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California Motorcycle Laws Overview

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Chuck Geerhart
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California’s busy highways tempt thousands of drivers every year to opt for a motorcycle to navigate the troublesome traffic jams. However, motorcycles pose safety risks to riders.

In fact, 474 motorcycle fatalities occurred within the state during 2019. Because of motorcycles’ popularity, California imposes certain motorcycle laws in an attempt to protect motorcyclists and other drivers on the road.

Despite these laws, 28 motorcyclists died on California roads in 2019 without a helmet. Motorcyclists face additional risks every time they get on the road. 

If you suffered injuries in a California motorcycle accident, contact the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart today to discuss your case.

California’s Motorcycle Laws

The California DMV offers a motorcycle handbook on its website that provides information on California’s motorcycle laws. The rules contained in the California Vehicle Code apply to all two-wheeled vehicles, such as:

  • Motorcycles,
  • Mopeds, and
  • Motorized bikes.

California law requires motorcycles to meet applicable equipment, registration, financial responsibility, licensing, and operational requirements. California issues M1 and M2 licenses to drivers authorized to operate motorcycles. Earning the licenses requires completion of a written and driving test.

California’s Vehicle Code addresses several laws specific to motorcycles and laws governing other drivers’ actions when motorcyclists are present. 

If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident, the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart is here to help. 

Motorcycle Helmet Laws in California

California’s Vehicle Code requires motorcyclists to wear a helmet at all times when riding the motorcycle. A helmet that complies with this requirement:

  • Meets U.S. DOT safety standards,
  • Fits snugly on the motorcyclists head,
  • Has no obvious defects, and
  • Fastens to your head while you ride.

The helmet law applies to passengers riding on motorcycles as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in states without helmet laws, 57% of motorcyclists killed in 2019 were not wearing a helmet.

In states with universal helmet laws, only 9% of motorcyclists killed in 2019 lacked a helmet. Challenges to California’s helmet law arise occasionally but have yet to succeed. 

Motorcycle Exhaust Laws in California

Many motorcycle enthusiasts choose to modify their vehicle’s exhaust system. In an effort to curb noise complaints, new California motorcycle exhaust laws attempted to criminalize the behavior that leads to the complaints.

Now California imposes laws governing the amount of noise your motorcycle can produce. Section 27150 of California’s Vehicle Code requires all vehicles subject to registration to have an “adequate muffler” installed to prevent excessive or unusual noise.

The law also prohibits the exhaust system from being equipped with a cutout, bypass, or similar device.

Section 27151 prohibits modification of an exhaust system on a motor vehicle in a way that amplifies or increases the noise emitted by the vehicle to a level in violation of the previous section. 

Assembly Bill 1824, which went into effect in January 2019, enables law enforcement officers to issue immediate fines of up to $1,000 for violating exhaust levels. 

Motorcycle Lane Splitting Laws in California

Unlike some states, California allows lane splitting by motorcyclists. Lane splitting occurs when two vehicles occupy a single lane. Most commonly, lane splitting occurs when motorcyclists drive between passenger vehicles stuck in traffic. California legalized lane splitting in 2016, making it the only state in the United States to officially legalize the practice.

To enhance the safety of lane splitting, California prohibits drivers of passenger vehicles from intentionally blocking or impeding motorcyclists and from opening the door of their vehicle in an attempt to stop the motorcyclist from lane splitting.

Other Motorcycle Laws in California

Like with passenger vehicles, California prohibits motorcyclists from operating their vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For motorcyclists under 21, California imposes a “zero tolerance” policy for alcohol use, meaning that any BAC above .01% is considered a violation.

For drivers over 21, the law prohibits motorcyclists from having a BAC over .08%. Nationwide, motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents had higher percentages of alcohol impairment than drivers of any other type of vehicle.

In 2019 alone, 42% of motorcyclists who died in single-vehicle accidents were impaired by alcohol. Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol presents significant risks to everyone on the road, including the motorcyclists. Many states impose stiff penalties to deter drivers from committing these violations.

Contact the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart with Questions About California’s Motorcycle Laws

Motorcyclists typically suffer more frequent and more severe injuries compared to other motorists on the road. Attorney Chuck Geerhart dedicates his practice to representing and helping individuals who have been injured. Chuck has over thirty years of experience as a litigator and has tried sixteen jury cases to verdict.

If you have questions about motorcycle laws in California, there is no one more equipped to answer your questions than Chuck Geerhart. Reach out to the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart today for a free consultation

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