Motorcycle riding can be dangerous. Not only is the risk of being involved in an accident higher for motorcyclists than automobile operators, the risk of being a serious, debilitating, or even deadly accident is also much higher. But motorcyclists throughout California refuse to let that risk run their lives. Every day thousands of riders take to the streets for commutes, pleasure rides, or quick runs to the corner store.
And people who ride love it. It's no wonder that they feel it's only natural to pass that love of riding on to the next generation. But how old do you have to be to ride on the back of a motorcycle in California?
Chances are, many of the current riders in the state learned their love of motorbikes at a young age—perhaps perched on the tank of a bike while in the arms of a father, mother, big sister or brother, uncle, or another family member. But California has strict laws which apply to young children riding on motorcycles on public roadways for their protection.
When is it safe to introduce your child to the exhilaration and freedom that riding brings with it?
It's important that you know and understand the answers to these questions before you ever hit the road. You could be cited for a traffic violation or even charged with a crime if you let a child ride on the back of your motorcycle. And, you could be held financially liable for their injuries if they are hurt in a motorcycle crash.
Note that this discussion focuses on the laws applicable to street riding – where the California Vehicle Code applies – not dirt bike or off-road riding. Children as young as a few years of age can safely ride off-road with the proper training and equipment, but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s focus on what kids can and cannot do on California’s roadways.
In California, in order to get a motorcycle operator's license, a person must have:
Therefore, it is unlawful to allow anyone under the age of 16 to operate a motorcycle on streets, roads, or highways in California. Doing so is not only illegal, it is unsafe and could be considered neglectful in the eyes of the law.
There may be exceptions for private roads but any private lot "open to the public" (such as at shopping malls) may still fall under the jurisdiction of state traffic laws.
The short answer to that complicated question is no. There are no specific age requirements for passengers on motor-driven cycles anywhere in California state law. What? There’s no age limit to ride on the back of a motorcycle? Hold your horses - Just because there aren't any laws specifically pertaining to the age of passengers on motorcycles, that doesn't mean that any aged child can legally ride on the back of a motorcycle on our public roadways.
Certain requirements that are codified in California’s motorcycle laws do make carrying certain individuals on the back of a motorcycle illegal.
In section 27800 of the California Vehicle Code (CVC) there is a requirement concerning the necessary equipment any motorcycle must have before the rider can hit the road with a passenger on the back of the bike.
Specifically, this piece of legislation requires that all motorcycles:
The seat part just makes common sense but it's the footrest clause that may limit the ability of some young children to ride. If they cannot reach the footrests, it is illegal for a child to ride on the back of the motorcycle even if they're an adolescent or teenager.
Additionally, California Vehicle Code's §27360 requires that all children under the age of eight ride in a “passenger restraint system meeting applicable federal motor safety standards” any time they're a passenger in any sort of motor vehicle (including motorcycles). These types of approved restraint systems may include a child's car seat, booster, seat, or some other age/size appropriate device.
Because these restraint systems cannot legally (or safely) be installed on a motorcycle, letting any child under the age of eight years ride on a motorcycle is effectively illegal though no law specifically bans the act.
So, your child is over eight, large enough to reach the foot rests on your bike, and ready to ride on the back of your motorcycle for the first time. Do they need a helmet?
California's motorcycle helmet law is universal. That means every motorcycle operator and passenger must wear approved helmets at all times no matter their age. Indeed that requirement isn't specific to "traditional" motorcycles. It specifically applies to a variety of vehicles. Indeed, California Vehicle Code §27803 states that helmets are required for both “a driver” and “any passenger” riding on a “motorcycle”, “motor-driven cycle” or “motorized bicycle”.
Additionally, these helmets must meet minimum safety standards set forth in California Vehicle Code §27802. These include:
These helmet requirements are essentially in line with national DOT requirements for such safety devices.
When tragedy strikes, the last thing you're concerned about is financial compensation—especially when your child is the one who has been injured. But as your child's medical recovery progresses, it will become clear that standard insurance policies may not be enough to cover all the expenses associated with their injuries. It may become necessary to seek compensation for the motorcycle accident from at fault parties in order to safeguard your family's financial security.
However, providing legal liability after your child has been injured in a motorcycle accident in California can be difficult. California is a comparative negligence state. That means negligence can be assigned in percentages to all parties involved in a motorcycle accident. That's why it's absolutely essential for every motorcycle operator to know, understand, and follow all the rules of the road. In cases where an automobile operator has caused a crash, they (or their insurance company) can be held liable for financial damages.
However, if, as the bike's operator, you allow a child who is either under age or undersized to ride your motorcycle and an accident occurs, you could be held at least partially liable in the eyes of the law.
It may be necessary to speak with a California motorcycle accident attorney if your child has been injured while riding on the back of a motorcycle in California. Even if it's just to set your mind at ease about the legal recovery process through which you're about to venture.