California Motorcycle Laws You Need to Know

When operating a motorcycle, safety is paramount. Motorcycles can be risky for riders and result in severe injury or death even when taking all the appropriate precautions, so staying safe means you need to know the California laws that apply to motorcyclists. In addition to abiding by the same laws governing motorists in regular vehicles on the road, California has some laws that apply only to motorcyclists. We are going to explore these laws in detail, so you know how to keep yourself and others safe on California’s roads and not run afoul of the law.

Becoming Licensed to Operate a Motorcycle in California

Before taking a motorcycle out on California roads, you are required to obtain a license. The specific requirements differ depending on your age, but the first step usually is to get a learner’s permit from the California DMV. For permits, you must pass a vision test, a knowledge test, and a test on skills. A motorcycle handbook produced by the state contains information you must know for the knowledge and the skills test. Learner’s permits expire one year after they are issued, and do not allow a motorcyclist to carry passengers, drive at night, or drive on any highways. Once you have this permit, the further requirements vary by age.

  • No one under 16 may apply for or hold a learner’s permit. If you are under 18 but over 16, you must have a valid learner’s permit for no less than six months before applying for a license. You must also complete a driver’s education and training course to help you learn the basics of motorcycle safety. The California Motorcyclist Safety Program is regularly offered by the highway patrol.
  • If you are at least 18, you must pass the three tests required to obtain a learner’s permit, complete the Application for a Driver’s License/Identification Card, pay the applicable fee, and have your photo and fingerprints taken. You must also complete the California Motorcyclist Safety Program.
  • Applicants 21 years of age or older may opt out of completing the California Motorcyclist Safety Program and instead take their driving test at any California DMV.

Additionally, an applicant who does not possess a California driver’s license must give the following information: full legal name, birth date or legal presence document and social security number.

Carrying Passengers on a Motorcycle

Except when holding a learner’s permit, California does not place restrictions on the passengers a licensed motorcyclist may carry. Persons of any age may ride behind a licensed motorcycle operator. However, the passenger must be provided with footrests, which must be used when the motorcycle is being operated. Passenger seats must also be fastened securely behind the driver’s seat.

Required and Prohibited Motorcycle Features in California

Helmet Laws

Helmets must be worn at all times in California. California Vehicle Code 27803 stipulated that helmets must be in compliance with requirements issued by the Department of Transportation.

Safety Equipment Requirements

Unless the motorcycle was manufactured before 1973, all motorcycles must be equipped with front and rear functioning turn signals. California Vehicle Code 27801 also requires motorcycles have mirrors on both the left and right sides.

Exhaust Systems

For all exhaust systems and motorcycles made in 2013 or later, the exhaust system must comply with state codes. It is illegal to alter an emission-related part of the vehicle.

Handlebar Height

Motorcycles in California are required to have handlebars with grips that are no taller than 6 inches above the motorcyclist’s shoulders when seated on their bike. This means handlebars known as “ape hangers” are prohibited in California.

Mandatory Minimum Insurance Coverage Requirements

In California, anyone operating a motor vehicle or motorcycle must always carry liability insurance coverage. The minimum amount of coverage a motorcyclist must have is:

  • $30,000 in bodily injury coverage for multiple victims
  • $15,000 of individual bodily injury coverage
  • $5,000 in property damage coverage

Failure to comply with these requirements can subject you to a ticket and fine, and if you do not have at least the minimum insurance coverage requirements and are involved in any accident, your motorcycle license may be suspended for up to a year.

Motorcycle Lane Sharing in California

Lane sharing occurs when two motorcyclists are in a single lane of traffic riding side by side or a motorcycle is next to a passenger vehicle in the same traffic lane. Though there is no specific restriction on this practice in California, it is believed unsafe by driving experts, as well as the California DMV.

