Must Know Motorcycle Laws in California

Whether you ride a KTM, Yamaha, BMW, or Harley bike, there is something so incredible about getting out on the open road. California is a uniquely beautiful place for motorcycle riders. Getting out on the Angeles Crest Highway, Route 74, or the Sierra Heritage Highway is an experience that can’t be beaten. 

Must Know California Motorcycle Laws

However, before you hop on your bike, it is important to understand the rules of the road. California requires riders to have a special motorcycle license, maintain insurance, and ensure that their bikes comply with rules on things like handlebar height and exhaust noise limits. These laws are designed to keep motorcyclists safe, but can’t prevent all accidents – especially when careless drivers are on the road.  Our motorcycle accident attorneys will work with you to help you get maximum compensation for your injuries.  

Based in Walnut Creek, Appel Law Firm LLP represents accident victims throughout Northern California. We offer free initial consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with one of our personal injury lawyers, call our law offices today.

California Motorcycle Laws: What You Need to Know

In California, motorcyclists have the same obligations as drivers of other motor vehicles – such as following the speed limit and obeying stop signs and red lights. In addition to following these laws, bikers must also follow rules that apply specifically to motorcycles. Following these rules is important not just to avoid a ticket, but to reduce the likelihood of a motorcycle accident.

Motorcycle License Requirements

Just as drivers are required to get a license, motorcycle riders must get a license to operate a two-wheel vehicle such as a motorcycle. There are three different motorcycle licenses in California:

  1. Class M1: you can operate any two-wheel motorcycle, a motor-driven cycle, or a motorized scooter, plus all vehicles authorized under an M2 license.
  2. Class M2: you can operate any motorized bicycle, moped, or motorized scooter.
  3. Class C: you can operate a motorcycle with a sidecar attached, a three-wheel motorcycle, or a motorized scooter.

To get a motorcycle license, you must apply at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. You will be required to pass the driver knowledge test, the motorcycle knowledge test, and any other tests for other licenses requested. You must also either pass a motorcycle skills test or complete motorcycle safety training and obtain a Certificate of Completion of Motorcycle Training.

You must be at least 15 and a half years old to obtain a motorcycle permit and 16 or older to apply for a motorcycle accident. If you are caught driving a motorcycle without a license, you could be charged with a crime and sentenced to up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Motorcycle Equipment Laws 

Motorcycles must have certain equipment in California. The following requirements apply to motorcycles in the state:

  • Motorcycles manufactured in 2013 or later must have an exhaust system that complies with the Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act.
  • Handlebars may not be installed in a position that would put the driver’s hands more than 6 inches above their shoulder height as they are sitting on the seat.
  • Motorcycles must have mirrors on both the left and right sides.
  • All motorcycles must have working front and rear turn signals (with some exceptions for antique motorcycles).
  • If a motorcycle is driven at night, it must have at least one headlight.
  • A motorcycle headlight must be bright enough to reveal a person or vehicle at least 100 feet away when the motorcycle is operated under 25 mph, at least 200 feet away when operated at 25 to 35 mph, and at least 300 feet away when operated at speeds above 35 mph.
  • Headlights must be used when it is dark (from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise), when continuous use of windshield wipers is required, and when visibility is less than 1,000 feet due to inclement weather.
  • Some California roads, such as Highway 99, require the use of headlights on all vehicles even during the day.
  • Motorcycles must have taillights that will stay on for at least 15 minutes after the engine is turned off.
  • Motorcycles manufactured after 1985 may not emit a noise over 80 decibels (including exhaust noise).

Helmet and Rider Safety Laws

Both motorcycle drivers and passengers are required to wear a helmet in California. These helmets must be certified to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. A non-compliant helmet may be less expensive, but it won’t provide adequate protection in the event of a crash. You can be cited for failure to wear a helmet as either a motorcyclist or a passenger.

While there is no minimum age to ride a motorcycle as a passenger, all passengers must have their own seats and footrests, and passengers’ feet must reach the footrests. Because children under 4 foot 9 inches in height must ride in a child safety seat in California, they generally cannot ride on a motorcycle. Any minors who ride on a motorcycle must wear appropriate safety gear, including a heavy leather jacket, safety gloves, closed-toe footwear, and long pants.

Lane Splitting Laws

In California, driving between lanes of traffic to get around traffic – known as lane splitting – is legal on state roadways. Motorcyclists cannot use the shoulder of the road to get around traffic. Under California Highway Patrol guidelines, it is only legal to split lanes when the flow of traffic is 40 miles per hour (MPH) or less, and bikers cannot travel more than 10 mph faster than the vehicles around them.

Motorcyclists are also permitted to share the lane, or travel side by side in the same lane of traffic.

Motorists cannot block bikers from lane splitting. It is illegal to open or leave vehicle doors open on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so. Drivers can also be fined for blocking motorcyclists from lane splitting.

Insurance and Registration Requirements

Just like drivers of other types of motor vehicles, motorcyclists must carry insurance. The state requires certain minimums for motorcycle insurance:

  • $15,000 in bodily injury per person
  • $30,000 in total bodily injury per accident
  • $5,000 in property damage per accident

These amounts are just the minimum amount of insurance that you must carry. It is usually a good idea to purchase a larger policy. Doing so will not only protect you if you cause an accident but can also be accessed in the event that you need to make an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim

Hurt in a Motorcycle Accident? Give Us a Call.

Following all California motorcycle laws can reduce the risk of getting a ticket or being in an accident. That being said, many motorcycle accidents are caused by careless drivers – not motorcyclists. If you have been hurt in a motorcycle crash, we will fight to get you the compensation that you deserve. 

Appel Law Firm LLP represents injury victims who have been hurt in all types of accidents, including those that involve motorcycles. We work hard to help our clients get maximum compensation for their losses. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a Walnut Creek motorcycle accident lawyer, give us a call at 925-938-2000 or fill out our online contact form.

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