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California Law: Injury to Passengers on Motorcycles

California Law, Motorcycle Passengers, Injury to Passenger on MotorcycleWhat does California law say about carrying passengers on a motorcycle and if there is are injuries to a passengers on motorcycles, who is responsible? As a personal injury lawyer who routinely handles motorcycle collision claims, this is an issue that I deal with quite frequently.  There are various provisions of the California Vehicle Code and general negligence laws that come into play in analyzing these issues.  I wanted to try to answer some of the common questions that come up in this post.

Is it legal to carry someone on the back of my bike?

The answer to this question, like most legal questions is, it depends.  The main provision of law in play is California Vehicle Code §27800 which mandates that it is unlawful to carry another person on a motorcycle as a passenger unless:

  1. The motorcycle has a seat “securely fastened to the machine with foot rests” or a sidecar attached and designed for the purpose of carrying passengers;
  2. The passenger must keep his or her feet on the foot pegs at all times while traveling on the back of the motorbike.

Is there an age requirement to be a passenger on a motorcycle?

The starting point for answering this question is CVC 27800 above.  If a passenger cannot reach the foot rests, it would be unlawful to carry them on the bike.  In addition, California Vehicle Code §27360, which requires children under the age of eight to ride in all motor vehicles only when seated in a “passenger restraint system meeting applicable federal motor safety standards” (i.e. a child safety seat).  Therefore, until the child is at least eight years old and is tall enough to ride on the back and reach the foot rests, it would be unlawful to carry them on the back of a motorcycle.

Does the motorcycle passenger have to wear a helmet just like the driver?

In a word, YES. California Vehicle Code §27803 mandates that both “a driver” and “any passenger” shall wear a helmet while riding on a “motorcycle”, “motor-driven cycle” or “motorized bicycle”.  The helmets must meet the minimum safety standards set forth in California Vehicle Code §27802.

Who is legally responsible if an injury to passengers on motorcycles occurs or if a passenger is killed in a crash?

This really depends upon a lot of factors.  Obviously, if the motorcycle operator is carrying a passenger in violation of one of the laws above, this could put them at least partially at fault.  Likewise, if the passenger knowingly fails to wear a helmet in violation of state law, they may be partially responsible for their own injuries to the extent that a helmet may have prevented serious head trauma or brain injury.

Going beyond just the vehicle code “rules”, any motor vehicle accident including motorcycle wrecks have to be analyzed by a quality motorcycle injury lawyer to determine whether the incident involved negligence.  As I have discussed more at length here, California is a comparative fault state.  This means that a judge or jury may examine the evidence regarding the incident and make a determination as to how to apportion fault among all parties involved.  In some cases, like when a car turns left in front of an oncoming motorcycle, liability is pretty clearly stacked against the driver of the car.  Other times, the fault lines may not be as clear.  Distances, reaction times of the auto operator and the motorcyclist, ability to possibly avoid the collision, visibility, lighting, speeds of both the car or truck and the motorcycle, and many other factors must be examined.  Oftentimes, quality motorcycle injury attorneys will employ accident reconstruction experts to examine the police report, inspect the scene, look at measurements of skid marks and property damage and make a determination as to their opinion on who may have been at fault.  However, in the end, it is the judge or jury who gets to hear the evidence and these opinions and decide whether the motorcycle passenger should be entitled to money damages, who should pay this compensation and what percentage of responsibility to parse out.

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