California Motorcycle Laws: What You Need To Know
We may be motorcycle accident attorneys, but we are motorcyclists first. As a service to our fellow riders, we monitor new legislation and case law that affects motorcyclists, and report on these new laws here. We also work with motorcycle advocacy groups like ABATE and assist in lobbying efforts in Sacramento to prevent motorcycle discrimination and protect motorcyclist’s rights.
Requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license in California
California law requires that motorcycle permit holders must be at least 15 and ½ years old. Motorcycle license holders must be at least 16 years old by the date they apply for their motorcycle license. Additionally, California motorcycle license applicants who are under the age of 21 must hold a learner’s permit for a minimum of 6 months.
All California motorcycle license applicants, regardless of age, are required to take the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) course, pass the vision exam, pass the written permit exam, present a valid California driver’s license or I.D., and provide a thumbprint.
The California motorcycle permit exam is shorter than the driver’s exam for a regular driver’s license, but it is still an exam for which the applicant should study diligently. There are many California motorcycle permit practice exams available online for free.
A motorcycle permit is valid for six months in California. When holding a motorcycle permit, riders are allowed to ride alone, but may not travel on a motorcycle on the freeway or after dark.
Before being issued a license, all holders of motorcycle permits in California must also pass a skills examination, which is usually conducted on a slow-speed closed-course in the parking lot of the DMV.
Helmet and Safety Laws (Equipment Rules)
Helmet and safety laws are very important for keeping riders safe and preventing rider deaths. In general, motorcycle helmets reduce the overall number of motorcycle rider deaths and also reduce the number of traumatic brain injuries resulting from motorcycle accidents.
In the state of California, for all motorcycle riders, it is illegal to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. Passengers are also required to wear helmets when traveling on a motorcycle. Penalties for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle in the state of California include up to a $250 fine and up to a year of probation.
Riding Laws: Lane Splitting and Lane Sharing
Lane splitting is when a motorcyclist moves in between lanes of stopped or slowed traffic (also referred to as “riding the white line”). Lane sharing is when two motorcyclists ride side by side in the same lane of traffic.
Lane splitting is legal in California as long as the traffic through which the motorcyclist is traveling is going significantly slower than the speed limit due to congestion or is stopped. Blocking a motorcyclist from lane splitting when traffic is slowed or stopped is illegal in California.
It is illegal for a motorcyclist to use the shoulder of the road for lane splitting.
Lane sharing is also legal in California. To date, California is the only U.S. state where lane splitting is legal.
Motorcycle Passenger Laws
California does not have a minimum age requirement for motorcycle passengers. However, the law states that any motorcycle passenger must have their own seat and footrests and their feet must reach their footrests. This means that technically, children can ride as passengers on motorcycles as long as they meet the requirements to no longer sit in a child safety seat.
In California, the height a child must be in order to no longer have to sit in a child safety seat while traveling in a motor vehicle is 4’9”. As a reminder, all motorcycle riders and passengers are required to wear a helmet in the state of California, so child passengers must also wear a helmet in order to ride a motorcycle legally.
In California, motorcyclists are required to be insured. The following minimums are required:
- $15,000 bodily injury liability coverage (single injured person)
- $30,000 bodily injury liability coverage (total injuries)
- $5,000 property damage liability coverage
Motorcycles that are being operated on any California roads are legally required to have functioning turn signals on the front and back of the bike, mirrors, and a muffler. All motor vehicle laws that apply to cars also apply to motorcycles, except for the allowance of lane splitting for motorcyclists.
California Motorcycle Laws FAQs
What are the motorcycle laws in California?
In general, motorcyclists must abide by the same laws that operators of a 4-wheel motor vehicle must follow. Motorcyclists cannot operate a motorcycle while intoxicated, must stop at stop signs, and may not exceed the posted speed limit on any road.
The only law that is an exception for motorcyclists is that motorcyclists are legally allowed to practice lane splitting as long as traffic is significantly slowed or stopped. Lane splitting when traffic is moving at close to the speed limit is considered very dangerous and is not lawful.
Do you need a motorcycle license in California?
Yes. You must hold a valid California motorcycle license in order to drive a motorcycle in California. Motorcycle permit holders are allowed to drive their motorcycles only within compliance with the restrictions placed upon motorcycle permit holders in California.
Can you drive alone with a motorcycle permit in California?
Yes, provided that you do not ride on any freeways, and you do not ride when it is dark.
What does a motorcycle need to be street legal in California?
A motorcycle must have visible and operational turn signals on the front and back of the bike, mirrors, and a muffler to be street legal. Additionally, if the motorcycle is carrying a passenger, it is required to have separate footrests for the passenger.
Motorcycle drivers and passengers are required to wear motorcycle helmets that are approved by the California Department of Transportation while riding or operating a motorcycle. Helmets are required to have a visible California Department of Transportation approval sticker on the back in order to be considered legal. The use of non-DOT-approved motorcycle helmets is illegal and is treated in the same way as not wearing a motorcycle helmet at all.
What happens if you drive a motorcycle without a license in California?
Driving a motorcycle in the state of California without a valid California motorcycle license is punishable by fines up to $1,000 and up to six months of jail time.
Below are links to summaries of various legal issues affecting our motorcyclist brothers and sisters. We do our best to update these pages as as often as possible. For the most up-to-date information, check out our motorcycle blog.
- Motorcycle Helmet Laws
- Motorcycle Emissions Regulations
- Motorcycle Noise Regulations
- California Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act (The new “Noise Bill”)
- Stopped by a Cop?
If you have any questions or require any legal assistance, please give us a call or send us an email. Our motorcycle accident lawyers handle cases throughout California.