The short answer to that question is yes, most motorcycles are required to have turn signals in California. However, there are a few notable exceptions to that general motorcycle turn signal law. Indeed, motorcycles were manufactured for generations without turn signals (as were automobiles) and motorists relied on hand signals to determine when, where, and if a rider was turning. As you can imagine, there were quite a few motorcycle accidents in California throughout the years caused by a rider's failure to signal or a driver's failure to see the signal and respond.
The law, as it's written, takes these older bikes into account and makes exceptions for certain machines. So, determining if your personal bike actually needs turns signals or not can be a bit difficult. Let's take a deeper look at the section of the California Vehicle Code’s motorcycle laws and see exactly what it says about turn signals on motorcycles in California.
Turn signals on motorcycles in California are covered under Title 13 (Motor Vehicles) of the state code (specifically Division 2: Department of California Highway Patrol, Chapter 2: Lighting Equipment, Article 7: Mounting Requirements, § 699: Turn Signal Lamps).
This part of the California Vehicle Code that addresses motorcycle turn signal law explicitly states that:
Because they are considered by California law as motor vehicles, motorcycles built and first registered on or after January 1st of 1973 are required to have proper working turn signals on both the front and rear.
Bikes manufactured and registered prior to January 1st, 1973 are exempt from this statute and are not required to have turn signals.
It's not enough that your modern motorcycle must have working turn signals in California. You must use those signals correctly. The California DMV rules and regulations require that motorcyclists signal at least 100 feet from the point at which you intend to turn or change lanes. That's about 5 seconds prior to your intended turning spot at highway speeds.
Failure to signal in that time could result in tickets, fines, or even criminal charges in some cases.
A recent study found that failure to use turn signals was a leading cause of crashes in The United States—causing nearly 2 million accidents across the country. However, another study discovered that almost half of Americans regularly fail to use their turn signals correctly.
That's nearly 2 million accidents nationwide that could be prevented through the correct use of turn signals. Indeed, correct use of turn signals (by motorcyclists and car drivers) can decrease the risk of one of the most common types of motorcycle accidents: the left turn collision.
Any time you can reduce your likelihood of being in a motorcycle accident in California, you can dramatically decrease your risk of serious injury and death. Motorcyclists are nearly 30 times more likely to die in collisions between motor vehicles than car drivers or passengers. You're also 10 times more likely to suffer serious life-threatening or life-altering injuries.
So not equipping your bike with turn signals or failing to use them is simply a recipe for disaster. It's legally required (in most cases) and just makes sense.
However, if your bike does have turn signals and you used them properly and still ended up in a motorcycle accident in California, you may be able to hold the other driver legally liable (thus financially responsible) for your injuries. If that's the case, get an experienced motorcycle attorney to review your case immediately.