Jason Stephens | February 12, 2021 | Motorcycle Laws
Motorcyclists must follow the same traffic laws as automobile drivers. But some differences in the legal treatment of motorcycles and automobiles exist. For example, motorcycle licenses and driver licenses have separate requirements.
Motorcycle accidents usually do not occur because of any unique motorcycle laws. Rather, they often occur because car and truck drivers do not accord the same respect to motorcyclists that they might to other drivers on the road. This disrespect forces motorcycles into situations that are impossible to escape without injuries.
Here are some of the things you should know about the ways traffic laws apply to motorcycles and how injury lawyers use these laws to establish liability for injuries to motorcyclists.
Unique Motorcycle Laws
Very few laws apply only to motorcycles. Here are some of the most important ones:
Unlike automobile drivers, motorcyclists are subject to helmet laws. The Texas helmet law is complicated by its exceptions.
- All motorcycle drivers and passengers under the age of 21 must wear a helmet.
- All motorcycle drivers and passengers over the age of 21 must wear a helmet unless they have either completed a motorcycle training course or have health insurance that covers injuries from motorcycle accidents.
Law enforcement officers are not allowed to stop motorcyclists solely for helmet law violations. Rather, police officers enforce the helmet laws as a secondary offense when the motorcyclist has committed another offense.
For example, if an officer stops a motorcyclist for speeding, the officer can issue a ticket for speeding and failure to wear a helmet. But failure to wear a helmet is not a primary offense that can be used to stop a motorcyclist.
Although Texas does not mandate helmets for all motorcyclists and passengers, helmets substantially reduce the risk of a brain injury or another type of head trauma.
Texas imposes restrictions on motorcycle passengers. According to the Texas statutes:
- Motorcycle passengers can only ride on motorcycles designed for passengers. These motorcycles must include a fixed seat, footrests, and handholds for the passenger.
- Motorcycle passengers must be over the age of five. But as a practical matter, motorcycle passengers must be over either eight years of age or 4’9” in height. Child seats are required for children under 4’9” in height until they are eight years old and motorcycles are not equipped for child seats.
- Motorcycle passengers are subject to Texas’s helmet laws.
Passenger laws can be enforced as a primary offense. Thus, law enforcement can stop and cite motorcyclists for driving with a passenger in violation of the passenger laws.
Texas requires all motor vehicles to undergo an annual safety inspection. Motorcycle owners must have their motorcycles inspected, but the safety requirements are different for motorcycles than for cars and trucks.
Under the Texas Department of Public Safety’s regulations, motorcycle safety inspections must check:
- The horn
- Steering systems
- Brake systems
- Wheel assemblies
- The exhaust system
- Tail lamps, stop lamps, license plate lamps, and rear red reflectors
- The VIN
A motorcycle inspection is required for registration. A violation of the inspection laws puts the motorcycle owner at risk of a citation for driving an unregistered motorcycle.
A motorcyclist must have a license to operate a motorcycle. A motorcycle license is granted by the Texas Department of Public Safety only if the motorcyclist:
- Satisfies all of the requirements for a regular driver’s license
- Completes a motorcycle safety course approved by the state of Texas
New residents of Texas can show a valid motorcycle license from another state to satisfy the motorcycle safety course requirement.
General Traffic Laws That Affect Motorcyclists
All traffic laws in Texas apply to motorcyclists just as they apply to drivers. But some of these laws have a special impact on motorcyclists. Some of the ways these laws impact motorcyclists in Texas include:
- Drivers violating these laws risk hitting motorcycles.
- Motorcyclists violating these laws are more likely to cause a motorcycle accident.
When drivers violate these laws and cause a motorcycle accident, they may be liable for the injuries and property damage resulting from the accident.
Lane Change Laws
Texas traffic laws require that vehicles remain within a single lane of traffic and only change lanes when doing so can be done safely. These laws have three effects on motorcyclists:
- Lane Splitting: Lane splitting is illegal in Texas. Lane splitting occurs when a motorcycle rides between lanes to pass traffic.
- Lane Sharing: Lane sharing is implicitly illegal in Texas. Motorcycles share lanes when they ride side by side in a single road lane.
- Unsafe Lane Changes: Striking a motorcycle while changing lanes is illegal in Texas. Many drivers fail to spot motorcycles in their blind spots. A motorcycle accident resulting from an improper lane change would expose the driver to a citation and liability for the motorcyclist’s injuries.
Lane changes are one of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents. Drivers sometimes lose motorcycles in their blind spots. A motorcyclist who gets caught in the blind spot risks a side collision.
Improper Lookout Laws
The most common cause of motorcycle accidents is an improper lookout. These accidents occur when a driver turns left and a motorcyclist moves toward the driver in oncoming traffic. The driver turns toward the motorcycle’s lane of travel, striking the motorcycle from the side or cutting it off and causing the motorcycle to strike the vehicle.
Texas traffic law requires that drivers leave a clear distance between other vehicles that will allow the driver to safely stop if needed. Many motorcycle accidents result from drivers who tailgate motorcycles. If the motorcycle stops suddenly or makes an emergency maneuver, the car or truck following it can collide if it is following too closely.
Proving Negligence After a Motorcycle Accident
Texas uses a doctrine called negligence per se. This doctrine allows an injured motorcyclist’s lawyer to skip certain steps of proving negligence if the at-fault driver violated a traffic safety law.
For example, suppose a driver was cited for making an unsafe lane change that resulted in a motorcycle accident. The traffic citation could give the motorcyclist a shortcut to proving the driver’s liability for the motorcyclist’s injuries.
But this doctrine cuts both ways. If the motorcyclist also violated a traffic law that contributed to the accident, the motorcyclist’s compensation might be reduced or barred entirely, based on the amount of fault attributed to the motorcyclist.
Using motorcycle laws and traffic laws to prove liability in an accident can be tricky. But allocating fault based on who violated safety laws can help to sort out who should pay for the injuries caused by the accident.