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California Motorcycle Laws

By Aghabegian & Associates on November 17, 2021

If you’re a motorcyclist in California, then it’s important to be aware of the state’s many laws on motorcycles. Motorcyclists are vulnerable. Without the safety features that automobiles provide – namely, air bags and a steel frame – motorcyclists are at a greater risk of injury should they end up in an accident.

In fact, in 2019 the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 5,014 motorcyclists were killed and an estimated 84,000 were injured in that year alone. They also claimed that motorcycle fatalities occurred nearly 29 times more frequently than passenger car fatalities that year. As such, it’s important that motorcycle riders follow the laws set by the state of California to ensure the safety of themselves and others.

Requirements for Obtaining a Motorcycle License

Just as with other types of automobiles, California residents must obtain a motorcycle license to legally drive a motorcycle. The state of California requires all motorcyclists to obtain a learner’s permit before they can apply for a full license. Riders who are under 21 years old must hold the learner’s permit for a minimum of six months before applying for a license. To receive a learner’s permit, candidates must successfully pass a vision test, skills test, and knowledge exam that covers information found in the California Motorcycle Handbook. Further, applicants under 21 years of age must also take and pass a California Motorcyclist Safety Program offered by the California Highway Patrol. When a learner’s permit is issued, it is valid for 12 months and during this time, there are certain restrictions in place. For example, drivers are prohibited from carrying other passengers, driving at night, or driving on the freeway. 

Other important motorcycle laws in California include those relating to motorcycle registration. If you own a motorcycle that you plan on riding, it must be registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. It does not matter whether the motorcycle is new or used, it must still be registered in order to legally drive it. Motorcyclists must also have an insurance policy that meets the minimum requirements as defined by California state law. If you do not have an insurance policy in place, whether you never bought one or you let it expire, your driver’s license could be suspended. 

Helmet and Other Safety Equipment Laws

Some of California’s motorcycle laws relate to equipment, such as helmets and the vehicles themselves. For example, motorcycles in California must meet certain specifications, like having mirrors, a muffler, front and rear turn signals, and even passenger footrests if you are going to carry passengers. Further, the handlebars of your motorcycle cannot elevate your hands more than six inches above your shoulder. In terms of personal safety equipment, California Vehicle Code (CVC) 27803 dictates that all motorcyclists must wear a Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved helmet. Both the driver and passengers on a motorcycle must be wearing a DOT-approved helmet, with a visible DOT sticker. Helmets must be worn at all times while on the motorcycle.

Lane Splitting and Lane Sharing

Lane splitting, also known as lane sharing or filtering, is a common maneuver conducted by motorcyclists. For those that don’t know, lane splitting is the act of riding your motorcycle between lanes of slow moving or stopped traffic in the same direction of that traffic. Many people are under the misconception that lane splitting is illegal. While it is illegal elsewhere in the United States, it is legal in the state of California. Assembly Bill No. 51 was signed in 2016, with the law coming into effect on January 1, 2017. Thus, since January 1, 2017, lane splitting has been legal in California. According to section 21658.1 of the California Vehicle Code, lane splitting is defined as follows: “21658.1 (a) For the purposes of this section, “lane splitting” means driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.” 

That said, the law is not without some restrictions. For example, riding on the shoulder of a road or freeway does not fall into the definition of lane splitting and is illegal. Further, according to the California Highway Patrol, certain guidelines should be followed when lane splitting to ensure it is done safely. California Highway Patrol’s Lane Splitting Safety Tips for Motorcyclists guide was published in 2018. Some of the tips outlined in the guide include making yourself as visible as possible by wearing brightly-colored or reflective clothing, avoiding the blind spots of other vehicles, considering the total environment of the road before lane splitting (this ranges from the weather and lighting conditions to the width of the lanes and the size of nearby vehicles). The guidelines also encourage motorcyclists to avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles, like trailers or semi-trucks, and to lane split between the far left lanes of traffic rather than the right lanes. The California Highway Patrol also notes that lane splitting is more dangerous at higher speeds and with higher speed differentials.


California has all kinds of motorcycle laws in place, from those surrounding motorcycle licenses and lane splitting to laws pertaining to insurance, vehicle registration, and equipment. If you’re going to ride a motorcycle in California, it’s critical that you are aware of and abide by the laws above, many of which are in place to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. 

Despite the motorcycle laws in place in California, accidents do happen. If you or someone you love was recently injured in a motorcycle accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, then you may have a personal injury case on your hands. You shouldn’t suffer in silence. Rather, you deserve to receive compensation for the physical and emotional harm you’ve been caused. That’s where we come in. Aghabegian & Associates, PC is a personal injury law firm based in southern California. We have a team of motorcycle accident injury attorneys with over 40 years of combined experience. We have helped secure millions of dollars on behalf of our clients and are committed to representing California motorcycle accident victims until the very end. Get in touch today to schedule a free consultation with one of our motorcycle accident experts and find out if your case is worth pursuing.

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