Few people love freedom more than a motorcycle driver in the Lone Star State. While Texas tends to frown on imposing too many regulations in any field, most will agree that Texas motorcycle laws enhance safety for drivers, passengers, and others on the road.
Texas boasts more motorcycle owners than any other state in the country. This reflects the Lone Star State’s well-known culture emphasizing freedom and rugged individualism. The state’s unique landscapes, wide-open spaces, and huge highway system also attract millions of motorcycling enthusiasts from around the country.
Everyone, from both Texas and other states, however, should learn the specific rules governing the use of motorcycles in the state.
Since most people have less familiarity with motorcycle rules and regulations than with laws for automobiles, and since laws governing vehicle use vary from state to state, we have produced a handy guide to get you familiar with the rules of the road. This guide covers the most important aspects of motorcycle ownership and operation, but is not a comprehensive list of all laws, rules, and regulations. If you need additional information, make sure to contact the Texas Department of Public Safety.
First, Texas state law requires that motorcycles all have the equipment listed below in proper working order. All items on the list are essential for the proper and safe operation of the motorcycle and to ensure the safety of others sharing the road with motorcyclists.
Make sure that all equipment is in good working order between regular inspections. If some items malfunction, such as tail lamps, you can be liable for a fine.
In Texas, drivers cannot apply for a Class M motorcycle license until they have completed and passed a motorcycle operator training course approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety. This DPS approved map of trainers can let you know if an approved course is taught near you.
The basic course covers a wide range of topics pertaining to motorcycle safety, including
Besides the basic course, Texas offers an intermediate level, one-day course for those with some experience, but who want to learn more about safety on the roads.
To receive a license, the driver must pass a written test on motorcycle operation. A road test may also be required, but can be waived for adults with experience. Minors between 15 and 17 must pass the road test, no exceptions.
The road test assesses the driver’s skill in controlling the motorcycle, staying in the proper lane, correct use of turn signals, and ability to observe traffic and predict problems
While Texas does have a law requiring some to wear a helmet, most can escape that mandate by meeting some very modest requirements. To get an exemption from wearing a helmet in Texas, you must be at least 21 years old and also carry proof that you have at least $10,000 in medical insurance. Finally, you must also have passed an approved motorcycle safety course.
While the law permits helmetless riding, experts strongly urge that motorcycle drivers and riders wear helmets. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing death and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injury. Most motorcycle fatalities are due to head injury and helmets represent the best way to protect drivers and riders from serious injury.
For those mandated to wear helmets, Texas requires that the headgear meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #218. Furthermore, experts say that helmets should fit the head snugly, but comfortably and also be properly secured. Cracks or dents can impair the ability of the helmet to protect the head. Also, those with proper protection can prevent eye damage, some sunburn, and hearing loss.
Texas law forbids law enforcement from pulling over motorcycles solely to determine if the driver carries proper insurance or has taken the Department of Public Safety approved motorcycle safety course.
Motorcyclists cannot carry passengers in Texas unless the vehicle is designed to carry more than one individual. The motorcycle also must have approved footrests and handholds designed to accommodate a passenger.
Age limits pertain to passengers on motorcycles as well. Motorcyclists cannot carry passengers under eight years of age and less than four feet nine inches in height. Texas law requires children of this age and size to ride in an approved child safety seat, which motorcycles cannot legally or safely carry. All passengers under the age of 21 must wear a helmet that is legal for the road in Texas, but those over 21 and meeting legal requirements can ride helmet free.
Because motorcycles in some ways function more like bicycles than automobiles, many people mistakenly believe that their bike’s portability allows them to escape parking laws that govern motor vehicles. Texas has specific laws and regulations pertaining to parking a motorcycle. Failure to adhere to these could result in fines.
Most laws pertain to parking a motorcycle in an area marked for disabled drivers or passengers. Texas motorcycle laws prohibit the parking of such vehicles in disabled labeled spaces unless it carries a disabled license plate or a special state-issued removable windshield identification marker. No driver can use the marker unless transporting an officially approved disabled individual. Also, one cannot lend the marker to another even if that person has a disability themselves. Many municipalities have also outlawed standing in a disabled parking area even if the driver does not leave the vehicle.
Additionally, drivers may not park their motorcycles in such a way as to block access or curb ramps installed to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Motorcycles also should never be parked on sidewalks, even in areas approved for bicycle parking.
