Q: Is it legal to mount a camera on a motorcycle helmet in the state of Washington? – Jonathan S., Spanaway
A: Well, Jonathan, it depends on what you mean by “mount.”
If you mean drilling holes into the helmet’s outer shell to permanently affix a bracket meant to hold a camera, then probably not.
If you mean using a strap of some variety to hold a camera onto your helmet, then most likely yes.
Jonathan inquired after seeing the story of Seth Dieckman, 35. Dieckman is the Olympia fellow whose spectacular crash into and subsequent ride on the back of a speeding car on Interstate 5 in Tumwater captured the nation’s attention this month.
Dieckman had a camera on this helmet, which captured some of the breathtaking action.
“The legality of mounting a camera to a motorcycle helmet is often debated on the web forums,” Jonathan, an avid motorcycle rider, wrote to us here at Traffic Q&A headquarters.
Indeed, we found several vigorous debates on the subject on the World Wide Web.
So off we went to the Revised Code of Washington.
Motorcycle helmets are discussed in RCW 46.37.530, “Motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, mopeds, electric-assisted bicycles — Helmets, other equipment — Children — Rules.”
Said law states, in part, that it is unlawful “for any person to operate or ride upon a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or moped on a state highway, county road, or city street unless wearing upon his or her head a motorcycle helmet … .”
There are a couple of exceptions, which we will not belabor here.
The RCW does not address cameras on helmets. It does, however, require that motorcycle helmets meet standards established by the federal Department of Transportation in accordance with 49 C.F.R. Sec. 571.218.
And that, dear readers, is where things get a bit tricky.
The federal standard has no verbiage that we could find specifically addressing cameras on helmets.
It does, however, contain the following mandate:
“Projections. A helmet shall not have any rigid projections inside its shell. Rigid projections outside any helmet’s shell shall be limited to those required for operation of essential accessories, and shall not protrude more than 0.20 inch (5 mm).”
It goes on to say at one point, “Make no modifications.”
We would respectfully submit that a helmet cam is not an “essential” accessory, but we are notoriously bad at interpreting such things, as we consider an Xbox One an essential home appliance.
So we sought guidance from our friends at the Washington State Patrol.
Sgt. James Prouty told us he consulted with some experts and concluded that modifying a helmet to permanently affix a camera bracket to it would be a no-no.
“You can’t alter the structure of the helmet,” Prouty told us.
Now, using a strap to wrap a GoPro or other such device to the helmet seems to be allowed, he said.
“It’s OK for me to wrap my goggles around my helmet,” Prouty said,” so why not a GoPro?”
What about using glue or Velcro to attach your camera bracket?
Hard to say. The laws apparently were written before the advent of small, portable cameras and the need for people to attach such devices to their heads.
Trooper Todd Bartolac is the spokesman for District 1, which includes Pierce and Thurston counties. Bartolac said that, at least for him, cameras on helmets are a low enforcement priority.
“There’s no law that says you can’t record your daily commute,” he told us. “I’ve never stopped anybody for it.”
Our best advice?
Get yourself a strap that fits over your helmet — we found several online for about $20 — or ride and record only when Trooper Bartolac is on duty.