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California Motorcycle Accidents: What Every Rider Should Know About Insurance Coverage

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates more than 80 percent of motorcycle accidents lead to fatalities. The leading reason for the high occurrence of motorcycle deaths is the lack of sufficient protection. Even in full gear, motorcycle riders cannot completely withstand the collision’s impact and avoid life-threatening injuries. 

Motorcycle accident fatalities have increased by 21 percent from 2019 to 2021. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported 6,084 motorcyclist deaths in traffic-related crashes in 2021. Statistics on motorcycle fatalities also show consistent growth in several states, including California.

In the same year, local fatal motor accidents rose to 565. The death toll climbed from 549 cases the previous year. Surveys reveal that the top causes of California motorcycle accidents include the following:

  • Speeding
  • Right-of-way violations
  • Improper turns
  • Driving under the influence or DUI
  • Unsafe lane change

Experiencing any car accident is devastating. To recover from the crash, seek appropriate medical treatment and claim rightful damages. Work with a motorcycle accident attorney when filing insurance claims for reliable technical support. They can help simplify the procedure and protect your rights.

Learn about tort and personal injury before filing claims or initiating legal actions. Expanding your legal knowledge will be crucial to build a stronger case. Visit The Personal Injury Center to find easy-to-read and updated legal articles for all readers, especially non-experts.

Key Takeaways
  • Motorcycle accidents are among the most damaging and fatal vehicle crashes.
  • It is a requirement to procure motorcycle insurance before owning or operating a motorcycle in California.
  • In pure comparative negligence states like California, injured parties may claim partial compensation even when at fault.

Requirements for California Motorcycle Insurance

By acquiring an insurance policy, motor vehicle owners and drivers could protect themselves and other parties from costs relating to motorcycle accidents. California laws set specific guidelines on getting motorcycle insurance. Policyholders must be keen on the requirements to fully benefit from their coverage.

Study the following to have a better understanding of California motorcycle insurance:

Owning and operating a motorcycle

Parties intending to own and operate a motorcycle in California must comply with the following conditions:

  • Obtain a valid M1 or M2 driver’s license.
  • Register the bike with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
  • Procure a motorcycle insurance policy.
  • Purchase a helmet compliant with the California Department of Transportation (DOT) standards.
  • Install a functioning muffler to limit exhaust sounds.
  • Install one to two headlights for night riding.

Required liability insurance coverage

Driving a motorcycle without insurance in California is illegal. Your insurance company will inform the DMV after purchasing a policy. They will also alert the DMV if you stop paying insurance premiums.

The required minimum coverages for California motorcycle insurance are as follows:

  • Injury or death of one person: $15,000 
  • Injury or death of multiple people: $30,000 
  • Property damage: $5,000

Optional insurance coverage

California motorcycle owners and operators may also bundle the following policies on top of the mandatory insurance coverage:

  • Total loss coverage: This policy activates when your motorcycle gets totaled. A motor vehicle becomes “totaled” when its repair costs exceed its Actual Cash Value (ACV).
  • Roadside assistance coverage: It covers services that retrieve or support your motor vehicle while on the road. For example, your coverage may pay for towing services and emergency gas deliveries.
  • Carried contents coverage: This policy pays for the damage or loss of personal belongings you carry on the motorcycle. Most policyholders use this coverage for their phones, hunting gear, and camping tools.
  • Enhanced injury protection: After being injured, your insurer will provide you with a fixed monthly financial compensation. Other insurance companies add death benefits in case the policyholder dies.

Factors affecting the price of insurance premium

The price of insurance premiums may differ per person. Typically, insurers increase the fees if they determine that the policyholder has a higher chance of getting into an accident. One or multiple of the following factors may cause a spike in your motorcycle insurance premiums:

  • Age
  • Riding history
  • Motorcycle type and specifications
  • Usage and mileage
  • Location
  • Coverage
  • Deductible value
  • Previous claims
  • Credit records

Comparative Negligence in California

The court and insurance companies apply the tort principle of comparative negligence to ascertain the value injured parties may rightfully claim. In comparative negligence states, injured parties may be eligible for a lesser amount if they have contributed to the accident.

The three types of comparative negligence states are as follows:


In pure comparative negligence states, injured parties may claim damages regardless of the level of their contributory negligence. A plaintiff could file for compensation even if 99  percent of the accident were their fault. 


Modified comparative negligence states have rules similar to pure comparative states, but there is a threshold for allowable negligence. Most states impose a 50 to 51 percent rule. If the injured party’s fault does not exceed the percentage limit, they may claim against the other party.

