Motorcycle laws in Florida are designed to save lives. Although Florida’s warm climate and sunshine make it an ideal place to ride a motorcycle, motorcycling is a dangerous sport. Unlike occupants of cars and trucks, motorcyclists are not protected by several tons of metal and cushioning. They are also exposed to the road and the elements. If anything goes wrong, a rider is often thrown from the vehicle.
Statistics make the dangers of motorcycle riding clear. Roughly 9,122 motorcycle accidents occurred throughout the state in 2018, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Over 500 of them—more than 5 percent of the total—were fatal. Just in Lee County, 296 motorcycle accidents occurred in 2018, 10 of them fatal.
The statistics are grim, but they are unlikely to deter motorcyclists, who love both their sport and Florida’s byways. But we all need to obey Florida’s motorcycle laws. Following the law makes a safe ride much more likely.
So what are the laws in Florida concerning motorcycles? Read on to learn more.
Training and Licensing
Florida provides two types of licenses that allow a person to legally operate a motorcycle. Motorcyclists can choose either one.
The first option is a “motorcycle only” driver’s license, which, as the term implies, only permits a driver to operate a motorcycle. A driver must be at least 16 years of age to receive a motorcycle-only license. If the applicant is under the age of 18, they must hold a learner’s license for a minimum of one year before applying for a driver’s license. During this time, they must not receive any traffic convictions.
To receive a motorcycle-only license, an applicant must take and satisfactorily pass the Class E driver’s license knowledge test and either the Basic RiderCourse (BRC) or the Basic RiderCourse updated (BRCu) with an authorized sponsor.
Both the BRC and the BRCu are 15-hour courses originally created by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and used by the Florida Rider Training Program. The course covers the operating principles that allow a rider to operate a motorcycle safely. The BRCu offers a more realistic set of scenarios that motorcyclists encounter in traffic.
After completing either course and passing the Class E driver’s license knowledge test, the applicant provides proof to a driver’s license office or a tax collection office that issues licenses. The office collects the endorsement fees and issues the license.
Getting a Motorcycle Endorsement on Your Driver’s License
The second option Florida motorcyclists have for licensing is to obtain a motorcycle endorsement on a valid Class E driver’s license, the standard Florida driver’s license for cars.
To receive the endorsement, an applicant must complete either the BRC or BRCu with an authorized sponsor. After completing the course, the applicant must provide proof that they completed the course at either a driver’s license office or tax collection office that issues driver’s licenses and pay the mandated endorsement fees within one year.
Wear a Helmet
Florida laws on motorcycle helmets are complicated. On the one hand, wearing a helmet is required. Motorcyclists must wear helmets that conform to the Federal Motorcycle Vehicle Safety Standard 218, which all helmets sold in the United States must do. These helmets are the safest, as they cover riders’ heads appropriately, provide excellent visibility, and don’t move around on a rider’s head excessively.
However, the requirement is only firm for motorcycle operators under 21 years old. Motorcyclists over 21 can receive an exemption from the requirement that they wear a helmet if they have medical insurance with a minimum of $10,000 in medical benefits.
So, if you carry this insurance coverage, you can legally ride without a helmet.
But we cannot stress the potential dangers of riding without a helmet enough. The facts are clear, and wearing a helmet is undoubtedly a safer move. Riders who wear a helmet have a 37 percent lower chance of being killed in an accident, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But the risks of not wearing a helmet are not just confined to fatal accidents. Head injuries are very serious, and can result in traumatic brain injuries, wounds, skull fractures, and more. Wearing a helmet decreases the chance of a head injury by 69 percent in the event of an accident, according to the CDC.
Wear Proper Safety Equipment
Florida legally mandates that motorcyclists wear eye protection approved by the Department of Transportation, whether they wear a helmet or not.
The reason for this law? In a car or truck, a driver’s eyes are protected by windows and windshields. The protection helps them drive safely by eliminating the chances that sand or grit from the road will fly in their eyes, or lessening the risk that sun glare will interfere with visibility.
Eye protection provides some of the same protections to motorcyclists. Motorcyclists who do not wear proper eye protection can suffer visibility impairment due to flying gravel, bugs, and any other objects that might get kicked up on the road. In addition, in the event of a crash, eye protection equipment may help protect the rider’s eyes from accident-related debris.
Don’t Drive Impaired by Alcohol or Other Substances
Across the nation, drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 are driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. Florida is no exception—and motorcycles are no exception, either. A motorcyclist can be charged with a DUI while driving any vehicle with a 0.08 BAC or simply because they are not in full possession of normal faculties.
Penalties for DUIs are very steep. They include fines, potential jail time, license revocation, and sometimes an ignition interlock device, which the motorcyclist must pay for.
In addition, under Florida’s implied consent law, motorcyclists, by virtue of having a license, have already consented to having their BAC checked with a chemical test. As a result, refusing a test can earn you a $1,000 fine or one year in jail.
Twenty-seven percent of all Florida crashes involve DUIs. Drinking (or using other substances) and driving is dangerous. That’s why it’s against the law.
