posted on January 8, 2019
If you ride, you know that there are a lot of misconceptions about motorcyclists and the law. Myths and stereotypes abound. So, it is important to stay informed about the law and know your rights as a motorcyclist in Virginia. At Marks & Harrison, we want all Virginia motorcycle riders to have the facts. With this in mind, here is a brief list of some of the more important laws and regulations that apply to motorcycles in Virginia.
Virginia law requires everyone to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. This law applies to the operator and passengers of all ages. Helmets must meet certain minimum regulatory guidelines, as set forth by one of the following entities:
In fact, it is illegal to advertise or sell a helmet in Virginia if it fails to meet these standards. Keep in mind that riders should also have either eye protection (goggles or glasses) or a windshield installed on the motorcycle.
Virginia has no minimum requirement about what gear and clothing you must wear. However, you should keep some serious safety considerations in mind. First, never wear flip flops or open-toe shoes. Amputations are some of the most common lower extremity injuries in motorcycle crashes. If you have to lay down the bike, you could easily lose toes or a foot if you are wearing improper footwear. A solid, leather boot that extends above the ankle is always your best choice.
Likewise, do not wear synthetic clothing. It can melt to skin and cause severe burns. Instead, choose natural fabrics, leather or specially designed clothing. Reflective gear is always an added safety bonus.
Beyond what you wear, certain minimum standards apply to motorcycles in Virginia. In general, headlights, horns and rearview mirrors are required for all motorcycles on the roadway. However, there are some exceptions. According to Section 46.2-912 of the Virginia Code, you do not need these items if:
Because these are narrow exceptions, most motorcycles will need to be equipped with the following, according to Section 46.2-1012 of the Code:
In addition to these requirements, the motorcycle must have a working muffler or sound-dissipating device. Exhaust systems must be in working order and comparable to stock equipment. However, Virginia does not set a decibel limit for motorcycles. If you frequently travel through certain municipalities, you should check those towns, as they may have stricter and more specific rules with respect to sound.
Lane splitting means two vehicles occupying the same lane simultaneously. In general, this is illegal in Virginia. Motorcyclists cannot pass between other vehicles or pass cars within the same lane. However, there is one limited exception. Motorcyclists can lane split with each other.
Not only is it legal for motorcycles to ride together in groups in Virginia, with bikes riding side by side, it is also often safer to do so. For one reason, multiple motorcycles riding together in the same lane increases visibility by adding more mass and more headlights. A distracted driver approaching from the rear is more likely to see two taillights than just one. Also, drivers who may be inclined to pass too closely or pass within the motorcycle’s lane will be forced to change lanes and pass as usual, because two motorcycles will take up more space and “fill” the lane.
Virginia is among a group of states that do not specifically set a minimum age limit for riding on a motorcycle as a passenger. However, Virginia requires the following rules to be followed by passengers of any age. Passengers must:
Additionally, as a matter of common sense, if the young rider cannot reach the foot pegs or hold on for the entire ride, then the rider is too young. Very young riders (under age 8) may have difficulty finding DOT-approved helmets that fit, and they may not be capable of understanding and following instructions, which could lead to serious safety issues. Each child is different. So, this is one area where personal judgment is necessary.
Many Virginia red lights are equipped with sensors to detect when a vehicle is waiting. These sensors trigger the light to change. These sensors work in tandem with regular traffic cycles. However, many motorcycles (especially smaller units) may not be heavy enough or contain enough metal to trip the sensor. Virginia law allows motorcycle riders to proceed through a red light, as long as the motorcyclist:
If all of those conditions exist, the motorcyclist can carefully proceed. However, the motorcyclist must yield the right-of-way to other drivers approaching the intersection.
This rule can be very handy in rural settings where you would otherwise have to sit and wait indefinitely for the light to change. It is not recommended for busier intersections.
Despite common myths, HOV lanes are not just for carpooling. They are designed to keep traffic moving. Since motorcycles are more agile and take up less space on the road, they are allowed by law to use HOV lanes in Virginia. If you regularly commute in the D.C. metro area, you may also want to check the Commuter Page to see additional rules for using HOV lanes.
Sadly, no matter how safe you are or how many precautions you take, there are always going to be dangerous drivers on the road who, due to intoxication, distraction or lack of concern for others, will pose a threat to you and your loved ones. If one of these negligent drivers hurts you or someone you love, contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced motorcycle lawyer.
We don’t charge for an initial meeting, so it can be an excellent opportunity to ask questions and get early help with your case. With offices in Richmond and throughout Virginia and more than 100 years of experience with protecting the rights of accident victims and their families, Marks & Harrison is ready to help you today.
Gregory S. Hooe is a graduate of the University of Virginia who earned his law degree from the University of Richmond School of Law. After serving as a law clerk with the Virginia Supreme Court, Gregory entered private practice in 1982. Throughout his career, he has practiced in the area of civil litigation at the trial and appellate levels, including arguing cases before the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He currently serves as a Principal of Marks & Harrison.