Navigating California’s Motorcycle Laws: What You Need to Know

We want to tell you more about California motorcycle laws and what you can do if you are involved in a motorcycle collision.

If you are considering purchasing a new motorcycle, it is extremely important to understand your responsibilities under California law.

Motorcyclists in the state must adhere to specific motorcycle license requirements, as well as numerous other safety rules and regulations.

If you need assistance with a motorcycle accident claim, you should get in touch with a California motorcycle accident attorney as soon as possible.

Learning More About Motorcycle Licensing Laws in California

Some of the most important motorcycle laws in California that you should know concern licensing.

According to the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles, to ride a motorcycle lawfully in the state, you must have a special motorcycle license.

In order to earn your motorcycle license, you must abide by particular requirements.

The different types of licenses that you should know about include the following:

  • Class M-1 license: Driver can operate any two-wheel motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, motorized scooter, and any vehicle listed under the Class M-2;
  • Class M-2 license: Driver can operate any motorized bicycle, moped, or motorized scooter (but not a two-wheel motorcycle or motor-driven cycle); and
  • Class C license: Driver can operate a motorcycle that has a sidecar attached, a three-wheel motorcycle, or a motorized scooter.

It is important to know the distinctions among the types of licenses cited above and to be sure that you have the proper license for the type of motorcycle or motorized vehicle you intend to operate.

What do you have to do in order to get a motorcycle license in California?

First, before you can obtain a license, you must have a learner’s permit.

If you are under the age of 21, California law requires you to have a motorcycle license permit for at least 6 months before you actually apply for a motorcycle license.

Then, these are the license requirements listed by the California DMV:

  • Pass a motorcycle knowledge test;
  • Pass a motorcycle skills test or obtain a Certificate of Completion of Motorcycle Training; and
  • Pass a vision test.

Even if you are not required by law to take a California Motorcyclist Safety Program Training Course, these courses can be extremely beneficial to new and returning motorcyclists alike.

Safety courses can help motorcyclists gain a better understanding of how to safely operate a motorcycle, as well as how to comply with new motorcycle traffic laws in California.

Helmet Laws in California

The California Vehicle Code requires all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear a DOT-approved helmet.

The following are some facts and figures about motorcycle helmet use from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Helmets save nearly 2,000 lives every year;
  • Helmets reduce the risk of a fatal injury by 37 percent;
  • Helmets reduce the risk of a nonfatal head injury by 69 percent;
  • If all motorcyclists regularly wore helmets, more than 800 additional lives could be saved; and
  • Increased helmet use among motorcyclists could save approximately $1 billion in financial costs.

To be clear, helmets are required by law if you ride a motorcycle.

Any passenger you carry on your motorcycle also must wear a DOT-approved helmet.

You can choose among a half-shell, three-quarter, or full-face helmet as long as it is DOT-approved.

California law also permits motorcyclists to decorate helmets with stickers or other adornments as long as the decor does not interfere with the safety features of the helmet.

You are not permitted to alter the helmet in such a way that the safety features could be impacted.

In addition to helmets, the California DOT underscores that, while the following are not legally required, they are strongly suggested to prevent injuries in collisions:

  • Face protection;
  • Eye protection; and
  • Protective apparel, which may include a leather jacket or other long-sleeved jacket, reflective material on your clothing, long and heavy pants, closed-toe boots that cover the ankles, and full-fingered leather gloves.

Following California Traffic Rules

Motorcyclists must abide by all traffic laws in California as if they were motorists in an automobile.

This means stopping for red lights and stop signs, traveling at or below the posted speed limit, avoiding dangerous aggressive driving behaviors, and using turn signals.

However, there is one specific law that pertains only to motorcyclists: under California Vehicle Code 21658.1, motorcyclists are permitted to engage in “lane splitting.”

The law defines “lane splitting” as driving a motorcycle with two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets.

While lane splitting is unlawful in some states, motorcyclists in California are permitted to engage in lane splitting (also known as lane sharing).

Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits

When you ride a motorcycle in California, it is important to understand the specific laws that are applicable to you.

It is also important to know that, if another motorist’s negligence causes a crash in which you are injured, you may be eligible to file a claim for financial compensation.

The statute of limitations in most California personal injury lawsuits is two years from the date of the injury.

Accordingly, most motorcyclists must file a claim within two years from the date of the accident that caused their injuries.

Seek Advice from a California Motorcycle Accident Attorney

Do you have questions about California’s motorcycle laws, or do you need assistance with a motorcycle accident claim?

An experienced and aggressive California motorcycle accident lawyer at our firm can begin working on your case today.

Contact Starpoint Law to learn more about our services or call us at 310-424-9971.

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.