Motorcyclists who engage in the practice of sharing lanes have a greater chance of rear-ending a motor vehicle than those who ride inside a lane of traffic. Lane splitting motorcyclists are also more vulnerable to being involved in a traffic accident during weekdays because of the high traffic volume around peak rush hour times. Finally, motorcyclists run the risk of being in broadside accidents because motor vehicle operators often try to switch lanes without checking their mirrors and blind spots, illegally try to enter or exit a carpool lane from standstill traffic or fail to notice an approaching motorcycle. In fact, these dangers are real — many experts blame the rising number of motorcycle accident fatalities on lane spitting, and in early 2016, California’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System produced a report showing a 23 percent increase of fatal motorcycle accidents since 2010.

Despite the risks, lane sharing does have benefits for riders. The U.S. Department of Transportation views lane splitting as a technique that provides motorcyclists an escape route and a way not to be stuck between motor vehicles when in traffic. Lane splitting can also prevent unnecessary inhalation of exhaust by motorcyclists and may allow emergency response vehicles and law enforcement easier maneuvering on California’s roadways. When sharing a lane, motorcyclists must always remember to maintain proper distance from other motor vehicles and be alert to their surroundings.

Lane Splitting Laws and Guidelines for Motorcyclists in California

Unlike lane sharing, lane splitting is specifically permitted in California as of January 1, 2017. Lane splitting is a motorcycling maneuver described in California Vehicle Code 21658 as:

Driving a motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, and highways.

No other state allows this, but it is often a way for motorcyclists to avoid becoming trapped by other motor vehicles or being rear-ended by providing them an escape route. It can also be practiced in order to avoid exhaust inhalation.

Lane Splitting Guidelines

Because lane splitting carries with it many inherent dangers, the California Highway Patrol has created a pamphlet giving guidelines and safety precaution suggestions to motorcyclists as to when lane splitting should be practiced based on surrounding traffic conditions. Some of the suggestions for safe lane splitting include:

  • A motorcyclist should not drive in excess of 10 miles an hour faster than the speed of surrounding traffic. High speed differentials increase danger to a rider, so operating a motorcycle at slower speeds gives margin for better reaction time to hazards and lane changing motor vehicles.
  • Motorcyclists should avoid lane splitting at recognizable merge points or near any freeway entrance or exit ramps. Sudden lane changes more commonly occur at or near these points, so the danger of lane splitting increases.
  • Lane splitting is performed most safely between lanes 1 and 2 of traffic—the furthest left on the road. Motor vehicle operators are more used to motorcyclists splitting between these outside lanes (the “fast lanes”), so they expect to see motorcyclists practicing this technique in faster traffic lanes.
  • Motorcyclists should avoid splitting lanes when travelling in excess of 30 miles per hour. Even at peak alertness and in ideal conditions, a motorcyclist should not engage in the practice of lane splitting when driving faster than 30 miles per hour, so they are able to react to a hazard or another vehicle switching lanes.
  • Lane splitting should only be practiced on familiar roads. If you do not know the road, you will be unfamiliar with existing hazards such as pavement seams, standing water, poor road conditions, and loose gravel, you should avoid lane splitting.
  • Motorcyclists should be fully aware of the distances between vehicles before lane splitting.
  • Be visible for drivers. Use daylights and wear bright colors if possible. Avoid lane splitting during or right after a rain, at night, or near sunrise or sunset.
  • Be aware of your environment. Motorcyclists should be aware and watch out for approaching vehicles in the distance. They should also have an awareness of lane width, size of motor vehicles around them, road conditions, weather conditions, time of day and lighting. If you have a doubt about whether you can safely split lanes, don’t do it.

The Four R’s of Lane Splitting

The California Motorcyclist Safety Program has created the Four R’s of Lane Splitting as a guideline, reminding every rider that they are responsible for their own decision making and safety, so they must be constantly conscious of reducing the risk of accidents:

  • Be Reasonable
  • Be Responsible
  • Be Respectful
  • Be Aware of Roadway and Traffic Conditions.

