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California Motorcycle Laws: Do I Have to Have a California Motorcycle License?

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety 2021 report, 952,977 motorcycles were registered in California in 2021. With 840 miles of diverse geography, including white sandy beaches, pristine coastlines, tall mountains, arid deserts, and many more, no wonder the Golden State has the highest number of motorcycle registrations across the United States.

However, if you wish to enjoy these views on a motorcycle, you must first have a California motorcycle license. Even if you’re not exploring the state’s diverse landscapes, you will still need a motorcycle driver’s license to drive legally in the state.

Here, we will explore the types of motorcycle licenses, getting a California motorcycle permit, requirements for a California motorcycle license, DMV driving test, and more. 

Let’s get started!

Why Do I Need a Motorcycle License?

If you have a motor vehicle license, you may wonder why you need another license to operate a motorcycle. According to the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center February 2017 report, 12,844 riders suffered injuries in motorcycle accidents in 2015.

Riding a motorcycle and knowing how to handle it requires motorcycle skills and knowledge that a motorcar driver does not have. Going through the systematic process of getting a license equips you with the tools to ride safely, helping prevent or reduce the risk of motorcycle accidents in the state.

Getting a motorcycle license in California allows you to learn the knowledge required and get hands-on experience riding a motorcycle. The DMV handbook gives you the necessary information to operate a motorcycle safely.

The handbook also details the new laws, DMV information, license requirements, safety and protective gear, safety and maintenance checks, your responsibilities, and more.

Knowing the rules and having the knowledge is not enough to safely operate a motorcycle. You must also know how to ride one, which is why the DMV recommends taking a safety training course where you can learn to ride a motorcycle and different maneuvers.

Types of Motorcycle Licenses in California

There are two types of motorcycle licenses you can apply for in California, and these include:

  • M1 motorcycle license: Riders with the M1 license can ride a two-wheeled motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized scooter, and all vehicles listed under Class M2
  • M2 motorcycle license: Riders with the M2 license can ride any motorized bicycle, moped, or motorized scooter with an attached motor.

The difference between the two is that an M1 license allows individuals to drive the following legally: 

  • Any motorcycle (any vehicle with no more than three wheels and a saddle/seat)
  • Motor-driven cycle (a motorbike with 149 ccs or less engine)
  • Motorized scooter (two-wheeled vehicle with less than two horsepower for gas engine or up to 20 mph with electric motor)

With an M2 license, you cannot drive any of the vehicles mentioned above legally in California.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can issue both licenses with certain restrictions, including:

  • No nighttime driving
  • No riding a motorcycle on the freeway
  • No carrying passengers

Before getting a motorcycle license in California, you must apply for a motorcycle permit and train accordingly.

How to Get a California Motorcycle Learner’s Permit?

To receive a learner’s permit, you must be 15.5 years or older and complete the following DMV requirements:

  • Parent’s signature on the application form
  • Complete California Highway Patrol-approved California Motorcycle Safety Program (CMSP)

Once completing the main requirements mentioned above, the DMV will issue a certificate DL 389, valid for a year from the date of issue.

A permit test is shorter than a standard license test, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to pass. You need to put the time and effort into preparing for the test consisting of 30 questions. The passing score for the test is 80%, meaning you need to get 24 questions correct to successfully clear it.

Basic Motorcycle License Requirements in California

The requirements for a motorcycle license in California depend on your age.

Age 21 or Older

If you’re 21 or older, you must follow the steps below to receive a California motorcycle license:

  • Complete driver’s license application
  • Give your social security number
  • Provide identity document for verification
  • Get your fingerprints done
  • Get your photograph taken
  • Pay the required fees (non-refundable)
  • Pass the motorcycle driving test (vision, knowledge written test, and motorcycle skills test)

Ages Between 18 and 20

Applicants between the ages of 18 and 20 must complete the steps above and also the following as part of California motorcycle license requirements:

  • Provide a Mandatory California Motorcycle Training certificate
  • Maintain an instruction permit for at least six months before applying for a motorcycle license

Ages Between 15.5 and 17

Applicants between the ages of 15.5 and 17 must complete all the requirements mentioned above, including the following:

  • Complete driver education course
  • Complete driver training
  • Parent or guardian’s signature

What Are Motorcycle Testing Requirements?

Before receiving a California motorcycle license, you must complete skills and knowledge test, which helps the DMV determine whether the applicant can ride safely.

Skills Test

The skills test determines whether the applicant can ride a motorcycle through normal traffic conditions. The instructor will test you on your vehicle components and how you execute the serpentine ride, circle ride, slow ride, and other moves.

Motorcycle Knowledge Test

A basic knowledge test is crucial to receiving a California motorcycle license. The California DMV administers the test and bases the questions on the California Motorcycle Handbook.

Is California Motorcyclist Safety Program Training Course Mandatory?

Before receiving a learner’s permit, applicants under 21 must complete the California Highway Patrol-approved CMSP training course. The California DMV also encourages applicants above 21 to complete the CMSP course, providing the necessary knowledge and skills training to operate a motorcycle safely.

Inexperienced motorcyclists put themselves and others at serious risk when riding their motorcycles without proper motorcycle safety training. Enrolling in the motorcycle safety course can provide you with the tools needed for your safety and protection.

If you’ve successfully completed a CMSP training course, the DMV may waive your skills test upon submission of the completion certificate. However, the DMV will not waive the skills test if you’ve completed a safety and motorcycle training course outside California.

Besides skills test exemption, you may want to complete a motorcycle rider training course as some insurance companies offer discounts to riders with completed motorcycle training.

After completing the training and passing the driver’s license test, you will receive a temporary license valid for 90 days. You can use that license to ride your motorcycle until you receive a photo license in the mail.

You Also Need a Motorcycle Insurance!!

When you hold a valid California motorcycle license, you are under the obligation to purchase motorcycle insurance to help cover costs in the event of an accident.

Motorcycle riders must carry the following minimum motorcycle insurance coverages to ride in California legally:

  • $15,000 bodily injury involving one person
  • $30,000 bodily injury for the entire accident
  • $5,000 property damage

Minimum insurance coverage means that your insurance company will only cover the damages up to the policy limits, which is why purchasing more coverage is a great idea.

Many people ride a motorcycle without insurance to save on costs. But be warned. If a police officer catches you, you may need to provide them with your insurance policy.

Operating a motorcycle without insurance can lead to the following penalties:

  • Between $100 to $200 fine for a first-time offense
  • Between $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses (must fall within three years of prior offense)
  • Have your motorcycle impounded, requiring you to pay towing and storage fees

You may also have to pay an assessment of $26 for every $10 in fines. So, for a minimum of a $100 fine, there is an assessment of $260. For subsequent offenses, the assessment can reach up to $1,300. 

You may also receive jail time.

Can You Register a Motorcycle Without a Motorcycle Driver’s License?

To register a motorcycle, you don’t technically require a motorcycle license, but you would need insurance. However, many insurers require that an individual has a valid license before getting coverage. Not having a motorcycle license can make registering your motorcycle in California challenging.

You may find some insurers who would offer you coverage for your motorcycle without having a license. However, the premium can be high. It’s best to compare insurance coverage prices across multiple providers to help identify the best deal for you.

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