Court Rules Motorcycle Helmet Traps Constitutionally Ok

"Let those who ride decide" is the frequently-heard cry when the topic of mandatory helmets for motorcyclists comes up. In the Empire State, the decision is made for them and a federal court just proclaimed a controversial police enforcement tactic is indeed legal. New York is one of 19 states that requires head protection, and the New York State Police are serious about enforcing that law. Troopers regularly conduct bike helmet roadblocks, watching for riders with the wind in their hair and pulling them over, sometimes en masse. Several aggrieved and previously ticketed motorcyclists sued the State Police claiming the helmet checkpoints violated their Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

"We disagree," said the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the roadblock tactic is not an illegal search because the courts have created a special need exemption allowing roadblocks that serve a particular government need, in this case, the need for motorcycle safety. New York State attorneys showed the court data on motorcycle fatalities, noting that the number of deaths decreased by 17 percent in the same year police increased the number of helmet tickets they wrote by 2,175 percent. That showed causation, the justices decided, and also showed the primary purpose of the roadblocks is safety.

The roadblocks began in October 2007 and the first one was set up on Interstate 84 specifically to catch motorcyclists returning from a rally across the border in Connecticut. Troopers posted a sign ordering all motorcyclists to get off at a rest stop, and about 280 motorcycles were herded into the parking area. Bikes were closely inspected and police wrote 104 tickets, most for helmet law violations. It was two other roadblocks in June 2008 that triggered the lawsuit. One biker was detained for 45 minutes, and the following week, two others were held for a half-hour. A trial court ruled that the state's need to preserve driver safety outweighed the interference with individual liberty. The appeals court agreed and upheld the dismissal, saying the state showed that the safety roadblocks work and do not unreasonably deprive riders of their Constitutional rights.

Source: TheNewspaper.com, "Federal appeals court upholds motorcycle roadblock," Dec. 7, 2012

Andrew Levine
Andrew J. Levine is a partner at Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, in New York, NY. A graduate of Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. For 15 years he has been widely trusted and respected as a formidable attorney but acknowledged as a reasonable and ethical collaborator who impresses clients, judges and jurors alike. Andrew has been featured in New York Magazine as one of New York’s “Top Personal Injury Litigators” and recognized by Super Lawyers as a “Top Rated Personal Injury Attorney in New York.”
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