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Motorcycle Laws in California

Posted by Siamak Vaziri | Nov 17, 2022 | 0 Comments

California, the land of endless sunshine and breathtaking vistas, offers motorcycle enthusiasts a perfect playground to explore on two wheels.

However, before you hit the open road, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the motorcycle laws in the Golden State. Understanding the legal requirements and regulations will not only ensure your safety but also help you enjoy a hassle-free riding experience. In this blog, we'll dive into the essential motorcycle laws in California to help you navigate the roads with confidence.

motorcyclist riding down the freeway

If you have been injured in a collision, an experienced Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyer at the Vaziri Law Group can help you fight for your rights and hold the at-fault motorists accountable for your injuries, damages and losses. 

Under California law, motorcyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of other vehicles. California also has laws that apply specifically to motorcyclists. These laws are meant to safeguard not just motorcyclists, but also others who use the roadway.

Understand the purpose of these laws could help motorcyclists in California stay safe and help reduce their risk of an accident resulting in catastrophic injuries or fatalities.

Here are some of the important California motorcycle laws every biker should know.

Motorcycle License Requirements

California requires that all motorcyclists get a learner's permit prior to applying for a motorcycle license. Those who are under 21 must hold a permit for at least six months before they can apply for a license. The requirements to get a motorcycle license in California include passing a vision exam, skills test and a knowledge test that covers information that can be found in the California Motorcycle Handbook.

Irrespective of age, all applicants must also pass a California Motorcyclist Safety Program training course, which is administered by the California Highway Patrol.

A motorcycle permit is valid for six months in California. When holding a motorcycle permit, riders may ride alone, but are prohibited from traveling on a motorcycle on the freeway or after dark. Before they can be issued a motorcycle license, all motorcycle permit holders in California must also pass a skills examination.

This test is usually conducted on a slow-speed closed course in the parking lot of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If you ride a motorcycle without a valid license in California, you could face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.


Under California law, motorcycle permit holders must be at least 15 1/2 years old. You must be at least 16 years old by the date you apply for your motorcycle license. Also, California motorcycle license applicants who are under 21 must hold a learner's permit for at least 6 months.

Regardless of age, everyone who applies for a motorcycle license in California is required to take the California Motorcycle Safety Program course and pass a vision exam, written permit exam, provide a thumbprint and present a valid California driver's license or state identification card.

Before getting a license, motorcycle permit holders must also pass a skills exam, which is conducted on a slow-speed closed course in the Department of Motor Vehicles' parking lost.


Motorcycle helmet with law symbol

All motorcycle riders and passengers are required under California Vehicle Code Section 27803 to wear a U.S. Department of Transportation-compliant motorcycle safety helmet. The motorcycle helmet must be certified by the manufacturer stating that the helmet complies with the U.S. DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.

A non-USDOT compliant helmet generally has very thin liners and protective padding. Therefore, these helmets lack the strength, size and ability to protect riders in the event of a collision. It is important to note that passengers are also required to wear helmets when traveling on a motorcycle.

Penalties for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle in California include up to a $250 fine and up to one year of probation.


Lane splitting is said to occur when a motorcyclist drives between two lanes of traffic to get around vehicles. In California, lane splitting is legal on state roadways as long as traffic is not stopped or severely congested. In fact, California has laws that could protect motorcyclists when they are splitting lanes.

California Vehicle Code Section 22517 makes it illegal for motorists to open or leave open vehicle doors unless it is reasonably safe to do so. It is also illegal for drivers to block a motorcycle from lane splitting when traffic is slowed down. Lane sharing – when two motorcycles are traveling side by side in the same lane – is also legal in California. But, it is illegal for motorcyclists to use the shoulder of a road for splitting lanes.


Motorcycle lane splitting

According to the California Highway Patrol's guidelines, motorcyclists should only split lanes when the flow of traffic is 40 mph or less, and not travel more than 10 mph faster than the vehicles surrounding them.

However, these are only guidelines and are not set in stone. It is always up to an officer's discretion to determine whether a motorcyclist's actions are safe.


When motorcyclists maneuver between two lanes of traffic to get around other vehicles, they are said to be lane splitting. In California, lane splitting is legal on state roadways as long as traffic is not stopped or congested. California has protections for motorcyclists who are lane splitting.

For example, it is illegal under California Vehicle Code Section 22517, which makes it illegal for motorists to open or leave open vehicle doors unless it is safe to do so and does not hamper the movement of traffic. It is also illegal to block a motorcyclist who is trying to split lanes when traffic is slowed. It is, however, illegal for motorcyclists to use the shoulder of a road for lane splitting. It is also legal in California for two motorcyclists to travel side by side in the same lane (lane sharing).

Here are a few tips for safety while lane splitting:

  • Consider the roadway and your environment when you are splitting lanes including lane width, size of surrounding vehicles, weather, lighting conditions, etc.

  • Danger increases as overall speed increases and at higher speed differentials.

  • It is typically safer to split between the far left lanes than between the other lanes of traffic.

  • It is best to avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles such as tractor-trailers, buses or motorhomes.

  • Riding on the shoulder is illegal and is not considered lane splitting.