Slight or gross

This type of comparative negligence categorizes the fault of injured parties as “slight” or “gross.” If the claimant does not qualify for either, they cannot claim damages against the other party.

California is a pure comparative negligence state. In effect, injured parties can claim damages even if most damages in the accident were their fault. The court or insurance company may deduct the supposed value of the injured party’s claim with the estimated value of their contributory negligence.

Other Relevant California Motorcycle Laws

Every rider must know the laws and regulations pertaining to owning and operating motorcycles. Violating specific laws may result in monetary penalties and even the suspension of one’s driver’s license. More importantly, noncompliance with California law may affect a rider or owner’s liability in motorcycle accidents.

Helmet use

Section 27803 of the California Vehicle Code mandates drivers and passengers to wear a DOT-compliant helmet when riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle. The helmet should have a thick polystyrene foam liner, a resin or fiber composite outer shell, and weigh at least three pounds. Look for the manufacturer-applied DOT lettering at the back of the helmet before purchasing it.

Other safety equipment

Other than wearing safety helmets, motorcycle owners and operators should comply with the following specifications:

  • Mirrors: Every motorcycle must have left and right mirrors to enable riders to see a 200 feet distance from behind.
  • Handlebars: The height limit for handlebars on California motorcycles should not exceed six inches above the rider’s shoulders while in a normal riding position. Units with raised handlebars are not permitted.
  • Turn signals: Motorcycles should have at least two sets of single-faced or double-faced turn signal lamps. One pair should be at the rear, while the other at the front. 
  • Headlights: All motorcycle bikes manufactured after 1978 must constantly turn their headlights on while riding. The headlights should also be bright enough to be seen by another vehicle at least 100 feet away when driving under twenty-five miles per hour.
  • Tail lights: All motorcycles should also have functioning tail lights. These tail lights should remain lit for at least one-quarter hour after turning the engine off.

Lane splitting

Lane splitting has been legal in California since August 9, 2016. Section 21658.1 of the California Vehicle Code defines it as driving a motorcycle between rows of stagnant or traveling vehicles within the same lane. Riders may do so on divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) wrote the safety guidelines for lane splitting.

Passenger safety

Motorcycle drivers may ride with a passenger when they have an additional seat or sidecar. Additionally, passengers should have footrests and must wear appropriate helmets while riding.


Motorcycle exhausts must comply with the federal restrictions on tampering contained in Section 27156 of the California Vehicle Code. Operating a motorcycle considered a gross polluter on the highway is illegal. In connection with this, riders and vehicle owners should refrain from replacing the OEM exhaust part with an aftermarket part.

Driving without a license

As mentioned, California motorcyclists must have an M1 or M2 driver’s license. Class M1 allows the operation of two-wheel motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, motorized scooters, and all Class M2 vehicles. In contrast, Class M2 covers motorized bicycles and mopeds. Driving motorcycles without a valid license is illegal in California.

Have you recently been injured in an accident?

How To Respond After a Motorcycle Accident

Motorcycle accident victims often feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and lost after surviving the crash. Due to the shock and injuries sustained, they may struggle to make informed decisions to protect their rights and safety. Follow these tips to manage the aftermath of a motorcycle accident successfully:

Check for injuries and threats to your safety

Always prioritize your well-being in motorcycle accident cases. Before doing anything else, look for visible signs of injuries. Determine if you are bleeding or in pain. After examining your physical condition or if you are able to move, try to relocate to a safer area.

File a police report

Call 911 and relay the events of the accident to the police or DMV. The responding officer may ask for the following details:

  • Driver’s license
  • Vehicle registration card
  • Evidence of financial responsibility, typically the motorcycle insurance policy
  • Current address

Riders who could not present their evidence of financial responsibility may receive a citation and fine.

Inform the insurance company about the accident

Riders and motorcycle owners should immediately inform their insurers of what happened during and after the accident. It is advisable to act quickly because some insurance policies have strict claim filing deadlines. Failure to file for compensation within the deadline may result in the forfeiture of the policy benefits.

Document the accident

Take photos and videos of the vehicles, parties, and the surrounding areas. Human memory is unreliable as it can be inaccurate and subject to bias. Documenting the accident will help you establish a strong case, whether claiming damages for severe injuries or proving one’s lack of fault. 

