California is a popular state for motorcyclists. Every year, thousands of motorcyclists flood the roads and highways of The Golden State. Motorcyclists who live in the state and those who are just visiting must all obey current California motorcycle laws. Otherwise, they could face fines, points on a driving record, and other penalties. State traffic laws are always changing, but some current ones are as follows.
Obtaining a Motorcycle License in California
You cannot operate a motorcycle in California without first obtaining the proper driver’s license. The motorcycle license requirements (if under 18) include being 16 or older, holding a driving permit for at least six months, providing proof of completing a driver’s education course, and completing a motorcycle rider training course.
If you are 18 or older, you must complete an application for a driver’s license, pay the application fee, pass a vision exam, pass a knowledge test, and have your photo taken. A new rule for 2018 allows the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to accept a certificate of completion from any motorcyclist training program the California Highway Patrol approves in lieu of the skills test. If over 21, you can either complete the motorcycle rider training course or take a motorcycle driving test.
Motorcyclists have all the same rules and responsibilities as other drivers in California. That means they have all the same rights to the roads and highways. As a motorcyclist, you must obey state roadway rules and traffic laws. Follow traffic signs, signal your intent to turn, and maintain a proper following distance from other vehicles. Breaking a roadway rule and causing an accident could result in liability for damages.
Helmet and Equipment Laws
Motorcyclists must ensure they possess and wear all required equipment when riding in California. State Vehicle Code Section 27803 requires that all motorcyclists and passengers must wear safety helmets that meet federal requirements while riding. Helmets must securely fit each rider’s head, and have helmet straps that prevent excessive helmet movement. All helmets must comply with standards according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
California law also requires motorcycles to have certain equipment, in proper working condition, at all times. This equipment includes two rearview mirrors, handlebars not high enough to put the rider’s hands more than six inches above his/her shoulders, working turn signals, exhaust systems, headlights, and taillights. Riding without the proper motorcycle equipment is a traffic infraction that could come with fines and penalties.
The California Highway Patrol does not permit or prohibit lane-splitting. The DMV removed the lane-splitting guidelines that initially went up in 2016, instead of giving only safety reminders. The purpose of the guidelines is to provide common-sense traffic safety information, not to set official rules for lane-splitting in the state. The safety tips include the following:
- Always wear a helmet and other protective gear.
- Never ride under the influence.
- Watch your speed.
- Assume drivers do not see you.
- Avoid blind spots, especially near commercial trucks.
You may lawfully lane-split, or ride between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, in California. Do so prudently, however, to avoid a collision and/or a traffic infraction. Lane-splitting recklessly is against the law.
California passed a law permitting the recreational use of cannabis, going into effect January 1st, 2018. It is against the law in California to operate a motorcycle or other motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana. Riding under the influence of cannabis could result in a DUI charge and related fees and penalties, including suspension of your motorcycle license and driving privileges. If you cause an accident while under the influence of cannabis, you could be financially responsible for injuries and other damages.