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Motorcycle Safety: Similar Vehicles and Their Restrictions

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is aiming to raise awareness on motorcycle safety especially in light of May being Motorcycle Awareness Month! A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report shows that for the same per-mile exposure, motorcyclists are roughly 28 times more likely to die in a collision than occupants of other vehicles. The primary cause for 59 percent of motorcycle collisions were attributed to three factors: unsafe speed, improper turning, and driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Aside from traditional motorcycles, there are similar vehicles that face the same dangers, require similar documentation, and follow similar rules on the roads. Below are definitions and requirements for motorcycles and similar vehicles:

A motorcycle has an engine size that is greater than 150cc and no more than three wheels. It has to be registered and the driver must have a motorcycle license (M1). M1 license holders may operate any motorized bicycle, moped or motor scooter. With a Class M1, you can operate any two-wheeled motorcycle and any motorized vehicle. With a Class M2, you can only operate any motorized bicycle or moped or any bicycle with an attached motor. Three-wheeled motorcycles or a motorcycle with a sidecar require only a Class C driver license.

Completion of a motorcycle safety course is required for those applying for an M1 or M2 license if they are under the age of 21. However, this course contains valuable information that is useful to drivers of all ages when operating a two or three-wheeled vehicle. The course explains optimal positioning, braking strategies and reviews common situations and ways to maneuver safely in difficult situations. Some insurance companies also offer discounts to those who have completed a motorcycle safety course.

Motor-driven cycle
A motor-driven cycle has 149cc or less engine size and is not allowed on the freeways or expressways, such as a dirt bike. It must be registered and the driver must have a motorcycle license (M1).

Motorized bicycle or moped
A motorized bicycle or moped is defined as:

  • A two or three-wheeled device, capable of no more than 30 mph
  • Equipped with pedals for human propulsion
  • Equipped with a motor producing less than two gross brake horsepower and an automatic transmission

Those operating a moped or motorized bicycle must have a motorcycle license (M1 or M2). A motorized bicycle is issued special license plates and identification cards, which requires a one-time $18 fee that does not need to be renewed.

If you operate a motorized bicycle you:

  • Must be 16 years of age or older
  • Must wear a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet
  • Are exempt from the motor vehicle financial responsibility, driver license, and moped plate requirements

Motorized Scooter
A motorized scooter is a two-wheeled device that has handlebars, a floorboard designed to be stood upon when riding, and is powered by a motor. It does not require registration and the scooter to does not need to be insured. Even though insurance is not required, owners of these scooters should contact their insurance company to determine if coverage is available.

If you operate a motorized scooter you:

  • Must be at least 16 years old
  • Possess a valid driver license or instruction permit
  • Must wear a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards of either the American Society for Testing and Materials or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission

A motorized scooter can be driven on a bicycle path, trail or bikeway, but not on a sidewalk. On the streets, it must be operated in the bicycle lane, if there is one. On roads without bicycle lanes, motorized scooters may operate where the speed limit is 25 mph or less, and shall be ridden as close to the right hand curb as possible, except to pass or turn left.

When driving a motorcycle or a similar vehicle, be sure to wear the right clothing and protective gear. Helmets for all the above vehicles, excluding motorized scooters, must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 and display a ‘DOT’ emblem.If face shield is worn, it must be shatterproof. Other recommended protective gear include eye protection, high-top boots, gloves, brightly colored clothing covering arms and leg and reflectorized material if driving after dark.

Make sure you are visible, that you communicate your intentions to other drivers, and keep adequate space for passing and lane sharing. Knowing how to control your speed and balance and always being prepared to act is key to being a safe motorist. Similarly, drivers of traditional vehicles must do their part to keep an eye out for motorcyclists and maintain safe speeds and maneuvering tactics.  Every vehicle has its place on the road, but motorcycles and similar vehicles face additional dangers because they are harder to see and require exceptional handling ability. Do your part to keep the roadways safe!

For more information on owning and driving a motorcycle, getting a motorcycle license and training classes, and additional motorcycle requirements visit

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