Immediately undergo a medical examination 

Undergo a comprehensive medical check-up to determine whether you need intensive medical intervention. Some injuries may not manifest immediately after the collision. Other than physical examination, injured parties should also seek psychological evaluation. It is typical for survivors to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other anxiety or stress-induced disorders.

Undertake necessary medical care and rehabilitation

If your doctor orders you to undergo other examinations and rehabilitation programs, do so. Receiving appropriate medical attention can help bikers recover and avoid complications. Claimants who deliberately refuse medical intervention may lose their claim for damages. Injured parties should not purposefully endanger themselves to acquire financial compensation.

Keep medical records and bills 

Organize the files, receipts, and accounts concerning your medical treatments. These documents will be valuable during insurance settlements and court proceedings. Calculating the money you have spent on healing and rehabilitation will be easier with an organized record. Also, health professionals who handled your care may issue certificates proving you underwent such interventions. 

Schedule talks about the settlement on another date

Do not rush the settlement negotiations. The shock of the accident may only increase the chances of parties making rash and irrational decisions. Instead, find a later schedule and agree to meet once everybody is in a calm state. Letting a few days pass allows you to consult motorcycle accident experts and make informed choices. 

Maintain open communications with the other parties

Keep in touch with other parties to stay informed about the developments of the insurance settlement. Make timely responses when the opposing side reaches out to you.

Tips When Filing Motorcycle Accident Claims

The technicalities of claiming insurance for a motorcycle accident can be confusing to non-experts. Claimants should be careful with the processes to avoid forfeiting any coverages. Follow these tips to simplify and lessen the hassle of filing motorcycle accident claims:

Learn what type of claim to file

One of the most critical steps of personal injury settlement is knowing the types of claims to file. Motorcycle insurance policyholders have access to property damage and bodily injury coverage. The former covers repair costs for the vehicle, while the latter pays for the policyholder’s medical treatment and rehabilitation.

File your insurance claim immediately

Avoid delays in filing insurance claims. Besides meeting the deadline, filing earlier means settling matters ahead of time.

Respond promptly to insurance companies

Always be attentive to correspondences sent by insurers. Comply within a reasonable time when they ask for documents or additional information.

Be careful when giving recorded statements to insurance agents

Be cautious about the information you relay to insurance adjusters. They might use your responses to reduce the payout value. It is best to give concise and calculated answers when asked.

Research about the average motorcycle accident payout

Study recent statistics and reports about the average settlement value of motorcycle accidents similar to yours. You can use other people’s payout value as justifications for your demands.  

Do not accept the first offer

Refuse the first offer, especially when it is a low-ball offer. You shouldn’t accept an undervalued payout because you need the money. Advocate for a fair settlement.

When dissatisfied, re-open the negotiations

Although negotiations are intimidating, remember that you can make demands for your injuries and losses. Try to find other pieces of evidence to bolster your claim.

Hire a personal injury lawyer 

Working with a personal injury attorney or law firm expands your legal options to obtain a more reasonable payout. Their knowledge, skills, and experience will help you strike a better deal.

Did you know?

Motorcycle riders who injured a motorist or pedestrian and tried to flee from a police officer can be charged with a misdemeanor. Section 2800.1 of the California Vehicle Code imposes less than one-year imprisonment to persons escaping from police officers during investigations.

Partner With a Motorcycle Accident Attorney To Maximize Your Claims

California motorcycle accidents are growing at a worrying rate. Besides trying to be a better rider, it is equally crucial to prepare for the worse. Motorcycle owners and operators should have competent knowledge of insurance law to protect their rights and safety.

In many ways, claiming financial compensation for injuries and losses after a motorcycle crash is challenging. Injured parties should remember that they do not have to be alone in this endeavor. 

Take advantage of The Personal Injury Center’s free case evaluation to connect with nearby motorcycle accident attorneys. We can introduce you to legal experts and their teams who specialize in this area. They can provide invaluable support for your case.  

Protect your rights and property after a California motorcycle accident with the help of first-rate legal counsel. Coordinate with The Personal Injury Center to find a reliable and nearby motorcycle accident lawyer.

FAQs on California Motorcycle Accidents

Notify the police about the incident first, and then contact your insurance company. You may also consult a motorcycle accident lawyer to know your legal options.

There are many reasons for insurance companies' bias against motorcycle riders during accidents. One plausible explanation is that motorcycle crashes have a high risk of death, and it is easier to pin motorcyclists as the at-fault party.

Yes, it is possible. In such cases, the injured parties should work with the police to investigate the accident and identify the responsible driver. After identifying the perpetrator, the injured parties may file a personal injury lawsuit.