Driving a motorcycle can be more advantageous than driving a car, as they are smaller, more fuel-efficient, and can easily navigate through traffic. But can you legally drive a motorcycle with a car license?
If you’re looking to get around on two wheels, you’ll need the proper license. Generally speaking, you cannot drive a motorcycle with just your driver’s license. Depending on the type of vehicle and law in your state, you’ll need to obtain a motorcycle endorsement or a separate motorcycle license to drive a bike legally.
If you want to drive a motorcycle on public roads, read on to learn more about a valid motorcycle license and how to obtain one.
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General Motorcycle License Requirements in the USA
In the United States, the state, and not the federal government, issues licensing requirements for motorcycles. Each state has its own laws and requirements for a motorcycle license. However, there are similarities among the state laws and requirements.
Most states require motorcycle operators to have a motorcycle endorsement or license. A motorcycle endorsement is a special addition to a regular driver’s license that allows the license holder to drive a motorcycle. Meanwhile, a motorcycle license, also known as a Class M license in most states, is an independent document from a regular driver’s license that authorizes the holder to operate a motorcycle.
You’ll need to meet specific requirements set by your state to get your motorcycle endorsement or license. These include the following.
You must be of a certain age to obtain a license or endorsement. In most states, the minimum age to get a motorcycle learner’s permit is 16. Some states, like California, allow minors aged 15 years and six months to obtain a permit.
Riders 18 years of age and below must have a valid motorcycle permit. When they reach 18, they can apply for a full motorcycle license, provided their motorcycle instruction permit is valid for at least six months. Riders 21 and over or those with a valid driver’s license usually bypass the permit phase and can apply directly for a motorcycle license.
With a learner’s permit, riders can typically drive motorcycles only during daylight hours, without passengers, and not on highways. They must also be accompanied by a licensed motorcycle operator who is 21 years old or older.
Additionally, a motorcycle license is required if you’re operating a motorcycle with an engine size of 50 cubic centimeters (cc) or more.
To obtain a motorcycle instructional permit, you typically have to:
- Meet your state’s age requirements.
- Pass the written test
- Pass a vision test
- Complete a motorcycle safety course
- Pay the applicable fees.
Most states require an introductory motorcycle safety program course before obtaining your motorcycle license. There are many government-accepted providers for these courses, including the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). The course usually consists of both classroom or online and on-the-road instruction.
In some states, the motorcycle safety course is optional. Still, the course is beneficial for learning the basics of operating a motorcycle and gaining valuable tips on how to be safe on the open road. Driver education is crucial, especially for first-time riders.
The course teaches the first things you need to know about operating a motorcycle based on the state’s motorcycle operator manual, such as:
- Motorcycle basics: This teaches the various types of motorcycles and components you need to be familiar with, such as the steering mechanisms, turn signals, brakes, and more
- Proper riding gear: This explains how to choose the right motorcycle apparel and protective gear, such as a helmet, eye protection, and a long-sleeved shirt, and why it’s essential to wear them
- Basic riding techniques: This demonstrates how to start, shift, turn, stop, and handle a motorcycle in different situations
- Road safety: This teaches riders the rules of the road and how to safely share the roads with other motorists, such as following the speed limit and not going over the maximum speed
After successful completion of the safety program, you’ll be given a certificate of completion that serves as proof that you have completed the required motorcycle training course. States often require this certificate when you’re applying for your license.
In some states like West Virginia, your motorcycle driving test may be waived if you’ve completed a government-recognized motorcycle safety program. Aside from this benefit, the program also provides riders with valuable information from the state’s motorcycle manual that can help them become better and safer motorcyclists.
After completing the safety program course, you’ll need to pass a series of tests. While test requirements vary from state to state, they typically include a knowledge test, a vision exam, and a road skills test.
You’ll need to pass a motorcycle knowledge test to get a motorcycle license. This written exam tests your knowledge of motorcycles and traffic laws. The test usually consists of questions about motorcycle safety, traffic laws, and other topics related to operating a motorcycle.
Another requirement for a motorcycle license is an eye test. This will test your ability to see well enough to operate a motorcycle on public roads safely. This is especially crucial for riders who use glasses or contacts, as the permit will state whether corrective lenses are required for riding.
You will also need to take a motorcycle skills test. This riding skills test requires you to demonstrate proper riding techniques during a road test, and it assesses your ability to ride a motorcycle in different situations safely.
In most states, you’ll need to bring your own motorcycle and have a motorcycle insurance policy before you can obtain a motorcycle license. The insurance policy should include liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage.
Most states also require motorcyclists to carry liability insurance. The minimum amount of coverage required varies from state to state, so check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for the specific requirements in your state.
Insurance companies may require you to take a motorcycle safety course to receive a discount on your insurance premiums. It is essential to check with your insurer to see if this will apply to your case before signing up for a class.
Fees and Other Expenses
Most states require motorcyclists to pay a fee for their license and registration. These fees vary from state to state, so check with your local driver’s license office for the exact amount.
Interestingly, younger applicants may need to pay more fees and take additional tests than older applicants. This is because many states have different requirements for younger riders.
It’s also critical to factor in the cost of taking a motorcycle safety course, as well as any other related expenses such as purchasing or renting a motorcycle, getting insurance, and buying full protective gear.
If you want to hit the road with your motorcycle, you’ll need more than your car license. You must go through the proper application process to get your motorcycle license and ensure that you meet all the legal requirements, including taking a safety course and passing a series of tests.
By going through the steps, you’ll gain valuable knowledge about motorcycle operation and safety, making you a better rider and helping keep you safe on the road. Furthermore, you’ll enjoy the freedom and pleasure of riding without any legal complications or concerns.