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Rules of the Road Every Biker Must Know

Motorcycle laws in California vary widely and, in a few select cases, are quite bizarre. For both current motorcyclists and those who are considering acquiring a motorcycle license, it is important to understand how traffic codes and insurance laws apply to motorcycle drivers in the state of California. 

Motorcycles do not provide all of the safety features that standard cars, trucks, busses, or vans offer, such as airbags, an encompassing steel frame, and seat belts. Because of this, the risk to the driver and any passengers is much greater in the event of an accident or other vehicular mishap. 

Those who are driving motorcycles on California roadways must adhere to the same laws and regulations that apply to all drivers, but there are also additional roadway ordinances that apply exclusively to motorcyclists. These laws are primarily intended to protect riders and those other drivers who share the road with them.

It is important for motorcyclists to be familiar with these specific laws, to ensure that they are prepared for any potential legal entanglements that may ensue in the aftermath of an accident.

Helmet Requirements

While regulations vary from state to state, motorcyclists and their passengers in California are required to wear helmets at all times. Helmets must meet the standards that are set by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Helmets that meet the Department of Transportation standards include the following features:

  • A thick polystyrene inner liner
  • Sturdy rivets and chin straps
  • An average weight of three pounds
  • No protrusions extending more than two-tenths of an inch from the surface of the helmet
  • Department of Transportation standards sticker
  • Snell or ANSI label inside the helmet
  • Labeling from the manufacturer

Much like standard seat belt laws for other types of vehicles, requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets with these safety features is intended to decrease the rate of injury and death from motorcycle accidents.

Handlebar Regulations

While some laws are aimed at accomplishing driver and passenger safety through protective gear, additional laws result from the design differences between motorcycles and other vehicles. For instance, according to the California Vehicle Code, the handlebars of any two-wheeled motorcycle cannot be positioned in such a way that, “the hands of the driver, when upon the grips, are more than six inches above his or her shoulder height when sitting astride the seat.” 

This law has implications for motorcycles that feature what are sometimes referred to as “ape-hanger” style handlebars. The reasoning behind this particular California law is that excessively high handlebars can adversely affect the handling of the vehicle and, therefore, make auto accidents more likely.

Other Regulations Regarding Motorcycle Function

In addition to the above handlebar regulation, motorcycles in California must meet other design requirements by law. Motorcycles must be equipped with functioning turn signals on both the front and rear of the vehicle. However, this law is not applicable to motorcycles that were built and registered before 1973. Motorcycles are also required to feature left and right mirrors. 

Not all regulations are aimed singularly at increasing driver safety, however. Some motorcycle laws are intended to decrease environmental damage done by vehicles that burn fossil fuels. For instance, all motorcycles manufactured in 2013 or later must meet the energy efficiency standards referenced by the Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act of 2010, which are set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

California Insurance Requirements for Motorcycles

All motorcyclists must register their vehicle with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Riding a motorcycle that has not been registered can result in citations, fines, and fees. In addition to registration, drivers must have at least the minimum requirement for insurance coverage. California legally requires motorcyclists to have the following coverage:

  • At least $15,000 per person injured in an accident
  • Up to $30,000 for each accident
  • At least $5,000 for property damage coverage


These insurance requirements are intended to cover the costs and damages incurred by motorcyclists who are involved in, or are at fault for, auto accidents resulting in property damage, injuries, or deaths.

Lane Sharing and Lane Splitting

Lane sharing is the practice of two motorcyclists riding beside one another in the same lane of traffic. As of 2020, California has no traffic laws that prohibit the practice of lane sharing. 

The practice of lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist drives between or around cars, trucks, vans, or busses that are also sharing the same lane of traffic. 

As of January 1, 2017, the practice of lane splitting was legalized in the state of California within certain parameters. Motorcyclists are allowed to lane split, with the following suggestions:

  • Do not lane split while going 10mph faster than surrounding traffic
  • Do not lane split while going over 30mph
  • Do not lane split at points where lanes merge

Bizarre Motorcycle Law in California

While the motorcycle laws covered so far are reasonable attempts to ensure driver safety and environmental responsibility, there are also laws on the books that seem quite odd. For instance, in some parts of the state, the law explicitly prohibits motorcycle passengers to jump from a motorcycle that is being driven at a rate of 65mph or higher. 

The explicit illegality of this death-defying action seems a bit redundant to sensible drivers and passengers. Clearly, jumping from a moving vehicle at any speed is always a terrible idea that cuts against the grain of both self-preservation and common sense.

If you have experienced a motorcycle or car accident in California, reach out to the experienced legal team at Lalezary Law Firm. We boast a results-driven approach and a successful track record. We provide clients with a no-fee guarantee unless we win your case. Our friendly and capable attorneys leverage their legal expertise to ensure that your interests are represented effectively. 

Contact Lalezary Law Firm online or call (888) 788-8888 today. We Fight. You Win. They Pay.

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