New year brings new laws for motorcyclists

Jan 05, 2017

A variety of new laws affecting motorcyclists took effect with the new year, with some more significant than others. Safety, and in some cases, making life easier for those of us who ride, are common themes.

California has been the big shot taking center stage, first by finally making lane-splitting officially allowed, and now with new regulations that prohibit the use of handheld devices by drivers. But all around the country we are seeing the green light for everything from red light laws to blue light laws for 2017.

Legalizing lane-splitting might not seem, at face value, to be a law with safety for motorcyclists at the forefront. For some riders in states where it is very much illegal, lane-splitting is one of those I’m-so-bad-catch-me-if-you-can activities. In California, however, it has never been illegal. The mission with formalizing laws in regards to this commonly accepted practice is to make it safer for all motorists.

Tennessee is considering a law to allow motorcyclists to use highway shoulders to exit the roadway when traffic is moving at 25 mph or less. The posted speed limit must be 50 mph or more for this to be acceptable. Not quite as cool as legal lane-splitting, but still progress. I will consider this a win for air-cooled bikes.

"Dead red" laws, dealing with traffic signals that don't detect motorcycles, continue to be addressed nationwide. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, since last summer, have joined the list of states that allow motorcyclists to proceed through intersections in the event of a malfunctioning red light sensor. About half of U.S. states have enacted some variation of this law and I anticipate more will follow suit this year.

Illinois started off the new year with a newly legalized "blue light" bill for motorcyclists. In many states, the color blue is still reserved for law enforcement, but now the ol’ blue dots in the center of red brake lights are back in action. Some riders like them just for the looks, but Josh Witkowski, public communications officer for the Lincoln Land Chapter of ABATE Illinois, said there is a safety issue, too.

“What this does is it creates a contrast," Witkowski told the Rockford Advocate. "When that motorcyclist hits their brake, you see a contrasting light almost instantly. It’s good for visibility out there on the road, which increases safety and reduces the risk of accidents.”

Rt 66 plate
Image from the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State.
Let us not neglect Illinois’ other new for 2017 law, which allows Route 66 specialty license plates for motorcycles. Funds raised will go toward preserving the iconic roadway.

Meanwhile, Europe is on to bigger endeavors of planetary preservation by means of cutting carbon emissions with their strictest legislation yet: Euro 4 emissions standards. Some existing models have already been dropped because making them comply with the tougher standards would be either impractical or too expensive. Of course the Europeans have long been the leaders in writing the book on safety laws. In recent years, France had a law that required you to have two breathalyzers with you (that fines for non-compliance were eventually dropped), and there's still a law requiring you to wear a helmet with reflective stickers on the front, rear and both sides.

At least no legislature in these United States required you to mummy-wrap your helmet in high-viz tape for 2017.