When You Should Avoid Lane Splitting

The California Motorcyclist Safety Program has also recommended certain times and situations when a motorcyclist should err on the side of caution and not practice lane splitting:

  • If your motorcycle cannot comfortably fit between vehicles
  • When at or approaching a toll booth
  • In unpredictable or rapidly moving traffic
  • When road conditions exist that present dangers such as construction, metal grates, uneven pavement, or in construction zones
  • In or around curves
  • If you are not fully alert and aware of your surroundings
  • If you are unable to clearly see an exit from a space you are going to enter
  • In between trucks, RVs, buses, and other large vehicles
  • In any situation where you do not feel comfortable splitting the lanes

Even though the California Highway Patrol has produced these suggestions, a motorcyclist will not be given a ticket for failing to abide by them. Motor vehicle operators, however, may be stopped and ticketed if they are traveling beside a motorcycle and move into the motorcycle’s path in an effort to impede them from sharing their lane of traffic. This is considered a lane change violation by the California Highway Patrol.

California Motorcycle Accident Attorneys

Even when using proper care, riding alertly, and obeying all safety rules and traffic laws in California, motorcyclists may still be involved in accidents and suffer severe injuries. The guidelines and laws are meant to keep you safe, but they are not a guarantee of incident- and injury-free riding. If you are injured or have lost a loved one in a California motorcycle accident, you should consult an experienced motorcycle accident attorney to learn whether you may be entitled to financial compensation for harms you have suffered as a result of your accident.

A skilled attorney will investigate your situation thoroughly to determine who is at fault for the accident, who is legally responsible for the harms you and your motorcycle suffered, and your best options going forward to recover damages for your injuries.

At the Law Office of Daniel H. Rose, we offer complimentary consultations to help you determine the strength of your claim and best steps moving forward. We will devote our knowledge and years of experience to fighting for justice in your case and helping you recover the compensation you are entitled to. To schedule a consultation, contact us today at (415) 946-8900.

Cyclist Michael Hatch Mourned as Latest Bicycle v Shuttle Bus Collision Victim

It is clear from my representation of bicyclists who are victims of collisions with commuter related shuttle buses that shuttle bus drivers are grossly inadequately trained with respect to bicyclists on the road. This latest fatality in Santa Clara involving a 49-year-old cyclist in a bike lane with a green light is an example of driver gross negligence and simply should not have happened.

We are Presenting Sponsor of Bike East Bay’s Biketopia 2018 Member Party and Fundraiser

As we do every year, we are proud to once again be the Presenting Sponsor of Bike East Bay’s Biketopia 2018, taking place on Thursday, November 8, 2018 6:30 – 10:00 p.m. The event, which is always a lot of fun, is at a new location right next to the Ashby BART Station at Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline Street, Berkeley. Hope to see you there.

Left-turning vehicles major source of death and injury to motorcyclists as in recent fatal San Jose motorcyclist death at McKee Road

Left-turning vehicles are a major cause of motorcycle accidents, as was the case on a fatal July 14, 2018 daytime collision between a motorcyclist and a Honda CRV at McKee Road and Challenger Avenue in East San Jose.  In my experience as a motorcycle accident lawyer, automobiles way too often negligently fail to notice or yield to oncoming motorcyclists.

A Primary Cause of Injury and Death to Pedestrians and Bicyclists Traveling on Sidewalks is Vehicles Exiting Parking Lots and Driveways

One of the primary ways in which pedestrians and bicyclists traveling on sidewalks are injured or killed is by motor vehicles exiting parking lots or driveways. A recent example is the Bay Area case of an 84-year-old woman killed by a vehicle exiting a parking lot on W. El Camino Real in Sunnyvale. Based upon my experience as a pedestrian and bicycle accident lawyer, it appears that the most common way this occurs is when the pedestrian or bicyclist is traveling on the sidewalk in the opposite direction that the cars on the adjacent road are traveling.

Because the driver of the vehicle exiting the parking lot is most concerned with entering the traffic traveling in the direction the driver wishes to go, the driver quite often neglects to look for potential sidewalk traffic coming from the opposite direction. Sometimes contributing to the failure of the driver to notice pedestrians and bicyclists is the presence of things which obstruct the driver’s vision such as hedges, walls or commercial signs. Pedestrians and bicyclists injured in such collisions often report that they mistakenly believed that the driver acknowledged or noticed them before driving into them or across their path. While drivers under these circumstances are almost always held to be negligent, it would appear to be safe practice for pedestrians and bicyclists to be aware of this potential driver behavior when approaching driveways and exits.

