Know Before You Ride: Motorcycles and California Law

You’ve seen the bumper stickers that scream, “Look twice, save a life!” And you’ve heard disgruntled drivers mutter about motorcyclists that don’t help themselves by swerving dangerously all over the road. It’s often a controversial topic, but the fact is that thousands of injuries and fatalities involving motorcycle accidents occur in California alone, not to mention the rest of the world.

When you drive a motorcycle, you have to follow state-specific laws. Many of these laws are the same ones that every driver must adhere to, but some are only for motorcycles. These laws have been created to protect everyone on the road, but when you don’t know the laws, you can put yourself and others in danger.

The attorneys at Hershey Law see hundreds of cases every year in which people’s lives have been changed forever from motorcycle accidents. Knowing the laws and ensuring that you follow them, whether you are a motorcyclist or a standard vehicle driver, can help you prevent collisions while you are in the driver’s seat.

Here is everything you need to know on what it takes to legally operate a motorcycle in California and what to do if you are involved in an accident with a motorcyclist.

California’s Laws Regarding Motorcycles

Obtaining a motorcycle license in California isn’t as simple as getting your regular driving license. There’s a lot of prep involved, especially if you are under the age of 21. Anyone looking to apply for a motorcycle license must:

  • Pass a vision exam,
  • Pass a skill and knowledge test covering the vast amount of information that has to be reviewed and learned from the California Motorcycle Handbook, and
  • Obtain a learner’s permit, regardless of the driver’s age, before they can apply for a full-fledged license.

For riders under 21, the requirements are even stricter. They must do all of the above as well as:

  • Obtain and hold a learner’s permit for a minimum of six months before applying for a license and
  • Pass a California Motorcyclist Safety Program training course that must be administered by the California Highway Patrol.

Permits are only valid for 12 months from the date of issue, so it is important that the drivers demonstrate proficiency quickly. Permits aren’t the same thing as a license, since motorcycle operators who only have a permit are not allowed to carry passengers, drive on freeways, or drive at night. These limitations prevent novice drivers from engaging in risky scenarios that could cause danger to themselves and others.

Another law that is often misunderstood is that of safety equipment usage with motorcyclists. Some states allow motorcycle operators to choose for themselves whether or not they use a helmet and other forms of safety equipment, but California’s regulations are strict and clear. The following safety regulations are required for all motorcycle operators in California, regardless of your home state:

  • Helmets must be worn by both drivers and riders, per California Vehicle Code (CVC). There is no ambiguity on this – helmets must be used any time a motorcycle is in operation, and those helmets must meet the standards of compliance as set by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • CVC 26709 regulates that all motorcycles have working, unobstructed right and left mirrors.
  • CVC 27801 discusses the regulation of handlebar safety, disallowing handlebars that place the driver’s hands more than six inches above shoulder height when the driver is seated.
  • Safety guidelines require that any motorcycle build and registered on January 1, 1973 and later have working rear and front turn signals. Any motorcycle and exhaust system built in 2013 and later must be in compliance with the Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act. 

More Laws You Should Know for Motorcycle Safety

In addition to the laws that are in place just to get your motorcycle on the road, there are safety precautions that must be adhered when you are actually driving. These rules aren’t just for motorcyclists, though – standard passenger vehicles should know them in order to ride safely alongside motorcycles.

  1. Sharing the road – There are two types of laws that discuss the rules of road sharing between motorcycles and other vehicles. These include lane splitting and lane sharing.

You may frequently hear complaints from drivers when a motorcyclist goes around vehicles by moving between two lanes of traffic, and, while often annoying, this practice, called lane splitting, is legal in California. CVC 22400 and CVC 22517 help improve the safety of everyone on the road while lane splitting is occurring.

CVC 22400 is in place to prohibit any motorist from driving at speeds that are too slow for reasonable traffic and CVC 22517 makes the act of opening and leaving open vehicle doors illegal unless the door opening doesn’t interfere with traffic.

Lane sharing, in which two motorcyclists ride next to each other in one lane, is not restricted, although it is considered to be unnecessarily dangerous by many people.

  1. Passenger loads – As long as the motorcycle operator has their license and not just a permit, they are not limited as to who they can carry as a passenger. There is no age restriction, but the passengers must follow California safety laws. These laws dictate that the passenger seat must be fastened securely behind the driver’s seat and that passengers must have footrests that are used any time the motorcycle is being operated.
  1. Insurance – Although it’s not a “safety” guideline as far as avoiding accidents goes, motorcycle insurance regulations are in place so that victims of collisions have a safety net in case of damage and injury. Motorcyclists must carry at least a minimum of liability insurance or face a license suspension of one year.

Liability insurance minimums include $5000 for property damage, $15,000 for individual bodily injury, and $30,000 for multiple victim bodily injury. Personal injuries when motorcycles are involved frequently run from moderate to severe, so it’s crucial that a motorcyclist carries at least the minimum amount of insurance.

Motorcycle Injuries and Lawsuits

Since so many motorcycle fatalities and injuries occur in California, it’s not surprising that Hershey Law attorneys file multiple personal injury claims every year for accidents involving motorcycles. Statistics show that California’s death toll from motorcycle collisions increased 11% from 2015 to 2016 and continue to rise.

If you are involved in an accident involving a motorcycle, there are some basic steps you need to take to ensure your rights are protected. Any accident is nerve wracking, but when a motorcycle is involved, it can be extra scary. With the high potential for serious or fatal injuries, it’s important that you keep your head and follow these steps:

  1. Call 911 for emergency services. After you have taken care to remove yourself and your vehicle from harm’s way, report the accident to the closest emergency personnel. These individuals are trained in assisting people with injuries, so unless it’s a life-threatening emergency, let them handle any injured person.
  2. Get medical help yourself. Even if you don’t feel like you were injured, head to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. Sometimes injuries from an automobile accident don’t show up for a few days due to shock or internal damage that takes longer to show. The longer you wait for medical care, the more likely your insurance company will refuse your claim as valid.
  3. Keep documentation. Get photographs of the scene of the accident if possible, collect the other vehicle’s occupants’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information, and obtain a copy of the police report. Write down what you remember, as factual and detailed as possible. All of this information may help you later when you talk to an attorney or your insurance company. Things that are fresh in your mind right after the accident may slowly fade over time.
  4. Keep limited contact with the insurance companies. You will have to report the accident quickly to your insurance company, usually within 24 hours. This is fine but keep what you say short and to the point.

Avoid a drawn-out conversation with your adjuster, no matter how friendly they are, since they are trained in finding ways to limit or deny your claim by using what you say against you. Instead, report your accident and then let your attorney communicate with any insurance matters from there.

Motorcycle Accidents Have Time Limits, Too

Unless you are in the hospital and unable to call your insurance company, this is one of those red tape issues that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. In addition to this deadline, though, there are many others that you should be mindful of. If you choose to file a lawsuit, these deadlines will be important to your success.

Get medical help as soon as possible, follow up with your doctor’s recommendations, and contact your insurance company timely. Once you have completed those few steps, contact Hershey Law for your free consultation to ensure that you are doing everything you should be doing to protect your rights.