Motorcycle Laws in California

motorcycle ride in afternoonMotorcyclists in California must follow the same laws that apply to drivers of standard passenger vehicles. The state also has specific laws that apply only to motorcyclists. These rules are meant to protect motorcyclists, as well as others that share the road.

Knowing and following these laws could help reduce your risk of an accident that could cause severe injuries or death.

If you are injured in a crash, a Sacramento motorcycle accident lawyer from the Arnold Law Firm will fight to hold negligent motorists responsible for your injuries. Contact us to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.

Can You Drive a Motorcycle in California Without a Motorcycle License?

It is illegal to ride a motorcycle in California without a Class M1 license, which can be obtained from the DMV after passing a skills test and written exam. Riders who are under the age of 21 must pass an approved rider education course. They must also obtain a learner’s permit and hold the permit for at least six months before they can apply for a license. You can obtain a permit at 15 and 1/2 years old and apply for a license once you turn 16.


All applicants must pass a vision exam, skills test and a knowledge test that covers information found in the California Motorcycle Handbook. Applicants, regardless of age, must also pass a California Motorcyclist Safety Program training course administered by the California Highway Patrol.

Permit holders may ride their motorcycle alone, but not after dark on the freeway.

Before a permitholder can be issued an official license, he or she must pass a skills examination test. This is usually conducted on a slow-speed closed-course in a parking lot.


In California, if you are caught riding a motorcycle without a valid motorcycle license you could be fined up to $1,000 and spend up to six months in jail.

What Are the Rules for Riding a Motorcycle in California?

Motorcyclists in California are expected to follow certain rules for their own safety and the safety of others. This includes regulations on safety equipment and protective apparel.

What Does a Motorcycle Need to be Street Legal in California?

California has numerous regulations on safety equipment for motorcyclists, including the following:

  • Motorcycles must be equipped with right and left mirrors, per CVC 26709.
  • Handlebars may not be installed in such a position that puts the driver’s hands more than six inches above his or her shoulder height as he or she is sitting on the seat, according to CVC 27801.
  • Working turn signals, both front and rear, are required for all motorcycles built and first registered on January 1, 1973, or later.
  • For motorcycles and exhaust systems manufactured from 2013 on, exhaust systems must be compliant with the Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act.
  • If you drive a motorcycle at night you are required to have a minimum of one headlight.
  • Under state law, motorcycles must have taillights that will remain on for a minimum of 15 minutes after the engine has been shut off.

Helmet Laws and Protective Gear Recommendations:

Wearing protective gear and apparel also decreases your chance of suffering a serious or life-threatening injury if an accident occurs.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) 27803 requires motorcycle drivers and riders to always wear helmets. The helmet must be in compliance with standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

There are three principal performance requirements for motorcycle helmets under the USDOT Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218:

  1. A minimum level of energy absorbency upon impact with a fixed, hard object.
  2. A maximum level of penetration when the helmet is punctured.
  3. The helmet’s retention system (chin strap) may not break while undergoing a stress test.

Motorcyclists are also encouraged to wear face and eye protection, long-sleeved jackets with reflective material, long heavy pants, over-the-ankle boots and full-fingered gloves.

For facial protection, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suggests a plastic shatter-resistant face shield in place of goggles or glasses, as these only provide protection for your eyes.

What is Expected of Motorcycle Riders on the Road?

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles advises riders to be responsible out on the road. You should wear the proper clothing to protect yourself and make yourself visible to others.

Make sure to communicate with other drivers about your intentions. For example, if you want to change lanes or make a turn, make sure to signal and give drivers time to see you.

Make sure to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. This is important for passing other vehicles and lane splitting.

It is also vital for riders to always be prepared to maneuver or slow down to avoid a collision. There are many hazards that are not a problem for cars but present a serious hazard to riders.

Some other important safety tips for motorcyclists in California include:

  • Maintain a safe speed, as speeding increases the risk of a crash
  • Stay out of other vehicles’ blind spots, especially commercial trucks
  • Always assume drivers cannot or do not see you

Is It Legal to Split Lanes in California?

Lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist maneuvers between two lanes of traffic to get around vehicles. Lane sharing is when two motorcycles are traveling side by side in the same lane. Lane sharing is legal in many jurisdictions, including in California.


In 2016, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. signed California Assembly Bill 51, which defined and legalized motorcycle lane-splitting. California is the only state in the country that allows it.

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.
Source: California Highway Patrol

The authorizing code was established to reduce catastrophic accidents. In practice, however, lane-splitting seems to produce the most accidents.

There are some additional laws that could help protect riders when they are lane splitting.

California Vehicle Code 22517 makes it illegal for motorists to open or leave open vehicle doors unless it is reasonably safe to do so and will not interfere with the movement of traffic.