Obey the Speed Limit
Driving a motorcycle is not a license to speed. Motorcyclists must follow all traffic laws, including obeying the speed limit.
Seventeen percent of all accidents in which a death is involved stem from speeding, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Speeding in any vehicle can lead to otherwise avoidable accidents. The higher the speed, the greater the force when the speeding vehicle collides with another object.
Follow All Traffic Laws
Anyone who gets a license of any kind is required to follow all applicable traffic laws. These laws are designed to make the roads safer. Failure to yield the right of way and failure to keep in the proper lane, for example, cause more than 7 percent of fatal motorcycle accidents.
Unlike many states, Florida has no law specifically prohibiting cell phone use while riding. However, there is a distracted driving law that bears tremendous relevance to motorcyclists. After all, few motorcyclists use a cell phone while riding, since it’s hard to control a motorcycle without both hands on the handlebars.
Specifically, Florida’s distracted driving law says that a motor vehicle operator may not manually type on a wireless communication device or read or send data on such a device while driving. In other words, e-mailing, texting, and instant messaging on a device while operating a vehicle are all against the law.
The law also applies to distracted driving more generally. While many people associate cell phone use with distracted driving, distraction can happen in a wide variety of scenarios. In fact, there are three broad categories of distracted driving: manual (removing one’s hands from the wheel), visual (taking one’s eyes from the road), and cognitive (disengaging one’s mind from the task of driving). Distracted driving can include turning around to talk to a passenger, daydreaming, or even taking in a beautiful Florida sunset.
Safe Driving Practices
Now that we’ve covered the major Florida motorcycle laws, we’ll discuss safe driving practices. While they’re not specifically in the law, it’s a good idea to follow the principles described below.
Practice Defensive Driving
Motorcyclists must drive defensively. Defensive driving is watching out for other drivers—many of whom might not watch out for you. This not only means watching out in the obvious sense, of knowing where they are and what they’re doing, but also making common sense moves to avoid other drivers’ potentially dangerous behavior.
Motorcyclists are more vulnerable to other drivers’ potentially dangerous behaviors. Why? Because drivers don’t pay attention to motorcycles in the same way they do other vehicles. A car may pull out from a four-way stop even though a motorcycle has the right of way or take a left-right in front of a motorcycle simply because the driver failed to notice the motorcycle.
Motorcyclists are prone to some accidents that occur only between motorcycles and larger vehicles. One is called “dooring.” A car or other vehicle driver parks and opens the driver’s side door directly in the path of an oncoming motorcycle. They may have even checked, but simply didn’t register the motorcycle’s presence.
As a result of these potential dangers, motorcyclists should always scan their environment for drivers or pedestrians who might do something that could harm them. They should never, for example, completely believe a vehicle’s turn signal but instead wait until they know for certain where a vehicle is going. Drivers are notorious for leaving turn signals on or changing their minds last-minute.
Always Have a First Aid/Trauma Kit on Hand
In case of an accident, motorcyclists should carry a first aid/trauma kit. The kit should have basic first-aid equipment, such as disinfectant and band-aids, as well as larger bandages and surgical shears (for cutting off clothing to obtain access to wounds).
The first aid kit should also contain glow sticks and colorful caution tape that can be placed around an accident scene. These can prevent additional accidents by alerting other drivers.
In addition, even though a motorcyclist should never talk on or otherwise use a smartphone while riding, they should always carry a charged cell phone while riding. A cell phone can save a life when used to call 911 after an accident.
Wear Visible Clothing
Motorcyclists can do a lot to increase their visibility by wearing bright and eye-catching colors, which is important given that other drivers tend to not see them. Bright colors and eye-catching designs on helmets or the motorcycle itself can also help with visibility.
Ensure Night Visibility
All lights on a motorcycle should be kept in working order and kept on at night, when visibility is especially important.
What if You’re Hurt in a Motorcycle Accident?
Even when a motorcyclist follows the law and takes every precaution, accidents can still happen.
Florida laws regarding insurance coverage in a motorcycle accident are somewhat confusing. All drivers of four-wheeled vehicles are required to carry minimum insurance coverage under Florida’s no-fault insurance system. No-fault systems like Florida’s require that drivers first turn to their own insurance carrier for reimbursement for medical expenses.
However, motorcycles are not four-wheeled vehicles. Therefore, no-fault rules don’t apply to motorcycles. If you were injured in a motorcycle accident someone else caused, you can either approach the other party’s insurance company with a claim or file a personal injury lawsuit.
You can seek the following in damage compensation:
- Medical expenses, present and future, including bills from doctor’s visits, urgent care, emergency rooms, ambulances, surgeries, hospitalizations, prescription medication, rehabilitative therapy, retrofitting your home for care or physical limitation, and more.
- Income lost from work, if your injuries prevent you from returning to work.
- Compensation for lost earning potential, if your injuries are likely to prevent you from ever returning to your former job.
- Pain and suffering.
Winning a third-party claim or personal injury lawsuit requires evidence of the other party’s negligence. Negligence is the failure to exercise the duty of care that a reasonably prudent party would have exercised.
If you need more information or assistance, please contact a motorcycle accident lawyer.