Motorcycle Laws

Federal and state motorcycle laws are in place to ensure safety and order for motorcyclists and other vehicles on the road. Federal motorcycle laws primarily dictate safety, design, and manufacturing standards for motorcycle manufacturers. State motorcycle laws vary among each state. These laws may be geared more toward rider safety, protective equipment, motorcycle accessories, and rider behavior.

Federal Motorcycle Laws

A number of government entities issue safety standards and regulations geared toward motor vehicle and equipment manufacturers. These standards and regulations require that these entities conform and certify their compliance.

Entities which enforce federal motorcycle laws include:

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • California Air Resources Board (CARB)

Federal motorcycle laws are aimed at protecting the public against unreasonable risks of crashes, injury, and death that occur due to design, construction, and performance of motor vehicles. The first federal motorcycle law was put into place in March 1967. This standard, called Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 209, discussed seat belt assembly.

Federal motorcycle laws cover aspects such as:

  • Controls and displays
  • Brake systems
  • Warning devices
  • Tires and rims
  • Lighting, such as headlights and turn signals
  • Rearview and side mirrors
  • Head restraints
  • Occupant crash protection
  • Seat belts and seating
  • Flammability of materials
  • Fuel economy standards
  • Identification of manufacturers
  • Noise and air pollition

State Motorcycle Laws

State motorcycle laws vary depending on the state in which the motorcyclist is traveling. State motorcycle laws may be specific. A few states place restrictions on the minimum age of children passengers. Motorcyclists should ensure proper education on the motorcycle laws in their home state to ensure compliance. Before traveling to other states, motorcyclists should research motorcycle laws which apply to their destination.

State motorcycle laws typically cover the following:

  • Use of a helmet, daytime headlights, and eye protection
  • Requirement of yearly inspections
  • Lane splitting, or riding between lanes
  • Maximum speeds in urban and rural environments
  • Restrictions on radar detectors and earphones
  • Maximum blood alcohol levels or motorcyclists
  • State insurance requirements

Helmet Motorcycle Laws

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as of July 2013, 18 states and the District of Columbia enforce universal helmet laws. Universal helmet laws require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. An additional 28 states have partial helmet laws. Partial helmet laws require only some motorcyclists to wear helmets, depending on certain qualifications. Three states have no helmet use laws: Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire.


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“Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations.”National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, n.d. Web. 25 Jul 2013. <>.

“Motorcycle and bicycle helmet use laws.” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, n.d. Web. 25 Jul 2013. <;.

“Motorcycle Noise Standards.” Connecticut General Assembly. Connecticut General Assembly, 6 Oct 2003. Web. 25 Jul 2013. <>.