Read the lawsuit by clicking on the document on the right side of this page.

Go to a related article about the August ruling: https://www.theunion.com/article/20061009/NEWS/110090153&SearchID=73262467052230

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To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail jillb@theunion.com or call 477-4219.


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