  • It is important to be and stay visible. Avoid staying in other vehicles' blind spots.

  • Help other drivers see you by wearing brightly colored or reflective gear and by using high beams during daylight.


Helmet and safety laws exist for a reason. They play an important role in keeping riders safe and preventing fatalities. Generally speaking, motorcycle helmets help reduce the overall number of rider deaths and the number of head injuries (traumatic brain injuries) that result from motorcycle accidents.

In the state of California, for all motorcycle riders regardless of age, it is illegal to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.

In California, the law prohibits motorcyclists and their passengers from riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. Penalties for not wearing a helmet in California may include up to a $250 fine and up to one year of probation.  California Vehicle Code Section 27803 requires that motorcycle helmets be in compliance with standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Here are some of the regulations on motorcycle equipment riders should be aware of:

  • Motorcycles must have right and left mirrors. California Vehicle Code Section 26709 requires motorcycles to have both right and left mirrors.

  • 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 (California Vehicle Code Section 27801).

  • All motorcycles built and first registered on Jan. 1, 1973, must have working turn signals, both front and rear.

  • For motorcycles and exhaust systems manufactured from 2013 on, exhaust systems must be compliant with the Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act.

  • Motorcycles must have a minimum of one headlight, if you drive a motorcycle at night.

  • Motorcycles must also be equipped with taillights that will remain on for a minimum of 15 minutes after the engine has been turned off.


In California, there is no minimum age requirement for motorcycle passengers. However, the law requires all motorcycle passengers to have their own seat and footrests. Also, their feet must reach their footrests. So, even though children can technically ride as passengers on motorcycles, they must meet the requirement to no longer sit in a child safety seat.

Children need to be 4-foot-9 in order to not require a child safety seat in California. It is also important to note that all passengers on motorcycles must wear helmets in order to ride a motorcycle legally in California, including children or those under 18.


Motorcycle insurance law paperwork

Motorcyclists are required to carry minimum amounts of liability insurance including $5,000 for property damage, $15,000 for bodily injury (individual) and $30,000 for bodily injury to multiple victims. Not carrying this minimum insurance coverage could result in a one-year license suspension in the event of an accident.

The state of California requires motorcyclists to carry insurance. The following minimums are required under California law for motorcycle insurance:

  • $15,000 bodily injury liability coverage (single injured person)

  • $30,000 bodily injury liability coverage (total injuries)

  • $5,000 property damage liability coverage

It is recommended that California riders purchase full coverage motorcycle insurance in order to receive comprehensive protection. This coverage can financially protect you and your motorcycle in the event of an accident. In most cases, riders are required to have full coverage insurance if they are still making payments on their motorcycles.


Motorcyclists in California are allowed to drive alone with a motorcycle permit, provided they do not ride on any freeways and don't ride when it is dark.


A motorcycle must be equipped turn signals on the front and back that are visible and operational. In order to be street legal in California, motorcycle must have separate footrests for passengers, if the motorcycle is carrying a passenger. Both drivers and passengers are required to wear motorcycle helmets that are approved by the California Department of Transportation. Helmets that don't have a DOT approval are illegal in California.


Under California Vehicle Code Section 12500 it is unlawful to operate a motorcycle without a valid license. If you drive a motorcycle in California without a valid California motorcycle license, you could look at a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months of jail time.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, the experienced California motorcycle accident attorneys at the Vaziri Law Group can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Call us today at (310) 777-7540 to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.

Laws About Carrying Passengers

California does not have any specific laws setting an age limit for motorcycle passengers. This means anyone may ride a motorcycle as a passenger. But, the law does require passenger seats to be secured to the motorcycle behind the driver's seat and passengers should have footrests in place. While children may technically ride as passengers, they must be of an age where they no longer require a child safety seat.

As a motorcycle rider in California, it's vital to stay informed about the state's motorcycle laws to ensure your safety and adhere to legal requirements. Familiarize yourself with licensing procedures, helmet requirements, equipment regulations, and insurance obligations. Stay alert, practice defensive riding techniques, and always follow the rules of the road. By understanding and respecting the laws, you can fully enjoy the unparalleled thrill and freedom of riding a motorcycle in the beautiful state of California.

Contact Our California Motorcycle Accident Lawyers

Vaziri Law Group Personal Injury Attorneys Team

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, it is important that you understand your legal rights and options. The experienced motorcycle accident lawyers at the Vaziri Law Group can help explain how California's motorcycle laws might apply to your case.

We will help gather the evidence that is crucial to proving that your injuries were caused by someone else's negligence and wrongdoing, and work to help you secure the maximum possible compensation for your injuries, damages and losses. Our attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means we only get paid if we recover compensation for you. Call us at (310) 777-7540 for a no-cost consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.

About the Author

Siamak Vaziri

Attorney Siamak Vaziri’s mission is to help make his clients whole by obtaining maximum physical, emotional, and financial recovery. Mr. Vaziri’s clients' needs come first, evidenced by his 98% success rate, more than $1 Billion in client settlements and verdicts, as well as 100+ 5-star reviews. Mr. Vaziri invests every resource to nurture his client and partner relationships and does so with integrity and a relentless work ethic.


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