Staying safe on your motorcycle means knowing the laws that govern motorcycle riders in California. All motorcyclists must follow the same laws that apply to the drivers of regular cars, trucks and SUVs. In addition, there are some motorcycle-specific laws that only apply to the operators of motorcycles. Both traditional driving regulations and those that are just for motorcyclists all have the same purpose—to keep you and others on the roadway safe and prevent serious or even deadly accidents.
Getting a Motorcycle License
All motorcycle operators must first be licensed to drive a motorcycle before heading out to California’s highways and bi-ways. The first step to licensure is to get a learner’s permit. If you are under the age of 21, then you have to her a permit for six months before you can even apply for a motorcycle license. The permit exam requires that you pass three tests: a vision test, a skills exam, and a knowledge test. California publishes a Motorcycle Handbook that you should read prior to taking the skills and knowledge tests. In addition, riders under age 21 must also successfully complete a motorcycle safety program course, which is offered by the California Highway Patrol on a regular basis. A learner’s permit is valid for one year following its issuance, and while driving on a permit, motorcyclists cannot drive at night, drive on the freeway, or carry any passengers on their bikes.
There is no restriction on the age of passengers riding behind a licensed motorcyclist. The passenger seat must be fastened securely behind the seat of the driver and there must be footrests present for the passenger (and they must be in use when the bike is in operation).
Lane splitting has been legal in California since 2016. While not the safest practice, this involves maneuvering between two lanes of traffic to pass other vehicles on the roadway. However, the motorcyclist must not attempt lane splitting at such low speeds that it blocks or interferes with the normal traffic flow. Lane sharing is not restricted in California.
Laws on Safety Equipment
Safety equipment and helmet laws are also important to know. Helmets must be worn at all times—no exceptions. Only helmets that are in DOT compliance may be worn, per CVC 27803.
Motorcycles must be equipped with both left and right mirrors and have both front and rear working turn signals unless the bike was made prior to 1973. The handlebars on the motorcycle must not put the driver’s hands greater than 6 inches above shoulder level when the driver is seated. Finally, for bikes made in 2013 and beyond, exhaust systems must comply with the Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act.
If you ride a motorcycle in California, be sure to carry the minimum amount of liability insurance. This is $30K bodily injury for multiple victims, $15K for individual victims, and $5K for property damage. If you are involved in an accident and you don’t have insurance, you may have your motorcycle’s license suspended for a year.