Scooter Accidents in San Francisco Bay Area | Liability and Insurance Issues

Motorized scooter use in the San Francisco Bay Area is rapidly becoming a primary form of local transportation. Electric scooter on-demand rental companies such as Bird and LimeBike have infused the Bay Area with thousands of scooters to fill an ever-increasing consumer demand heightened by over-burdened and inadequate mass transportation services.  As a San Francisco pedestrian, bicycle and scooter accident lawyer, I see many liability insurance issues raised by the increased use of scooters.

By FASTILY [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsAlong with this increased scooter use inevitably comes an increase in injury accidents involving scooters. Such accidents may involve collisions between scooters and pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, automobiles, or other scooters. Although scooters are prohibited by law from driving on sidewalks pursuant to California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 21235(g), news reports indicate that scooters are being ridden to a very large degree on sidewalks, raising the risk of injurious collisions between scooters and pedestrians. Unless local law otherwise more strictly prohibits, California State law allows scooters to be operated in bicycle lanes, and in fact mandates they be ridden in Class II bicycle lanes if such lanes exist, and where such bicycle lane does not exist the scooter may be operated on the road as long as the speed limit on the road is 25 mph or less. (CVC 21229, 21230.) Thus, scooter ridership also raises the risk of injurious collisions between scooters and bicycles, and scooters and motorists. San Francisco trauma hospitals have noticed an increase in scooter related serious injuries and are setting up a scooter-related injury tracking system, as reported by the New York Times.

Unfortunately, there are some significant gaps in liability and uninsured motorist insurance coverage for accidents involving scooters. In California, there is no requirement that motorized scooters (as distinguished from mopeds) be registered or that the scooter or scooter operator carry liability insurance. Based upon my research, I am not aware of any scooter rental companies which provide their users with any significant liability insurance. This would leave someone injured due to a collision with a scooter to look to the scooter operator’s homeowners or renters insurance, as is the case when someone is injured due to the negligence of a bicyclist, or perhaps to the scooter operator’s personal assets if they are substantial.

While pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter operators may utilize whatever uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance they may have on their motor vehicle policies should they be injured in an accident for which the operator of a motor vehicle is at fault, their UM/UIM coverage almost certainly will not apply when injured by the operator of a scooter. This is because California law requires only that insurers offer, in their motor vehicle policies, UM/UIM coverage for liability arising out of the use of a motor vehicle, and the Insurance Code limits its definition of “motor vehicle” to include only those vehicles which are required to be registered under California State law, and scooters are not required to be so registered. (California Insurance Code 11580.2, 11580.06.)

Another potential source of recovery for those injured in scooter accidents are the scooter rental companies or manufacturers where the accident was caused by a scooter’s mechanical defect or malfunction, or where the scooter was illegally rented to an unlicensed and un-permitted driver.  (An operator of a motorized scooter must possess a valid drivers license or instruction permit [CVC 21235(d)].)

Study Shows Hit-And-Run collisions injuries and deaths at highest levels

A recently released AAA study reveals a record amount of hit-and-run injuries and deaths, the majority of which are to bicyclists and pedestrians. This raises a confluence of issues related to a lack of adequate bicycling and pedestrian safety infrastructure, the prevention of DUI driving, public video surveillance, and uninsured motorist coverage.  According to AAA, there were 2,049 hit-and-run related fatalities in the United States in 2016, and 65% of those were bicyclists or pedestrians.  Twenty percent of all pedestrian deaths were hit-and-run related. The reasons that a driver may flee the scene often relate to the fact that many of the drivers are intoxicated with prior DUI records. The study notes that a large percentage of hit-and-run collisions occur in the hours between midnight and 4 a.m. when drivers are more likely to be intoxicated, it is easier to flee the scene due to lighter traffic, and there are fewer witnesses out at that hour.