Motorcycle Laws: California Style

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 16, 2021Fact Checked

Cruising down the highway on your motorcycle on a sunny day, you experience a certain sense of freedom that automobile drivers just don’t get. The wind in your hair, you… Wait. Strike that last sentence because California riders should be wearing a helmet. In fact, helmet requirements are not the only thing different about California’s motorcycle laws.

California differences

Motorcycle laws vary by state and while California’s laws are similar to other states, there are a few exceptions that everyone on the road should known about. We asked Claude Wyle, a California attorney and member of the Advocate Law Group network who has been practicing motorcycle law, and riding, for 25 years to explain the exceptions. Here’s what he had to say:

Helmets. The first is that California has a helmet law. You obviously don’t have to wear a helmet when you’re driving a car or a truck, although maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. In California, you have a helmet law and it’s supposed to be an approved helmet, which means that you’re not supposed to be wearing what’s called a novelty helmet on our city streets or highways. It has to be an approved helmet by an organization that has been approved by the government as having the power to really look at helmets and see if they’re safe enough. That’s a very important aspect of our law. You don’t have to wear leathers. You don’t have to wear protective gear other than the helmet. You don’t even have to wear the right kind of shoes, but you have to wear a helmet.

Lane sharing. The second is that California allows lane sharing, which means that motorcycles can drive in between cars that are in a lane. Now, most motorists regard that as an insane and an illegal act by a motorcyclist. However, although not legally set forth in the law, it is not against any law. The California Highway Patrol used to have guidelines where they advised people about what was safe to do for lane sharing, but they have since taken that off of their pamphlet on motorcycling and now they just say that all you have to do is do it in a safe and prudent manner. Essentially what they’re saying is that a safe and prudent manner is probably that you’re not supposed to go faster than 35 miles an hour and you probably shouldn’t go faster than 15 or 20 miles faster than the traffic that you’re passing. Obviously, there are ways to do lane sharing that are safer than others and you should try to do that.

The practicality of lane sharing

Many drivers might think that a motorcyclist who motors in between cars stuck in traffic is simply trying to get ahead of everyone else. Not true, Wyle told us. “In terms of whether or not it’s insane, it’s actually safer than sitting behind cars stuck in traffic. Years ago, because California is often a warm state and motorcycles were air cooled, we had a lot of motorcyclists overheating and stalling their bikes on the roadway and then getting bumped from behind by cars or posing a hazard by having to push their bikes off to the side of the road and trying to figure out what to do with them.”

“It is much safer for a motorcyclist to get through a traffic jam by lane sharing than it is to be sitting there stuck in between cars. A motorcyclist has a better potential for getting rear ended than a car because he’s more difficult to see. There’s only one taillight. There’s just a body of a human instead of a body of a car and it’s better for that motorcyclist to get out of trouble as long as they do it safely and prudently.

The Hurt Report

There was a report called The Hurt Report, which is the only nationally funded report issued by the Department of Transportation. Wyle explained why this report is so important. “Mr. Hurt was injured when he was rear ended on his motorcycle and his opinions of lane sharing, which are really the only opinions that are official in the United States, are very high. He says it actually protects motorcyclists and causes fewer accidents. You have people who abuse that privilege, like any other privilege, and they often get in trouble. Essentially, you go up the middle of the lane it’s better for everyone.”

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle or bicycle accident, contact an attorney whose practice focuses in this area of law. Click here, for a free consultation with a motorcycle accident attorney.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

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