Special driving laws for motorcycles

Admit it – you’ve found yourself driving in your sedan when your adrenaline suddenly picked up a notch because a motorcycle passed you, engine roaring. Or maybe there’s no bike within sight or hearing distance, but Born to Be Wild begins thumping out of your audio speakers and you feel the itch. You don’t want to be behind the wheel of the family car. You want to be out on the open road – on a bike -with the wind in your face.

Here’s what you need to know before you take the plunge and buy a motorcycle. Some special rules come with operating one on the road and they can vary from state to state.

The rules of the road
Motorcycle operators are held to the same rules and laws as all other drivers, and they’re accorded the same rights in all 50 states. They must obey speed limits and stop at red lights and stop signs. They can’t drive while intoxicated. If a rule applies behind the wheel of a car, it applies when you’re on a bike, too.

At least one law applies only to motorcycles, however. Everywhere other than in California, you can’t split lanes, or drive between lanes of slower or stopped vehicles.

Helmets are (usually) required
Motorcycle helmet laws differ from state to state, so check the specific requirements of those you’ll be passing through if you’re going to be crossing state lines. Consumer Reports offers a summary list of all states’ helmet laws, but you’ll want the finer details.

Some states only require helmets for teenage operators, but many require them for all operators, including Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Only three states have no laws requiring helmets: Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

Insurance is mandatory
Check your state’s DMV website to find out what your state requires in the way of insurance coverage for your bike. There will almost certainly be a mandatory minimum coverage. The District of Columbia exempts motorcycles from the standard liability requirements applied to automobiles, and your state may do the same.

Passenger and other restrictions
Passenger restrictions typically apply to teenage operators or those with motorcycle permits who have not yet graduated to an operator’s license or endorsement. If you fall into either of these categories, it’s likely that no one can ride with you on your bike. Additionally, you may be prohibited from operating your motorcycle at night, on an interstate, or from riding out of state.

Louisiana has a restriction that applies to all operators, or at least to their passengers. Children must be at least 5 years old to ride on a motorcycle and they must wear safety helmets.

You’ll need a special license
No, you can’t simply purchase a motorcycle and climb on board. You’ll need some sort of special driver’s license, regardless of what state you live in. Many will give you a motorcycle endorsement to add to your regular license, whereas others require that you get a whole separate license just to operate your bike. Colorado, for example, will only give you a motorcycle license if you already have a regular driver’s license.

Many states, including Alabama, Rhode Island, and Arizona, require that you pass a special written motorcycle test or complete a course in operating a bike safely before you can get an endorsement. Florida, Montana, and Kentucky require that you also physically demonstrate your ability to operate the motorcycle safely. Georgia and Rhode Island go one step further – these states also require a vision exam.

AAA offers a Digest of Motor Laws with a helpful, comprehensive list of licensing requirements in all states so you’ll know exactly what you must do before you can legally leave the family sedan behind and hit the road.


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