It is illegal for motorcyclists to use the shoulder of a road for lane splitting.

The law states that California Highway Patrol (CHP) is allowed to create guidelines or suggestions of when lane splitting will be allowed based on the nature of the surrounding traffic.

Some of these suggestions include:

  • Motorcyclists should not drive more than 10 miles per hour faster than the flow of surrounding traffic.
  • Motorcyclists should not split lanes while traveling faster than 30 miles per hour.
  • Motorcyclists should not split lanes at merge points.
  • Motorcyclists should watch out for cars approaching in the distance.

While these guidelines were created by the CHP, they are only suggestions and motorcyclists cannot be issued a ticket for not following them.

However, it is important to take additional precautions when lane splitting, otherwise you could get into a dangerous accident. For example:

  • Avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles, like buses, semi-trucks or motorhomes
  • Do not linger in the blind spots of other vehicles for too long
  • Avoid lane splitting at high speed, as traffic maneuvers become more dangerous
  • Remember that lane-splitting between the far-left lanes is usually safer than splitting between other lanes
  • Take note of the width of lanes and road and weather conditions before lane splitting


Lane-splitting allows motorcycles to avoid coming to a stop on busy highways. Without lane-splitting, motorcyclists are forced to sit in a death-zone every time traffic comes to a stop. However, some riders may not be aware that the law requires them to limit their speed relative to the speed of the vehicles being passed. Motorcyclists are not allowed to travel at the speed limit between stopped vehicles.

Almost all incidents between motorcycles and passenger vehicles that occur while lane-splitting are the result of being pinned between two vehicles. The gap sometimes closes when the driver of one or both cars veer toward the motorcycle.

Some experts speculate that as the driver’s attention is drawn to the passing motorcycle, they inadvertently steer in the same direction. The motorcyclist is then placed in a very dangerous situation wherein their fairing or handlebars are struck on one side, making it extremely difficult to keep the bike upright.

Unfortunately, drivers rarely admit that they veered into the motorcycle. The driver may not even be aware of his or her own actions, or, as often is the case, the driver gives a dishonest account of the accident because he or she does not want to be held responsible for the accident.

The best way to protect yourself while lane splitting is to avoid passing between parallel cars so that you have room to move if another driver merges and closes the gap.

If you must pass parallel cars, make sure they see you coming before you are in the middle of the cars.

Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal.


It is also important that those who share the road with motorcyclists also follow some safety guidelines to avoid a crash. This includes the following:

  • Drivers who block a rider’s path on purpose are breaking the law.
  • Trying to stop a rider from riding down the road by opening a car door is illegal.
  • If you are in the far-left lane you need to move into the left-most part of the lane to give riders enough room to go by.

Drivers who act negligently and veer into motorcyclists who are lane-splitting may be liable for damages.


When a lane-splitting accident occurs, the insurance companies will investigate who was at fault and assess the factors in the accident to determine its cause. Liability can be complicated in these cases, so it is recommended that you consult with an experienced attorney about an accident involving lane-splitting.

The focus of the liability investigation will likely be on whether the motorcyclist split lanes safely. If the motorcyclist conducted this maneuver in an unsafe manner, such as by speeding or cutting off other vehicles, the rider may be found at fault for the accident. However, if the motorcyclist did the maneuver safely, he or she might not be found at fault.


California has no law setting an age restriction for passengers on motorcycles. This means that people of any age may ride a motorcycle as a passenger. However, California law says that passenger seats must be securely fastened to the motorcycle behind the driver’s seat. Passengers must have footrests in place, which must be used while the motorcycle is in motion.

Due to the requirements outlined for passenger seats on motorcycles, children may technically be allowed to ride as a passenger. However, the child must meet the requirements to no longer need a child seat. This means he or she must be at least 4’9”.


Motorcyclists are required to carry minimum amounts of liability insurance:

  • $5,000 for property damage
  • $15,000 for bodily injury to an individual
  • $30,000 for bodily injuries to multiple victims

In California, if a motorcyclist is involved in an accident and does not carry the minimum amounts of insurance coverage, he or she may face a one-year driver’s license suspension.

It may also be a good idea to carry some form of personal injury protection insurance, like Med Pay. This optional insurance add-on can help cover the costs of medical treatment while you are awaiting compensation from the party responsible for the accident.


The Sacramento motorcycle accident lawyers of the Arnold Law Firm work to secure the compensation you deserve for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We will gather the evidence needed to prove your injuries were caused by another party’s negligence and fight to hold negligent motorists accountable for the harm they have caused you.

Learn the legal options available to you by scheduling a free, no-obligation consultation with an injury lawyer from our law firm today. Our attorneys work on a contingency fee basis and only get paid if we help you recover compensation.

Call (916) 777-7777 or complete our Free Case Evaluation form now.