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Injury to Passengers on Motorcycles - California Law

Motorcycle with Passengers What 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.

Client Reviews
I have known Steven for some time now and when his services were required he jumped in and took control of my cases. I had two and they were handled with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. He went the extra mile regardless of the bumps in the road. I can not see me using any other attorney and I would recommend him to any of my family and friends. Josie A.
Steven was vital during our most trying time. He was referred by a friend after an accident that involved a family member. While he was critical and lying in the hospital, Steven was kind, patient and knowledgeable about what we were going through. Following our loss, Steven became a tough and aggressive negotiator and made sure that we receive a huge compensation. I would refer Steven in fact, this happened 2 years ago and I still speak highly of his service. Cheryl S.
Mr. Sweat is a pitbull in the courtroom as well as settlement negotiations - You can't have a better equipped attorney in your corner! It is a pleasure working as colleagues together on numerous cases. He can get the job done. Jonathan K.
Because of Steven Sweat, my medical support was taken care of. Plus, I had more money to spare for my other bills. Steven is not only an excellent personal injury lawyer, providing the best legal advice, but also a professional lawyer who goes beyond his call of duty just to help his clients! He stood up for me and helped me get through the process. I would definitely recommend. I couldn't think of any better lawyer than him. MiraJane C.
I must tell anyone, if you need a great attorney, Steve sweat is the guy! I had an awful car accident and had no idea where to turn. He had so much to deal with because my accident was a 4 car pile up. Not to mention all the other cars were behind me and they were not wanting to settle in any way! He never stopped working for me and had my best interest at heart! Audra W.
I believe I made the best choice with Steven M Sweat, Personal Injury. I was very reluctant to go forward with my personal injury claim. I had a valid claim and I needed a professional attorney to handle it. I felt so much better when I let Steven take my case. His team did everything right and I am very satisfied. Stia P.
I have to say that Steve has been exemplary! I met Steve at a point with my case that I was ready to give up. He took the time and dealt with all of my concerns. Most importantly, he was present and listened to what I was going through. He was able to turn things around, put me and my case on the right track! The results were better that expected! Highly recommend!! Cody A.