The physical beauty and diverse landscapes of Virginia make it an ideal place to ride a motorcycle. Unfortunately, the popularity of riding motorcycles in Virginia comes with a downside: accidents and the inevitable injuries they cause.
One effective way to prevent a serious motorcycle accident is to maintain your awareness of, and compliance with, Virginia motorcycle laws. These laws protect public safety, especially motorcyclists.
Read on for a brief overview of the Commonwealth’s motorcycling laws and regulations.
Motorcyclists constitute just 3 percent of all registered vehicles nationwide and just 6 percent of total U.S. vehicle miles traveled, yet 14 percent of individuals killed in traffic accidents are motorcyclists. Little wonder, then, that before you ride a motorcycle, you must obtain a license through a process designed to ensure that you stay safe on two wheels.
First, you can apply for a motorcycle learner’s permit. With a permit, you can operate a motorcycle only between 4 in the morning and midnight. Supervision by a licensed motorcycle operator is required, and the person must be at least 21 years old, alert, and able to assist and provide direct supervision of your rides.
A Virginia motorcycle learner’s permit is valid for just one year.
Second, there are several methods of getting a motorcycle license. You must apply for and test for the appropriate vehicle, an M2 for a two-wheeled motorcycle or an M3 for a three-wheeled motorcycle. (You can also apply for and test for an M designation, which allows you to operate both.)
If you currently hold a Virginia driver’s license, you may apply for one of the M designations for your license. To do this, you must:
- Pass a knowledge test
- Pass a skills test
- Hold a valid motorcycle learner’s permit for at least 30 days (nine months if you’re under 18)
- Pass an approved motorcycle safety course
If you do not have a Virginia driver’s license, then you can apply for a motorcycle-only license.
Rider Training Program
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) maintains a list of approved Rider Training Program locations here. These classes teach you to drive a motorcycle from the ground up (i.e., with no previous experience), and provide plenty of room and space to practice before heading into traffic.
The classes can also improve the skills and safety methods for folks who already know how to operate a motorcycle.
Motorcycle owners in Virginia must register their motorcycles at the DMV, just as they would a car or other vehicle. Registration of a motorcycle requires a valid title. You must also display a license plate on any registered motorcycle.
Motorcycle Gear and the Law
To promote rider safety and public health, Virginia law also mandates the use of certain protective equipment.
Helmets and Eye Protection Required by Law
Virginia law requires all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear a helmet that meets or exceeds the specifications of the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute, Inc., or the federal Department of Transportation (DOT).
Helmet use is one of the most effective ways to reduce deaths and serious injuries in a motorcycle accident. Riders wearing helmets have a 37 percent lower probability of dying in a crash and a 69 percent lower probability of suffering a traumatic brain injury, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The DOT recommends following these tips for avoiding unsafe motorcycle helmets.
By law, Virginia motorcycle operators (but not their passengers) must also wear appropriate eye protection, such as a helmet face shield or safety goggles, or equip their motorcycles with a windshield or other safety glass. These eye protection rules protect against accidents caused by rain or other inclement weather, bugs, gravel, sand, or even sudden gusts of wind, all of which can temporarily blind a rider and cause an accident. Facial protection also shields your face from injury in the event of an accident.
Protective and Hi-Vis Clothing Not Required—But a Good Idea
Virginia law does not require motorcycle riders to wear gear to protect the rest of their bodies, nor does it mandate clothing of any particular color or reflectiveness. However, safety-conscious riders should consider wearing both to reduce the risk of getting into and suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident.
Making oneself visible to other motorists can dramatically reduce the risk of a wreck. Drivers of cars and trucks can cause accidents simply because they do not see motorcyclists, or because their minds may not register motorcycles visually in the way they do larger vehicles. Hi-vis clothing increases the likelihood of being seen.
In the event of an accident, protective clothing can mean the difference between minor and catastrophic injuries. Padded, friction-resistant pants and jackets, and other equipment protect riders from a slide on a rough road surface that might otherwise burn or tear away their clothing and layers of skin. Back protectors can guard against damage to a rider’s spinal cord, which might otherwise result in a paralyzing injury. Proper footwear can guard against burns from hot metal and offer protection to feet and ankles in an accident.
Motorcycle Equipment and Inspections
Virginia statutes contain numerous provisions relating to equipment required for motorcycles, and the condition of that equipment, including motorcycle lights, mufflers, and brakes. Like other motor vehicles, motorcycles must also pass an annual inspection, the requirements for which are in the Virginia Administrative Code and cover all major systems on a bike.
Alcohol and Motorcycles
Alcohol consumption by motorcyclists and other motorists causes tragic, avoidable accidents by impairing reaction time, reflexes, visual acuity, and judgment. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, alcohol-involved motorcycle crashes result in fatalities or injuries 92 percent of the time, compared to just 35 percent of car accidents. Also, every year, dozens of motorcyclists die and hundreds suffer injuries in crashes involving alcohol.
In Virginia, motorists are legally intoxicated if their blood alcohol content (BAC) hits 0.08 or more, or whenever alcohol impairs their driving abilities. Those charged with and convicted of a DUI face stiff penalties including license suspension or revocation, fines, and imprisonment.