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Motorcycles in Southern California

closeup of a motorcycle with a person on it and the sun setting in the background

What You Need To Know

If you’re a driver in Southern California, it’s important to be aware of the growing number of motorcycles on the road. Riders can be hard to see, and they can travel at high speeds.

By The Editors

Mon, Sep 5, 2022 02:34 PM PST

This article is not a substitute for knowing the law and driving/riding in a safe manner. It's meant as a resource, but not a legal resource of any kind: Do your homework! Also: Remember to stay safe on our roads - let's ride together, not die together...

In this article, we’ll discuss some things you need to know about motorcycles in Southern California. We’ll cover topics like helmet laws and lane splitting, and we’ll also talk about how to stay safe when sharing the road with motorcyclists.

As the number of motorcycles on the road has increased, so have the number of accidents involving them. In 2015, there were over 11,000 motorcycle accidents in California, and more than 500 of those were fatal. That’s a lot of crashes, and it’s important to be aware of the dangers they pose.

In this article, we will give you an overview of the things you should know as a driver or a biker in order to help prevent motorcycle accidents and to ensure the roads of Southern California are shared safely.

What Laws Apply?

In California, there are a number of laws that apply specifically to motorcycles. Here are some of the most important ones:

Helmet Law

Riders and passengers under the age of 18 are required by law to wear a helmet.

Lane Splitting

Lane splitting is legal in California, but it is not recommended for inexperienced riders. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings when splitting lanes, and you should always use caution when doing so.

Carpool Lanes

Motorcycles are allowed to use carpool lanes, as long as they have a passenger.


When approaching an intersection, motorcyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other drivers. This means that they must stop at red lights and stop signs, and they must yield to other motorists, just like everyone else on the road.

For The Drivers

What does a car driver need to keep in mind, to share the road with motorcycles in the best or safest way possible?

When sharing the road with motorcycles, it’s important to be aware of their smaller size. This can make them harder to see, so it’s important to do a quick scan of the road before changing lanes or making a turn.

It’s also important to give motorcycles plenty of space when passing them. And finally, always use your turn signals when changing lanes or making a turn, so that riders know what you’re doing.

Who Is At Fault? 

Who is at fault if a bike is lane splitting and a car driver doesn’t see it and changes lanes, causing an accident? If a car driver doesn’t see a motorcycle that is lane splitting and hits them, the car driver will likely be at fault. This is because it is the responsibility of drivers to be aware of their surroundings, and to yield when making a lane change.

man on motorcycle on a palm tree lined street
Remember to wear a helmet when you head home from your photoshoot! (Photo: Randy Jacob)

With more and more motorcycles on the road, it’s important for both drivers and riders to be aware of the dangers they pose.

For The Bikers

As a motorcyclist, you need to be aware that car drivers aren't always paying attention to what you're doing, and sometimes they might not be able to see you at all. It is therefore your responsibility to  ride defensively and always be aware of your surroundings. Here are some tips for riding safely:

1. Always Wear a Helmet

This should go without saying, but always wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. In California, it is required by law to wear a DOT-approved helmet when operating or riding on a motorcycle. Not wearing a helmet puts you at risk for serious injury or even death if you are involved in an accident.

2. Be Visible

Make sure you are visible to other drivers on the road. Wear bright colors or reflective gear so that you can be seen easily. You should also have your headlights on at all times, even during the daytime.

3. Obey the Speed Limit

Speeding is one of the leading causes of accidents for motorcycle riders. Obey the posted speed limit and never ride faster than what is safe for the conditions.

4. Watch for Road Hazards

Be on the lookout for road hazards such as potholes, debris, and wet or icy spots. These can be especially dangerous for motorcycle riders and can cause you to lose control of your bike.

5. Be Careful Around Other Vehicles

Cars and trucks often do not see motorcycle riders on the road. Be extra careful when around other vehicles, and always assume that they do not see you. Use your horn to make sure you are noticed, especially when lane-splitting.

6. Take a Motorcycle Safety Course

If you are new to riding, or if it has been a while since you've been on a bike, consider taking a motorcycle safety course. These courses can help refresh your skills and give you the confidence you need to ride safely.

7. Get Your Motorcycle Inspected

Before hitting the road, make sure your motorcycle is in good working order. Get it inspected by a qualified mechanic to ensure that everything is in proper working condition.

8. Have Fun!

Riding a motorcycle is supposed to be fun. So, get out there and enjoy the ride! But, always remember to ride safely and responsibly.

dirt bike on desert road
No lanes to split here. (photo: Larry Haubner)

Final Thoughts

Motorcycles are a great way to enjoy the open road. But, it is important to remember that they can be dangerous. Always ride safely and responsibly to protect yourself and others on the road.

Make sure you know the rules of the road for whatever vehicle you're operating and stick to them - they make laws for a reason and that reason is to keep order and safety on the roads.

If you are new to riding, or if it's been a while since you have been on a bike, consider taking a motorcycle safety course to refresh your skills.

And finally, don't forget to have fun! Motorcycling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and the open road - especially in Los Angeles. Just be sure to take the necessary precautions to ride safely.

Now get out there and enjoy the ride!

Image credits: Jorgen Hendriksen (featured image), Randy Jacob, Larry Haubner.

This article was compiled by the editors of LACar.

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