7 Motorcycle Laws You Need to Know Before Hitting the Road

Motorcycle accidents can be scary, and victims often require months of recovery. Motorcyclists are 28 more times likely to die in an accident than passengers in a car and five times more likely to suffer serious injury. Injuries can be severe including traumatic brain injury, broken bones, fractures, internal bleeding, and more.

One of the best ways to protect yourself on the road is to be aware of motorcycle laws in each area your ride. Read on to learn about laws you need to know before enjoying the wind in your face and bugs in your teeth.

Legal Definition of Motorcycle

According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) §46.04.330, the definition of a motorcycle is a motor vehicle that travels on not more than three wheels. This does not include any stabilizing conversion kits. Not included are power wheelchairs, electric personal assistive mobility devices, motorized foot scooters, electric-assisted bikes, mopeds, and power wheelchairs.

Know and Follow Motorcycle Laws

There were almost 5,000 motorcyclists killed in accidents in 2018. The best protection you have from falling victim to a collision is to follow the law.

1. Motorcycle Endorsement

To operate a motorcycle legally you need to have a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license. There are generally two options for obtaining an endorsement.

In Washington, you may take a knowledge and riding skills test at the Department of Licensing. The second option is to complete an approved motorcycle rider course.

When you take a rider’s course it includes the knowledge and skills test. The advantage is you will learn safety skills necessary for riding in traffic and maneuvering around obstacles. It also teaches techniques such as what to do when you take a curve too fast so you remain upright and safe.  

California requires riders under 21 years of age to hold a learner’s permit for six months before applying for a license. While you are on a learner’s permit you may not drive on the freeway, ride at night, or carry passengers.

In Colorado those under age 18 must have a learner’s permit for twelve (12) months, and if between 15-16 years old must complete a Motorcycle Operator Skills Training Program. It is also a requirement that riders under 18 years are only able to ride under the supervision of an adult who is over age 21 and has a motorcycle endorsement.

2. Vehicle Registration

Just like an automobile, you must register your motorcycle with the Department of Licensing. This will require proof of ownership (title) and proof of insurance. If you purchase your bike from a dealership they will handle the transfer of the title.

If purchasing a used motorcycle you may need to have an emissions test, depending on the county or state where you live. Just like an automobile, you must display a valid motorcycle license plate.

3. Helmet Laws

When riding you must comply with the helmet laws of each state in which you ride The State of Washington requires you to wear a DOT-approved helmet, as does the State of California.

The United States Department of Transportation provides information on how to select the right motorcycle helmet. This information includes selecting the proper helmet for the shape of your head and how to measure for the correct size.

There is no helmet requirement for riders over the age of 18 in Colorado. Those under 18 years must wear a helmet that is DOT certified. As free and comfortable as forgoing a helmet sounds, The Colorado Department of Transportation states that 65% of motorcycle fatalities are riders without a helmet. 

4. Motorcycle Equipment Requirements

Motorcycles must have specific equipment on them for safety on the road. This includes a mirror on both the left and right sides. The mirrors must allow the driver to see a minimum of 200 feet behind them. Each motorcycle must also have a horn, muffler that prevents excessive noise and emissions, and both headlights and taillights lit at all times the bike is in operation.

California requires that all passengers have footrests, and handlebars cannot extend your hands more than six (6) inches above your shoulders.  

5. Eye Protection

In Washington, if the bike does not have a windshield the operator must be wearing glasses, safety goggles, or a face shield. Even with a windshield secure eye protection is recommended for additional safety.

In Colorado, a windshield is not considered adequate, and separate eye protection must be worn in the form of a visor on a helmet, goggles, or glasses with lenses made from safety glass or plastic.

The California motorcycle handbook states that to be effective eye and face protection must be resistant to punctures, scratch-free, and provide a clear view to either side. It must also fasten securely so it does not blow off, permit air to pass through to reduce fogging, and have sufficient room for eyeglasses or sunglasses to be worn.

6Motorcycle Insurance

Each state has specific insurance requirements. In Washington RCW § 46.30.020 states that a motorcycle must have insurance that at a minimum provide for $25,000 bodily injury for the driver, $50,000 bodily injury for more than two (2) people, and property damage coverage of $10,000 per accident.

In the State of California if you fail to maintain minimum insurance coverage you may receive a one (1) year driver’s license suspension. If you are in an accident without motorcycle insurance you may lose your ability to recover damages, even if you are not at fault in the accident.

7. Lane Sharing

While it is legal to ride side-by-side with another motorcycle, it is not legal to share a lane with an automobile. As a rider, you should stay in the center of your lane to prevent an automobile from trying to crowd you out of your lane.

You also may not enter and drive in the lane of another automobile. This is an illegal practice in all states except California, where it is called lane splitting.  

California’s lane-splitting law became effective January 1, 2017, §216581.1 and its addition to the California Vehicle Code includes the definition of lane splitting. This law allows bikers to ride between lanes of traffic, but when doing so they must follow specific requirements:

  • Do not lane split near oversized vehicles, such as commercial trucks
  • Never lane split at speeds higher than 30 mph
  • Never ride at more than 10 mph over the speed of surrounding traffic
  • It is illegal to ride on the shoulder of a lane

Lane splitting is dangerous and requires extreme caution. New riders should not follow this practice.

The California Highway Patrol provides lane-splitting tips for motorcyclists. This includes tips such as it being safer to lane split between the far left lanes than other lanes of traffic. Another excellent idea is to wear bright-colored clothing to make yourself more visible. To prevent not being seen, you should avoid riding in the blind spots of other vehicles or remaining steady between two vehicles.

Be Safe, Be Prepared

Knowing motorcycle laws is important for your safety, but accidents do happen. Be prepared by having the name of an experienced motorcycle attorney in your wallet at all times.

Sweet Lawyers has more than 40 years of experience and a 98% success rate. We are available 24/7 by telephone, email, or text. All consultations are 100% free and we never charge a fee unless we win your case.

Keep our phone number in your wallet so if an accident happens you know who to call.  We are available at 1-800-674-7854 or complete our online form to schedule your free consultation.


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