A case in Arizona demonstrates what can happen...
Many motorcycle riders remove their helmet before entering a business, including a gas station. Others think it’s fine to leave theirs on, even if it makes other people upset. This topic has been debated here and there on the internet for some time. Now a case out of Arizona where a man was arrested for wearing his full-face motorcycle helmet through a Walmart has put the topic front and center. It’s definitely an interesting situation, especially when in 2021 obscuring your face in public has been not only acceptable but actually encouraged by all kinds of businesses for over a year. Nobody knows how long that encouragement will last, but in the future this case might set a legal precedent which affects all motorcycle riders.
As economic times get rocky, some are considering ditching their car and getting a motorcycle. Before you do, consider these key points here.
Back on August 6, 2019, Freedom Pfaendler stopped at a Walmart in Sahuarita, Arizona to grab a few quick items on his way to work. Pfaendler was riding his motorcycle and was dressed appropriately. However, he kept his full-face helmet on with the visor down as he entered and walked through the store. The 22-year-old also kept his camouflage backpack on and had music playing over Bluetooth, which he said was the reason he didn’t hear a manager ask him to remove his helmet at about 1:52 in the video. That manager finally called the police, who hurried to the store no doubt in part because a fatal mass shooting took place at another Walmart just days before.
When police arrived at 7:52 in the video, they found Pfaendler arranging his purchases in his bag, which he placed on a bench at the front of the store. As you can see in the bodycam footage, Pfaendler still didn’t hear officers when they first approached him.
How you view the exchange between Pfaendler and the police will probably depend on where you land on your support for cops. Some say the police were too confrontational and didn’t de-escalate the situation properly. They also believe the officers and sergeant violated Freedom Pfaendler’s civil rights. Others think Pfaendler was out of line, getting what he deserved. In the end, this is an issue for a judge to decide, which might eventually happen.
I’m not an attorney and won’t weigh in on the legal aspects of this case, which seem complicated. This isn’t a legal site, so I’m focusing more on what enthusiasts need to know as they’re out riding, then stop to enter a business. Almost two years later, this case is still in the court system, so think on that before you decide to walk through a store with your helmet on.
For clarification, even though he was arrested for trespass, the charges against Pfaendler were dropped. Then he turned about and sued the city. That lawsuit was dismissed by a judge back in December of 2020, but Pfaendler’s attorney refiled the suit 2 weeks later. We’ll see what happens next.
For those who aren’t that familiar with motorcycle protective gear, the padding and reinforced areas certainly can make it look like tactical gear. People might assume you’re wearing some sort of body armor, which you are, only it’s armor to protect against blacktop, not bullets. Shake your head at the ignorance of people, but that’s the reality we all must live with. This would explain why the Walmart manager reacted the way he did, out of fear for the safety of him, his fellow employees, and customers. The fact Pfaendler kept his face and every other part of his body hidden while in the store likely only fueled those fears.
Whether it’s legal to wear a motorcycle helmet in a business seems to be not entirely clear. A quick Google search uncovered no such laws in any state, but they might exist. However, many businesses, including most if not all banks, have posted at their entrance rules about not wearing helmets with visors, dark sunglasses, and even baseball caps while inside. The sad fact is robbers have used helmets to obscure their identity while robbing a business or shoplifting. Even if you have a modular helmet, your best bet is to completely remove it before entering. That might seem inconvenient, but it can save you a lot of grief. After all, businesses do have the right to ask you to leave if you don’t comply with reasonable requests and the police can cite you for trespass if you don’t. Again, this isn’t legal advice, but I think most riders don’t want to deal with the hassle of having the cops called on them.
Riding while listening to music on a Bluetooth helmet (or headphones) is a popular thing to do these days, but that doesn’t make it smart or legal. You’ll have to check your local laws, but it might even be a citable offense. Regardless, it hinders your ability to hear other vehicles approaching from behind, car horns, emergency sirens, and other sounds which make you aware of what’s going on around you. It’s not just the responsibility of drivers to see motorcycles; riders also need to be keenly aware of their surroundings at all times to stay safe.
Another point about the Freedom Pfaendler case: When I’ve gone to Walmarts while wearing a backpack, I’ve always put the bag in a locker at the front of the store, usually with the assistance of the greeter. No greeter is shown in the surveillance video, but as a rider, I would think Pfaendler would be aware that no retailer allows you to just stroll through the store while wearing a backpack since you’re a shoplifting risk.
Ultimately, the takeaway here is all riders should be aware most businesses aren’t going to be happy about anyone walking into their store with while wearing a helmet. In other words, if you don’t want trouble, you should probably take off the helmet and carry it, as inconvenient as that might be, since years of legal battles are even more inconvenient.
Check out the Walmart surveillance video and police bodycam footage for yourself.