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San Diego, California Motorcycle Laws

The California Motorcycle Handbook outlines all the motorcycle laws in the state. Likewise, drivers in other vehicles are required to know the laws that specifically govern them on California roadways. By avoiding illegal and/or careless acts on the road, everyone can reduce the number of motorcycle accidents each year.


The State of California posts specific speed limits on every road, and those limits vary depending on a variety of factors. Regardless of the posted speed limit, however, all drivers and motorcyclists should reduce their speed if there are:

  • Poor weather conditions,
  • Dangerous road conditions,
  • Many vehicles on the road, and/or
  • Bicyclists/pedestrians present.

The maximum speed limit on many California highways is 65 mph, but many have a limit of 55 mph. Reducing speed when appropriate can increase the reaction time needed to help avoid collisions.

Lane Splitting

In California, motorcyclists may pass other vehicles traveling in the same direction within the same lane. This practice has a variety of names, including:

  • Lane splitting
  • Lane sharing
  • Filtering

Required Gear

Motorcycle riders and passengers must wear a United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) compliant safety helmet. Manufacturers will certify that the helmet complies with the U.S. DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.

A motorcycle helmet is not simply a legal requirement in California. In a collision at any speed, motorcyclists wearing a U.S. DOT compliant helmet are three times more likely to survive a head injury than those who are not wearing one.

In addition to the required safety helmet, the California Motorcycle Handbook suggests motorcycle riders and passengers also wear face and eye protection as well as protective apparel that has reflective material.

There are several things motorcyclists may not wear. For example, headset coverings, earplugs or earphones in both ears are prohibited unless they are specifically designed to protect the person against harmful noise levels. Even in those cases, the gear must not stifle the sound of a siren or horn from an emergency vehicle or another motor vehicle for the wearer.

Motorcycle Equipment

There are several equipment requirements for street-legal motorcycle. These items include:

  • Tires: Sufficient tread and air pressure that allow safe operation
  • Lights: Properly functioning headlights, tail light, brake light, and turn signals
  • Brakes: Front and rear brakes
  • Other items: A horn and mirror(s)

These requirements are the minimum in the State of California. Please review the California Motorcycle Handbook to be sure your equipment follows the law. Note: Electric bicycles have different requirements under California law.

There are a specific set of rules for motorcycles towing trailers. Speed must not exceed 55 mph, and a motorcycle with a trailer is not allowed in carpool lanes. They must stay in the right lane (or the right two lanes on four-lane highways) except when passing.

California Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle accidents are a major problem in California and in San Diego in particular. In 2016, motorcycle-related fatalities in the state accounted for more than 15 percent of the total motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. The same year, California saw an 11 percent increase in motorcycle deaths from 2015. Compounded with more than 14,000 injuries related to motorcycles in 2016, and the issue is even more staggering. Of the 58 California counties, San Diego ranks the fourth highest in motorcycle crash death rate.

Many of these injuries and deaths resulted from the careless acts of another person on the road. If it happened to you or a family member, contact an experienced San Diego motorcycle accident attorney to protect your rights. You can reach CaseyGerry at (619) 238-1811 or by filling out our online form. California limits the amount of time you have to file a motorcycle accident lawsuit, so acting quickly is critical.

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