Motorcycle Laws in California
As a personal injury law firm with years of experience in motorcycle accident cases, we know how important it is that you comply with state laws for your own safety as well as your passengers’. Bikers are especially vulnerable to serious, even fatal, motorcycle injury accidents, lacking the protection of an enclosed vehicle.
Because of the unfortunate public perception that bikers are reckless drivers, you may also have to work extra hard to prove your compliance with the law when pursuing a motorcycle accident claim. Being aware of California motorcycle laws is the first step toward protecting yourself from future liability.
The first, most fundamental way to obey California motorcycle law is to drive a street-legal machine. At minimum, your bike must have:
- Safe tires, with sufficient tread and air pressure.
- Working brakes in the front and rear.
- Headlights, taillight, brake light, and turn signals.
- At least one mirror.
- A horn.
Additionally, your feet must be able to touch the ground while you are seated on the motorcycle.
Motorcycle License Requirements
The state of California issues the following driver’s license classes for two-wheel vehicle operation:
Class M1 allows you to operate:
- any two-wheel motorcycle
- a motor-driven cycle
- a motorized scooter
- all vehicles listed under Class M2
Class M2 allows you to operate:
- a motorized bicycle
- a moped
- a motorized scooter
Traffic Laws for Motorcycle Safety
General traffic laws apply to driving motorcycles: you must stay within the speed limit, obey traffic lights, and drive sober. In California, it is illegal for a person under 21 years old to drive under the influence of alcohol at any level. For those 21 years old or older, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or above.
California motorcycle law does not impose an age restriction on passengers, as long as their feet comfortably reach the footrests. Passengers must wear a helmet that fits properly.
Lane splitting is legal in California as of 2017, but use caution and be aware of other vehicles.Driving on the shoulder is not considered lane splitting and is not permitted by law.
Motorcycles towing trailers must stay within a speed limit of 55 mph and remain in the right lane, except when passing. On four- lane highways, they must keep to the right two lanes, and are never allowed in carpool lanes.
Helmets and Gear
By law, you must wear a motorcycle safety helmet that complies with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements. There are three types to choose from: half-shell, three quarters, or full-face. For optimal coverage and protection, choose a full-face helmet with a lock-in visor.
It’s not required by law, but for general motorcycle safety, it is highly suggested you wear:
- Protection for your face and/or eyes.
- Protective clothing and closed-toe shoes or boots.
A motorcycle driver may not wear a headset, earplugs, or earphones in both ears. If worn in only one ear, they must allow the driver to hear emergency horns and sirens. The only exception to these rules is that one may wear ear protectors (earplugs or molds) that are designed to reduce harmful noise levels in both ears.
Refer to the California Highway Patrol’s motorcyclist safety page for more information.
Reporting a Motorcycle Accident
Collisions that cause more than $1000 in property damage, or cause a personal injury to anyone involved, must be reported to the DMV. The responsible party is the one who was at fault for the accident, or an official representative such as an insurance agent, broker, or motorcycle accident lawyer.
This report must be made within 10 days on a form called the Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California (SR1). Failure to report the collision may result in a suspended driver’s license. Refer to the California Driver Handbook for more information.