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What Happens When You Ride a Motorcycle Without a Valid License?

Motorcycle riders navigating training course for license

Imagine being pulled over while riding your motorcycle. You reach into your pocket and realize that your driver’s license is no longer there. Could the police arrest you? The article discusses the risks and consequences of driving a motorcycle without a license.

Is it Illegal to Drive Without a Motorcycle License?

Every day in America, millions of motorcycle drivers use roads and freeways to get to work, school, etc. A motorcycle and a car are two different types of vehicles that vary in size and blind spots, therefore both types of vehicles require a different set skills to operate safely. Similar to having a car driver’s license, a motorcycle license needs to be issued for those who drive a motorcycle. Every single state in the United States, including California and Nevada, issue motorcycle licenses. A motorcycle driver’s license test is somewhat similar to a car driver’s license test. Both require some type of written test, along with a motorcycle skills test. Other states also require that the driver attend some type of training motorcycle safety class in order to get a motorcycle license. Our motorcycle attorneys at Heidari Law dedicate our time to ensure that our clients follow appropriate safety measures, while protecting their rights on the road.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, in 2019, 30% of motorcyclists did not have a valid motorcycle license when involved in fatal motorcycle crashes. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration found correlations between being licensed and getting into a car accident. Not being licensed increases your risk of getting involved in a motorcycle accident.

California Laws

Under California Vehicle Code 12500, it is considered illegal to drive a motorcycle in the state of California without a valid driver’s license. Not only does this cover motorcycles, but also any other motor-driven or motorized cycle.

California also accepts other licenses issued by other states in the country. For example, if you have a motorcycle driver’s license from Nevada, and drive a motorcycle in California, California will respect the Nevada motorcycle driver’s license. It will not be considered illegal to be driving with another state license, as long as it is a motorcycle license. If the driver came from a state or country that does not require a motorcycle license, then the driver of the motorcycle has 30 days to obtain a motorcycle license in California.

Motorcycle License in California

An M1 license is issued in California for motorcycles The California Department of Motor Vehicles describes a motorcycle as a “motor vehicle with a seat or saddle for the rear end is decide to travel on not more than three wheels.”  An M1 license applies to standard motorcycles. To obtain an M1 license, the driver needs to complete driver’s education along with behind-the-wheel training certificate of completion. Minors aged 15 ½ to 17 will be able to obtain a motorcycle license permit. Other requirements include passing a vision exam, submitting fingerprints to the Department of Motor Vehicles, paying the required fees, having your photograph taken, and having a permit for 6 months prior to obtaining a license.

California also has a California Motorcyclist Safety Program training course where they provide hands-on motorcycle driving knowledge and skills for beginner riders. This is mandatory for riders under 21 years of age. This test specifically focuses on maneuvering through other vehicles during traffic on the freeway since California has a common problem with motorcycle accidents caused by this type of scenario.

Penalties For Driving Without a Motorcycle License in California

California imposes misdemeanor penalties for driving without a license. These two penalties include:

  1. Up to six months in county jail and/or
  2. A fine of up to $1,000

Burden of Proof for the Court

In order to impose these misdemeanor penalties against the driver, the court must be able to prove that the driver was driving on a road in the state, and the driver did not have a valid driver’s license while driving. For more information on the motorcycle gear that is required, please read this article.

Motorcycle License in Nevada

Similar to California, Nevada also accepts motorcycle licenses issued by other states. Nevada considers a motorcycle license a “class M” license. Nevada somewhat differs with California; they require either a completed approved course or taking the DMV motorcycle written and skills test. If the DMV test is not taken, drivers have the option to take a course certified by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Nevada is also known to have off-road motorcycles on their roads. This recently sparked some controversy, as the Nevada DMV stated that off-road motorcycles can be converted for use on Nevada public roads if it meets the requirements of a two wheeled motorcycle. It also needs to be certified as safe for driving on public roads by the Nevada DMV. If the vehicle was specifically designed for off-road activities, then it is likely prohibited from Nevada roads. Nevada motorcycle laws further go into details as to who may share the road. For example, two motorcycles may share a freeway lane.

Helmet Laws

Under both California and Nevada law, all motorcycle riders are required to wear a helmet that is securely fastened while driving on the highway. If the motorcycle does not have a windshield, then protective eyewear and face masks are required.


Lane-splitting is a common activity that many motorcycle drivers engage in. This is very risky behavior, and could result in severe car accidents. Both California and Nevada law are against lane splitting. They require a motorcyclist to be between 2 lined lanes. Motorcycle drivers are prohibited from swerving between two different lanes, and cannot share a lane with a car vehicle. Further, a motorcycle driver cannot cut off a car vehicle by swerving into their lane. When traffic comes to stop, a motorcycle driver is prohibited from swerving between lanes and sharing lanes with other cars.

Do I Need a Motorcycle Attorney?

If you or a loved one have been pulled over for not having a valid driver’s license, contact our motorcycle attorneys in California today. We have offices in major cities all around California and Nevada. We are readily accessible, and will work to mitigate any circumstance you find yourself in. Contact our attorneys for a free consultation today. Our attorneys are paid on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you do not need to pay for attorney’s fees unless we recover compensation. Our California motorcycle accident lawyers at Heidari Law are knowledgeable in both California and Nevada motorcycle law and will be able to ensure maximum compensation in your motorcycle injuries.

Injured in a Motorcycle Accident?

If you or a loved one have been injured in a motorcycle accident, call our top rated motorcycle accident attorneys to determine what type of damages you could be able to obtain against the liable party. For more information, visit our page on calculating damages from a motorcycle accident. Damages could range from medical bills to emotional distress. Getting involved in a motorcycle car accident is a very stressful and complex situation to be in, leave the legal battle to an experienced team of accident attorneys. Contact us today at Heidari Law Group for a free case evaluation.

***Disclaimer: This page is created by Heidari Law Group for educational purposes. This article provides a general understanding of the law. It does not provide specific advice. By using this site and reading through this page, there is no attorney-client relationship created between you and any member of Heidari Law. Further, due to the constant change of the law, some parts of the information above may no longer be good law.

Sam Heidari

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Sam Heidari

Sam Ryan Heidari

Sam Heidari is the founding principal of Heidari Law Group, a law firm specializing in personal injury, wrongful death, and employment law with offices in California and Nevada. Sam Heidari has been practicing law for over 11 years and handles a wide range of cases including car accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination, and product liability. The Heidari Law Group legal firm is known for its comprehensive approach, handling cases from initial consultation through to final judgment. Sam Heidari is dedicated to community involvement and advocacy for civil liberties.

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