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What is a Motorcycle Rider’s Duty of Care on California Roadways?

Motorcycle Rider’s Duty of Care on the Road

The California Vehicle Code defines a motorcycle as a motor vehicle with a saddle or seat for the rider’s use, which has up to three wheels and weighs a maximum of 1,500 pounds. If the motorcycle has a sidecar, it could have four wheels in all, according to the Code.

When no specific violation of the Vehicle Code is involved, a motorcycle rider will have the same general duty of care as the drivers of other automobiles. In other words, motorcyclists are expected to exercise the same care as other motorists for their own safety as well as the safety of others on the road.

Elements in the Legal Duty of Care for Motorcycle Riders 


The Vehicle Code says that the Department of Transportation (DOT) or other relevant agencies may pass a resolution, ordinance, or order concerning a freeway or specific part of the freeway, which is under their jurisdiction, to restrict or prohibit motorcycle riders from using a part of the freeway. But before this rule is enforced, the concerned agency must put up clear signs on the freeway as well as approaches to the freeway notifying motorcyclists of such restriction or prohibition.


Some limitations have been imposed by law on parts of roadways in California where you may or may not operate a motorcycle. If a lane has been designated for preferential or exclusive use for vehicles of high occupancy, you are not allowed to drive a bike in that lane. As a motorcycle rider, you also should not operate in the space between two or more automobiles that are moving in traffic lanes adjacent to each other.


All motorcycle riders in California should have their vehicles fitted with up to two headlamps, which must be lighted when they are riding during darkness. In addition, all motorbikes produced later than December 31st, 1977, should have automatic headlights that get switched on when the motorcycle engine starts and continue to remain lighted throughout the time the engine runs.

The motorcycle headlight should have enough power to be able to reveal another automobile or person from at least: (a) 100 feet away when the speed of the motorcycle is up to 25 mph; (b) 200 feet away when the speed is between 25 and 35 mph; and (c) 300 feet away when the speed is more than 35 mph.


Every motorcyclist and passenger must wear a helmet when the motorcycle is in operation. The helmet must conform to the safety standards specified by the DMV and the federal agencies. Helmets that do not meet both federal and state quality standards cannot be legally sold in California.

Driver and Passenger Seats 

It is illegal in California to drive a motorcycle where the seat height is such that your feet do not touch ground level. It is also illegal to carry a passenger on your bike if the rear seat is not fastened securely or the bike does not have footrests. The passenger has a duty of care to place their feet on the provided footrests when the motorbike is in operation.

Handle Bars 

The handlebars on your motorcycle must be positioned in such a way that your hands while holding the grips are lower than your shoulder height while you are seated.

Lamp Turn Signals 

Lamp turn signals are not mandatory if your motorcycle is of 1972 or earlier make. But every motorcycle after 1972 is required to have a lamp-type turn signal that is designed to indicate whether you will turn right or left.

Special Requirements for a Motorcycle License 

California DMV issues two types of motorcycle licenses: M1 and M2. Class M1 license allows you to drive any motorcycle as defined under the Vehicle Code as well as any vehicle of Class M2. An M2 license only allows you to drive a scooter (bicycle with a motor) or a moped.   

The DMV requires you to get a motorcycle permit before you are eligible to obtain a license. The permit is valid for 6 months, which should give you adequate time to practice bike riding. But during this period, you are not allowed to ride with passengers, at nighttime, or on the freeway.

To obtain the learner’s permit, you should be above the age of 15 ½, and either have a California driver’s license already or provide proof of having completed driver’s training and education. If you are below the age of 21, you will also have to undergo a motorcycle training certification program run by the CHP (California Highway Patrol).

Watch YouTube Video: California Motorcycle Real DMV Full Driving Test. The following video shares the process of a real motorcycle DMV test.

Roseville Motorcycle Accident Attorney 

I’m Ed Smith, a Roseville Motorcycle Accident Attorney. Motorcycle accidents can result in devastating injuries that could involve extensive medical care and long-term rehabilitation. If you have been the victim of such an accident that was caused by a negligent driver, you need to have an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side to fight your case for damages. Call me today for free, friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

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