To ride a motorcycle safely and responsibly, motorcyclists must comply with Washington’s motorcycle laws. First and foremost, complying with these laws can keep you safe and out of trouble. But from a liability perspective, following the laws can also mitigate your comparative negligence and liability in the event of an accident.
The following is a comprehensive overview of motorcycle laws in the state. We encourage all riders to familiarize themselves with these laws. Drivers should too, because motorcycle safety is the responsibility of all road users.
Legal Definition of a Motorcycle
The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) § 46.04.330 defines a motorcycle as:
"[A] motor vehicle designed to travel on not more than three wheels, not including any stabilizing conversion kits." In addition, a motorcycle must also have a seat or saddle and handlebars for steering.
Electric personal mobility devices, power wheelchairs, farm tractors, motorized foot scooters, electric-assisted bicycles, and mopeds are not motorcycles and therefore not subject to these laws.
Do all riders need a motorcycle endorsement?
To operate a motorcycle, you must have a driver's license with a motorcycle endorsement. Under RCW § 46.20.500, no motorcycle endorsement is required for motorcycles with a partially or fully enclosed seating area and steering wheel.
You have two options for obtaining a motorcycle endorsement.
- Complete an approved motorcycle rider course that includes the knowledge and skills test. The test emphasizes skills necessary for riding in traffic and maneuvers for avoiding a collision. (RCW § 46.20.515) You will get a Certificate of Completion, and must present this to a Washington Licensing Services Office within 180 days of completing the course.
- Take a knowledge and riding skills test with the Department of Licensing.
Registration of Your Motorcycle
Before you can take your bike out for a ride, you must register it with the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL). Before you register your motorcycle, you must have proof of ownership in the form of a title. If you purchased your bike from a dealership, the dealership should handle the title transfer.
When buying from a private party or receiving a motorcycle as a gift, you have 15 days from the date you receive the motorcycle to register the title in your name. You must complete and sign a bill of sale and a title application in the presence of a notary public or licensing agent.
If the motorcycle is less than ten years old, you must fill out an Odometer Disclosure Statement. Residents of the following counties must also obtain an emissions testing report:
RCW § 46.16A.030 requires all registered motorcycles to display a valid license plate.
Motorcycle Insurance Requirements in Washington
RCW § 46.30.020 outlines the insurance requirements for Washington drivers. Drivers must carry $25,000 bodily injury liability per person, $50,000 bodily injury liability for two or more people, and $10,000 in property damage per accident.
Washington Motorcycle Helmet Laws
You must wear a helmet while riding in the state of Washington. Only helmets approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation that meet all manufacturing standards fulfill that requirement.
Wearing a helmet not only helps you comply with Washington motorcycle laws, but also protects you against brain injury in an accident. Your helmet use may also be relevant if filing an accident claim.
Motorcycle Equipment Required in Washington
Along with helmet laws, RCW § 46.37.530 provides laws for additional motorcycle equipment designed to improve safety. All motorcycles must have mirrors on the left and right sides allowing the driver to see at least 200 feet to the rear. Motorcycles must also have a windshield unless the operator is wearing safety glasses, goggles, or a face shield approved by Washington state patrol.
There are several other laws regarding motorcycle safety equipment:
- RCW § 46.37.380 requires the use of a horn capable of emitting sound at least 200 feet.
- RCW § 46.37.390 requires all motorcycles to have a muffler to prevent excessive noise and unlawful emissions.
- RCW § 46.61.611 requires motorcycle handlebars or grips to be no higher than 30 inches higher than the operator's seat or saddle.
- RCW § 46.37.522 requires all motorcycles to have head and tail lamps illuminated whenever the motorcycle is in use on a highway.
Washington’s Rules for Riding a Motorcycle
Motorcycle operators must follow all standard traffic laws including traffic signals, yield signs, and instructions by police. However, as some motorcycles may not trigger red light sensors, Washington allows motorcyclists to proceed through red lights under these circumstances:
- At complete stop at red light.
- Wait for at least one cycle.
- May not violate right of way of other vehicles or pedestrians.
Further, all motorcycles must meet the sound restrictions as outlined in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) §173-62-030. This rule states a motorcycle may not exceed a sound level over 78 dBA at speeds of 45 mph or less and 82 dBA for speeds over 45 mph.
Motorcycles with only one seat shall not carry more than a single rider. Passengers are only allowed on motorcycles equipped with a second seat or saddle or those with an attached car designed for passenger seating.
When operating a motorcycle in traffic, a motorcycle may use a full lane and share the lane with another motorcycle, but no more than two motorcycles shall ride abreast in a traffic lane.
The law does not permit riding between lanes of traffic, known as lane splitting. There was an effort to allow motorcycles to ride on the left shoulder of highways at speeds of no more than 10 miles per hour faster than the current traffic flow, not to exceed 25 miles per hour. It passed the Senate, but did not pass the House. (SB 5623 2015-16)
Legal Help for Applying Washington Motorcycle Laws to Your Accident Claim
If you have questions about whether your lack of helmet use or observance of motorcycle laws impairs your ability to file an injury claim, speak with a motorcycle accident attorney at Max Meyers Law PLLC. Contact Max today at 425-399-7000.