California Motorcycle Accident Laws

California Motorcycle Accident Laws Are Geared Toward Safety

California and the motorcycle have a long history and that story is often one of freedom and independence. However, there are a number of California motorcycle laws that have been enacted since the 1970s in order to keep riders safer and give them legal recourse to seek compensation in the event of an injurious motorcycle accident here in the state. Indeed, the number of laws that govern your ability to ride, the safety features of your motorcycle, and your rights and responsibilities while on the road is increasing every year.


For many motorcycle enthusiasts, this is a good thing. Mandating safer practices for everyone on the road (including motor vehicle operators) not only makes California's highways safer for motorcyclists, but it also makes it easier for injured victims of carelessness and recklessness to get the money they deserve from at-fault parties.


Below you'll find an overview of helpful California motorcycle laws and how best to make use of them if you've been injured in an accident.

California Motorcycle Laws

Obviously, all laws listed in the California Vehicle Code, unless otherwise specified, apply to the operation of a motorcycle in California. Aside from the array of vehicle code sections applicable to all motor vehicles, here is a list of the most pertinent California motorcycle laws to consider if you are involved in a serious motorcycle accident.

Laws Pertaining to Your Ability to Ride

California was once considered the Wild West when it came to motorcycle traffic. This culture of freedom and independence really shaped our state but as the sheer number of fatal California motorcycle accidents climbed in the 1960's and 70's, legislators took a hard look at nationwide motorcycle regulations and began adopting modified versions of those traffic codes in order to make our streets safer.


Now, in 2018, your ability to ride a motorcycle is defined by a number of laws. In California:


  • You must be at least 16 years of age or older to get a motorcycle operator's license.
  • You must also possess a valid automobile driver’s license and complete an approved driver education course.
  • Riders with instruction permits may not ride after dark, on the freeway or carry passengers.
  • Motorcycle
    Riders under age 18 must have written parental permission (or that of a legal guardian) in order to ride.
  • Motorcycle
    Riders under age 21 must successfully complete the CHP MTC course.

​Failure to follow any of these California motorcycle laws could result in fines, revocation of your license, and even criminal charges.

Laws Pertaining to Bike Safety

In addition to mandating who can and cannot legally ride a motorcycle in our state, there are a number of California motorcycle laws that dictate necessary safety features that all legally approved motorcycles must have.


For instance:

  • There is a law that specifically limits the height of motorcycle handlebars to no more than six inches above the shoulders of riders when securely seated.


  • There is also a law requiring working turn signals on motorcycles built after 1973.


  • Additionally, motorcycles must ride with their headlights on at all times unless the bike was manufactured prior to 1978.


  • Also, it's illegal to ride your motorcycle without adequate insurance. California motorcycle law requires that riders carry at least $15,000 injury/death coverage and at least $5,000 worth of property damage insurance. As a penalty, if you are in a motorcycle accident and suffer serious injuries - even at the hands of another driver - you will NOT be able to recover all of your damages if you don't carry this minimum insurance. This is referred to a California's Prop 213 limitation.

California Motorcycle Helmet Law

However one of the most controversial California motorcycle accident laws pertains to the use of helmets. California Vehicle Code Section 27803 specifically states that all drivers and passengers of motor-driven cycles wear an approved helmet. Passengers who wear helmets can even be ticketed for riding a motorcycle if the driver isn't wearing a helmet.


The specifications for approved helmets are defined by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 and include (but are not limited to):

  • Thick inner liners


  • Riveted chin straps


  • A total weight of at least 3 pounds

Many motorcyclists still choose to ride without helmets in spite of mountains of evidence and scientific studies that have concluded wearing helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries in motorcycle accidents by up to 85% and decrease the number of fatal motorcycle accidents in California by 37%.

Motorcycle Lane Splitting Laws

California is one of the only states in the nation that doesn't have a law on the book specifically banning lane splitting—the practice of riding a motorcycle between two lanes of automobile traffic. The practice is often viewed by motorists as dangerous, but California leaves this decision up to the motorcyclist. Although California law doesn't prohibit lane-splitting, the law states that it must be done in a “safe and prudent” way. In practice, the California Highway Patrol will not actively seek out lane splitting motorcycle riders, unless they are riding recklessly or without regard for other drivers and/or other California traffic laws.


However, the future of legal lane splitting in California is in flux. Every so often lawmakers challenge the safety of this practice and attempt to draft and pass legislation that would specifically make lane splitting illegal.

California Motorcycle Accident Laws and Their Consequences

California traffic laws define the consequences of negligent or unlawful actions in motorcycle accidents. These laws specifically lay out expectations that all motorcycle operators must adhere to but they also lay out what injure motorcyclists can do if the motorcycle accident they were involved in was not their fault.


For example, California traffic laws require that all vehicles (passenger cars included) yield the right of way to oncoming traffic when making a left turn. If the automobile operator fails to do so and ends up injuring a motorcyclist, that operator could face:

  • Fines


  • Criminal Charges


  • Jail Time


  • Civil Action (including personal injury lawsuits and insurance claims)

Unfortunately, left-turn motorcycle accidents is one of the most common types of motorcycle accidents in California and represents almost 42% of collisions involving automobiles. In the vast majority of these cases, the motorist (not the motorcycle rider) is at fault.

Personal Injury Motorcycle Accident Laws

California law allows for individuals injured by another driver's carelessness, recklessness, or negligence to file personal injury lawsuits in order to seek financial compensation for their:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Property loss
  • Pain and suffering

And more.


However, the law requires that those personal injury cases are filed within two years of the date of initial injury. If you wait longer than that, your ability to seek compensation through the California court system could be seriously hobbled.


One of the quickest and easiest ways to get a financial payout after a motorcycle accident in California is to hire a legal professional to represent your interests. Your California motorcycle accident lawyer can help you decide if an insurance settlement would meet your needs or if you would be better served by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

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