Most states have laws that govern the function of a motorcycle muffler and also regulate the decibel levels produced. While Texas has no laws governing either mufflers or decibels, drivers should remain aware that when operating their motorcycle in other states, laws and regulations governing noise may apply.
Many states have no laws or regulations prohibiting or governing lane splitting. This describes a situation where two separate motorcycles drive side by side in the same lane. Drivers from both Texas and other states should remain aware that Texas forbids this type of activity. The Texas Transportation Code mandates that those caught lane splitting may find themselves ticketed and liable for a fine.
Although a recent study out of California indicated that lane splitting produces some benefits, such as reducing congestion and enhancing safety, Texas still forbids the practice and will ticket and fine those engaging in the practice.
All vehicles registered in the state of Texas, from tractor trailers to motorcycles, must pass an annual safety inspection. This ensures that all vehicles meet minimum safety requirements for operation on the road. Regular inspections help to protect both drivers and other vehicles on the road from accidents caused by malfunctioning equipment.
A motorcycle inspection will check the following items to ensure that they meet minimum legal safety requirements under Texas motorcycle laws:
Once the motorcycle passes state inspection, the owner will receive a certificate to be displayed somewhere near the license plate at the rear of the vehicle. Seventeen counties also require that each vehicle, including motorcycles, pass an emissions test.
Motorcycles also must meet other standards under Texas law. Those carrying passengers must be equipped with a saddle that meets state legal requirements. It also must run in such a way so that no more than three wheels are engaged in moving the motorcycle forward.
To pass inspection and successfully receive an updated registration, motorcycle owners must carry documentation proving that the vehicle is properly insured. In Texas, liability insurance meets the legal minimum requirement. Owners must carry at least $30,000 to cover the death or bodily injury of one person, $60,000 to cover the death or bodily injury of a second person, and $25,000 to cover any property damage incurred.
Owners must also register with their county assessor’s office for personal property tax purposes. The county assessor’s office will provide the owner with the state approved license plate to be displayed on the rear of the vehicle at all times. The license plate must also carry a valid and current registration sticker.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has produced a lengthy manual of rules, tips, and other important information in their Motorcycle Operators’ Manual. This booklet advises on proper safety equipment, recommended riding apparel, and other tips designed to inform the novice rider on how to stay safe on the road. You can download it here.
Just as in automobile use, laws governing the operation or parking of a motorcycle might change from state to state. For example, 19 states require all drivers and passengers to wear a helmet at all times. Also, many states allow for lane splitting but some, like Texas, do not.
When driving your motorcycle across state lines, it is incumbent upon drivers and passengers to know both the laws of each state and also their rights under the laws. Motorcyclists traveling across state lines should protect themselves and research the law before embarking on the trip. The best resource for motorcyclists who need to learn the vehicle laws governing each state is the American Motorcyclists’ Association.They have a database of all relevant state laws while advocating for motorcycle owners on the state and federal level.
Motorcyclists should remember that most laws that govern the operation of an automobile also regulate those of a motorcycle. In part to address the soaring number of pedestrian deaths in the state of Texas, cell phones and other handheld devices cannot be used while operating a motorcycle or other vehicle. Despite the passage of an anti-device law last year, distracted driving deaths increased by 20 percent. As people grow more aware of the law and adjust their behavior to comply with the spirit and the letter of the regulation, hopefully those numbers will drop again.
Motorcyclists must also obey laws governing safe movement in traffic. Law enforcement officers will pull over and ticket those who pass vehicles unsafely, violate speed limits, or disobey other rules governing vehicle operation.
Laws and regulations governing motorcycle use for drivers and passengers try to strike the balance between ensuring the safety of drivers, passengers, and others on the road while recognizing the unique culture of freedom that the motorcycle has long represented.
The state legislature and Department of Public Safety put motorcycle laws and regulations into practice for everyone’s safety, but this does not guarantee that law enforcement officers always enforce the law properly. If you feel that you have been mistreated under the law or have been in an accident where another is at fault and you are owed damages, you should reach out to an experienced lawyer today.
Bill Berenson has successfully represented clients in the Fort Worth area for almost four decades, specializing in serving injured victims of truck, 18 wheeler, motorcycle, and pedestrian crashes.
Contact the law offices of Bill Berenson today for a free consultation. Call us at 1-888-801-8585.