Many Californians enjoy the state’s temperate climate and vast amount of roadway by riding motorcycles. While these vehicles can be fun, it’s important to recognize that they are inherently dangerous and there are specific laws in place for acceptable riding behaviors. Motorcyclists in California should know the state’s laws for proper biking to avoid legal penalties and reduce the risk of serious accidents.
#1. Helmet Laws
Current California law requires all motorcyclists and passengers to wear appropriate helmets. An appropriate helmet meets the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines. There are many types of DOT-compliant helmets including half-shell helmets that rest on top of the head, three-quarter helmets that cover the majority of the head and face, and full-face helmets with lock-in visors that offer the best protection. Motorcycle drivers and their passengers must wear helmets at all times while riding on motorcycles in California.
Motorcyclists who do not prefer full-face helmets should consider wearing eye and face protection. It’s also important to wear appropriate safety gear including a leather or long-sleeve jacket with some kind of reflective material for improved visibility, closed-toe boots, and heavy pants. Leather and specialty riding gear can help prevent injuries, such as friction burn from sliding on asphalt in the event of an accident.
Motorcycle helmets save lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A properly fitted DOT-approved motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of a fatal head or neck injury by up to 37%. Appropriate helmets also reduce the risk of head injuries in general by up to 69%. One of the most dangerous possible injuries in any motorcycle accident is a traumatic brain injury, so wearing appropriate headgear is crucial at all times on California roads.
#2. Lane Splitting in San Diego
California law does not explicitly allow or prohibit lane splitting, which is the act of one vehicle passing another in the same lane or passing between adjacent lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. Motorcycles are small and maneuverable, so lane splitting may appear to be a simple and effective way to move through slower-moving traffic. However, this is not the case, and motorcyclists should avoid the practice whenever possible.
Lane sharing, or two vehicles occupying the same lane, is again not expressly illegal according to the California Vehicle Code, but it can still be dangerous. Some motorcyclists traveling in groups will ride two by two in the same lane to appear more visible to other drivers. This can be advantageous at night, when another driver approaching lane sharing motorcyclists will see two taillights instead of one.
California motorcyclists must realize that although state law does not expressly forbid lane sharing or lane splitting, doing so can result in a serious accident. In such an event, the motorcyclist would likely absorb some level of fault for the resulting damages if he or she did not exercise appropriate care when splitting or sharing a lane.
#3. Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence (DUI) is illegal for any motorcyclist or motor vehicle driver in California. More than 26% of motorcyclists killed in fatal accidents in 2016 had blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) levels over the legal limit of .08%, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. California law upholds strict penalties for DUI violations, and even a first-time violation may result in license suspension, thousands of dollars’ in fines, and possibly even jail time. Subsequent offenses will increase these penalties, and the state adheres to a 10-year “washout” period for prior convictions.
#4. Other Regulations Worth Noting
Below are some of the other laws and practices in San Diego that are important to know:
- California accepts motorcycle endorsements from other states but does not accept rider education completion cards from other states.
- In the state of California, daytime use of your headlight is required for any motorcycle manufactured after 1978.
- Eye protection is not required – but is recommended – in California.
- In California, motorcycles must have one working side mirror at minimum, and be equipped with a working muffler and turn signals.
If you have any questions about your obligations as a motorcyclist in California, speak with someone at your local Department of Motor Vehicles branch or contact a San Diego motorcycle accident attorney at Estey & Bomberger, LLP. If you sustain injuries or other damages in a motorcycle accident, it’s important to have an idea of the type of compensation you can expect from a lawsuit against an at-fault driver, as well as any liability you might absorb for the accident.