Eye Protection

Everything you ever wanted to know about New York State’s eye protection laws and regulations for motorcycle riders, and more.

The short version is, as the operator of a motorcycle you are required to “wear” ANSI Z87.1 -compliant eye protection, be it a helmet’s face-shield, spectacles or goggles, and regardless of whether or not your bike has a windshield.  If your helmet’s face shield is up or removed, then you must have compliant spectacles or goggles underneath.

Do not expect state sovereignty laws – such as the ones governing the equipment, registration and inspection of out-of-state vehicles – to relieve of you your responsibility to wear ANSI Z87.1 eye protection.  Like helmet laws, eye protection is personal safety equipment, not vehicle safety equipment.

Motorcycle passengers in New York are not legally required to wear any eye protection at all, but it is still a good idea.

New York State law in the past required motorcycle operators to wear eye protection compliant with the VESC-8 specification.  Because the Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission has not functioned as an organization since 1983 and work on the VESC-8 standard was abandoned after 1980, in late 2009 New York changed the law for motorcyclists’ required eye protection from VESC-8 to ANSI Z87.1, which was already being accepted as a suitable substitute by most of the state’s law enforcement and adjudication communities.  At the time of this regulatory amendment, Z87.1-2003 was the most current version of the standard.

Now for law school…  The requirement to wear eye protection is stated in Article 9 of the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law, Section 381:

It shall be unlawful, on and after January first,
nineteen hundred sixty-seven, for any person to operate a
motorcycle unless he wears goggles or a face shield of a
type approved by the commissioner. The commissioner is
hereby authorized and empowered to adopt and amend
regulations covering types of goggles and face shields
and the specifications therefor and to establish and
maintain a list of approved goggles and face shields
which meet the specifications as established hereunder.

The VTL delegates responsibility here for the actual type of eye protection to the Commissioner of the DMV, who defines the regulations referred to above in Title 15 of the New York Codes, Rules & Regulations.  You’ll find the relevant details in Subchapter D, Part 54.  Let’s start with definitions and rationalizing.  First of all, 54.1 rationalizes the need for protective eyewear:

The operation of motorcycles has been found to result in
a high incidence of disabling personal injuries. The 
effects of such injuries extend beyond the person injured 
to the family of the person injured and to the people of 
this State. Any disabling personal injury may have an 
economic impact on the public by requiring the furnishing 
of medical, rehabilitative or welfare aid or assistance. 
Therefore, the prevention or mitigation of injuries 
resulting from the more common types of motorcycle 
accidents by the use of protective helmets, goggles, face 
shields or wind screens is deemed to be a legitimate 
concern of this State.

So New York has decided that protective eyewear is required to prevent “disabling personal injury.”  We’re going to come back to that later.  Meanwhile, 54.2 re-defines “goggles or a face shield”:

Goggles or face shield. An eye protection device as
defined in American National Standard Institute's Z87.1
as most recently amended.

Since the ANSI Z87.1 approval applies to spectacles as well as goggles, any eyewear which complies with ANSI Z87.1 is sufficient.  It does not have to be goggles.

It is important to note that New York State’s Motorcycle Manual favors face shields and in the absence of a face shield, recommends the use of goggles instead of spectacles.  These are sensible and logical recommendations but they are not legally mandatory.

Now this list of approved devices that the VTL talks about isn’t so much a list as it is a single definition – all devices which conform to ANSI Z87.1:

A motorcyclist may use any eye protection device that
has been manufactured in conformity with the American
National Standard Institute's Z87.1 standard Occupational
and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices.
A motorcyclist may not operate a motorcycle unless he or
she is wearing such eye protection.

This again reinforces that any eyewear which is ANSI Z87.1 compliant is sufficient eye protection in New York State.

New York City

Now we would like to discuss a disturbing practice that seems only to be performed by the NYPD.  Namely, the practice of pulling over motorcyclists and stating that the stop was due to a raised face shield.

The law uses the word “wear” when referring to how eye protection devices must be used, and in court the interpretation is that the device must be used as it was designed to be used.  For example in New York State there is case law in which it was decided that wearing a helmet “cowboy style” is illegal because it does not permit the helmet to perform as it was designed, to protect the wearer’s head.  That having been said, eye protection must be used as designed.  Just as goggles are not helpful when placed on your forehead, a helmet’s face shield should be down over your eyes.  Yet we see a couple of problems with these traffic stops.

