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The U.S. is made up of a patchwork of laws that dictate public, and in some cases private, life. Riding a motorcycle is legal in all 50 states, but state and local governments are free to implement their own rules in the interest of public safety. You might have to adjust your riding style depending on where you’re riding, especially if you plan on crossing state lines on a long road trip. State and local motorcycle laws range from the practical to the absurd. Here are 10 laws that should stand out on your list:
Safe on Red Laws
If you’ve ever waited at a red light on your motorcycle, you know how frustrating it can be. Most intersections with traffic lights have sensors that will change the light depending on whether a vehicle has been detected, but many of these sensors can’t detect motorcycles, leaving you stuck at the red light for what can feel like an eternity.
Some sensors are built into the pavement and will activate the light when a vehicle comes to a stop or drives towards the intersection. These sensors are placed on either side of the lane where a car’s wheels would normally land. More advance sensors emit energy from the traffic light and will change the color if a vehicle is nearby. Both types of sensors can be problematic for motorcycles.
That doesn’t mean you can plow through red lights whenever you want. Driving through a red light can be extremely dangerous, but 12 states and localities have safe-on-red laws that allow motorcyclists to drive through a red light if there is no one coming, including:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
These laws vary from state to state. For example, in North Carolina motorcyclists can legally run a red light if they come to a stop, wait for three minutes, and the light doesn’t change. Regardless of how long you have to wait, every state with safe-on-red laws on the books says you must first check to make sure no one is coming before carefully proceeding through the intersection. The key word there is “carefully”. Go slow and listen for other cars and pedestrians to avoid getting into an accident.
If you hit someone while driving through a red light, these laws will not absolve you of responsibility. You will still have to pay damages and be prosecuted by the full extent of the law.
Clean Your Tires
Minnesota has an obscure law that requires motorcyclists to keep their tires clean. According to the law, dirty tires are “a nuisance that affects public peace, safety, and general welfare.” The idea of someone getting pulled over for dirty tires might sound insane, but all that extra debris can put you at risk, especially if you plan on going off-road. In a rural state like Minnesota, a lot of riders will use ATVs and dirtbikes as motorcycles, or vice-versa. Remember to wipe off your tires before you get back on the road to avoid getting into trouble with the law.
Keep Your Headlights On
Connecticut requires motorcyclists to drive with their headlights on at all times to increase visibility. But you don’t have to use them when operating a motorcycle less than 90cc off-road. Bikes can be hard to spot on the road, so it’s best to light up whenever possible even if you’re not in Connecticut. Just remember to turn off your headlights when you’re done riding to keep your battery intact.
Send Off a Flare
Speaking of visibility, Pennsylvania wants to know your location when you venture off the beaten path on your motorcycle. If you go off-road on your bike, you are required to stop every mile and set off a flare or rocket signal, so other people can find you in an emergency. It’s not clear anyone will be around to see your signal, but it will definitely come in handy if you get lost wandering one of the state’s many national parks.
No Helmet, No Headset
Most states require you to wear a helmet at all times while riding, but Illinois is one of the few exceptions. You should still wear a helmet just to be safe, but the state outlaws motorcycle headsets to keep drivers from getting distracted on the road.
However, most people agree that Bluetooth motorcycle speakers actually improve rider safety. They may even save your life if you get into an accident. Illinois makes an exception for single-earpiece headsets, so one ear stays unencumbered and can listen for traffic. If you use a motorcycle Bluetooth headset, take one ear out when riding in Illinois.
You can also use a half-helmet Bluetooth motorcycle helmet when riding with a half-face helmet or skull cap. The included boom mic will pick up your voice, so you can call for help and safely communicate with your fellow riders as you navigate the road.
Every state has its own way of regulating traffic safety, but some laws verge on the extreme, while others seem counterintuitive. Keep these laws in mind to make sure you are following the rules in every state.