Wearing a helmet while riding on any street vehicle, whether used off-road or not, can save lives. Like most states, California has laws in place regarding the use of helmets when off-roading that apply to dune buggies. The California law regarding helmets for off-road vehicles changed in January 2013.
In California, it's the law that everyone -- regardless of age -- who rides an all-terrain vehicle such as a dune buggy must wear an approved safety helmet that meets California safety standards. This is true for both the driver and passengers. All riders must also wear seat belts, including shoulder belts when available.
Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Risks
Technically, dune buggies fall under the classification of recreational off-highway vehicles, vehicles which have four wheels and a steering wheel as well as rollover protection. In 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published a report on the safety of ROVs, examining 329 reports of injury or death between 2003 and 2010. Common sources of injury included a quarter turn lateral rollover of the vehicle, and complete or partial ejection of the victim from the vehicle, which then crushed the victim's head or body. At least 53 percent were not wearing helmets, with an additional 44 percent with unknown helmet status.
Helmets protect small heads in the case of ejection, rollover or crash while riding off-road in a dune buggy. A 2004 University of North Carolina study published in the 2004 issue of "Pediatrics" looked at the rate of injury or death for children riding ATVs in states with helmet laws versus those without helmet laws. Fewer children were injured in Pennsylvania, a state with mandatory helmet laws, compared to North Carolina, a state without mandated helmet laws. Of the children who died, 45.7 percent died of head injuries.
Research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans in October 2012 painted a grim picture of helmet use while riding all-terrain vehicles by children under age 16. Around 40 percent of the injuries incurred by ATVs occurred in children under age 16; 34.7 percent sustained head or neck injuries. Fewer than 35 percent of children injured in ATV accidents had a helmet on at the time and 59 percent were back off-roading within six months after an accident, still without wearing a helmet.