One problem with these traffic stops is that if you have sunglasses under a raised face shield, a police officer cannot legitimately discern at any distance whether or not those glasses are ANSI Z87.1 compliant.  The markings are very small and not necessarily visible facing the wearer.  A raised face shield with any kind of glasses underneath should not constitute reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop.

The other problem with the NYPD’s traffic stops is that they often stop motorcycle riders for having the face shield open only slightly, and/or open while stopped for traffic lights.  In some cases the stop would even include a lecture about safety from dust and dirt.  This excuse and especially this lecture is a problem because of the legislative intent behind the eye protection device requirement.  The ANSI Z87.1 compliance which New York demands is a specification meant to protect the wearer’s eyes from “disabling personal injury” (remember that from NYCRR 54.1?) due to flying debris and projectile impacts.  The ANSI Z87.1 specification is not meant to protect the wearer’s eyes from airborne dust, dirt, mist, etc.  That specification establishes no performance criteria whatsoever for airborne contaminants.

Moreover, the failure of Z87.1 to address dust and dirt was specifically addressed by ANSI in 2010 with a new version of Z87.1 which adds additional classes of protection – to be marked on the eyewear as D3, D4 or D5 – which would shield the wearer from dust and liquids to varying degrees.  These ratings are not required for motorcycle operators.  Nor is the + mark which indicates a higher level of impact rating since 2003 and in 2010 only, also indicates a certain minimum amount of frontal surface area and more side protection.

If New York thought that airborne dust was a significant cause of disabling personal injury while at a standstill or near-standstill, then the state would require every pedestrian to wear the same eye protection.  A scratched cornea is hardly a “disabling personal injury.”

State law does not explicitly require face shields of full-face motorcycle helmets to be completely sealed shut, and to do so would constitute a very dangerous fogging risk in stop-and-go traffic.  The instruction manuals of motorcycle helmets even state how to use incremental face shield openings to manage fresh air and prevent fog.  Shield positioning is sensibly left to the wearer.  It is unreasonable and dangerous for police officers to insist it stay sealed in any conditions but particularly in slow or stopped traffic.

Fall 2013 Update:  A new practice has been reported where NYPD officers issue summonses for improper eyewear when the rider displays compliant spectacles bearing the Z87 markings, alleging that spectacles must have foam on the sides, such as what might be found on goggles.  This is not the law and is not required, no matter what the officer says.

Identifying Marks

Also at issue are the markings that police officers are instructed to look for to discern eye protection that complies with the ANSI Z87.1 specification.  To begin with, some officers have been known to look for “DOT” markings, such as those which would be on a new DOT -compliant motorcycle helmet.  There is no such thing as (legitimate) DOT markings on protective eyewear.

The “Z87” mark that police may look for is also a moving target.  Some police officers mistakenly believe that the markings will always be on the lenses but this is incorrect.  This error was even seen in a New York State Police training document created in 2010.

In the Z87.1-2010 specification, spectacle lenses only need to bear a manufacturer’s logo or monogram.  Only on goggle lenses must a Z87 mark appear in addition to the monogram.  The front of one temple would need to bear a Z87 marking in either case.  The Z87.1-2003 specification enforces similar marking requirements.

The Z87.1-1989 specification did not require Z87 marks on the lenses of spectacles or goggles.  The Z87 marks would only have to be on major frame components.

ANSI Z87.1 eyewear does not need to show any marking indicating which year of the specification it complies with.  Ultimately law enforcement can rely only on frame markings, at most.  Police should never, ever insist that lenses must bear “DOT” or “Z87” markings, period.

Prescription protective eyewear may show a “Z87.2” marking or it may show no markings at all.  We recommend carrying a letter of proof of compliance from the eye care professional who supplied the eyewear.

If you have purchased non-prescription eyewear that is advertised as having lenses that are (for example) “ANSI Z87.1-2010 compliant” but the eyewear does not bear the required markings indicating Z87 compliance, then that eyewear is by definition not compliant because it was not marked accordingly.  It would therefore not be considered legal eyewear for motorcycle operators in New York.

Some may find it important to know that manufacturers may self-certify ANSI Z87 eyewear.

Your Rights

We recommend that motorcyclists be knowledgeable about the state’s laws, follow those laws in their intended spirit and be vigilant about not allowing police officers to make ignorant mistakes when scrutinizing required equipment.  Police officers who appear intent on abusing and/or misinterpreting the laws and ignoring their legislative intent in order to boot-strap traffic stops and/or reach their “performance goals” should be reported to the appropriate Internal Affairs Bureau or in NYC, the Civilian Complaint Review Board.