Share the Road, Share the Rules: What You Need to Know to Safely Operate a Motorcycle in Colorado
More people are riding motorcycles in the U.S. than ever before. In 2015, there were 191,206 motorcycles registered in our state, and the number continues to rise. Colorado motorcyclist fatalities are also up, hitting an all-time high in 2016 when 125 riders were killed.
The best way to safely ride a motorcycle in Colorado is to get the facts about the law, the best ways to avoid injury, and what to do if you’re involved in a crash.
Colorado Motorcycle Safety Laws
Motorcyclists must abide by the same traffic laws as any other motorist. The minimum safety standards for motorcycles in Colorado include:
To apply for or add a motorcycle endorsement in Colorado, riders must have a valid Colorado driver’s license. Two types of motorcycle endorsements are available:
- The “M” motorcycle endorsement, under which a motorcyclist can drive both two- and three-wheel motorcycles.
- The “3” endorsement, for operating only three-wheel motorcycles.
An endorsement can be acquired in one of two ways:
- By successfully passing the motorcycle written exam; purchasing a motorcycle instruction permit; scheduling and passing the motorcycle driving skills test; and buying a new driver’s license to add the motorcycle endorsement.
- By successfully completing a Motorcycle Operator Safety Training (MOST) course; presenting the original license waiver card at a Colorado driver’s license office; and obtaining a new driver’s license to add the motorcycle endorsement.
Colorado accepts motorcycle endorsements from other states, but requires operators to visit a driver’s license office to add a motorcycle endorsement to their driver’s license; endorsements cannot be obtained by mail, online, or over the phone.
Minors under 18 are required to purchase and maintain a motorcycle instruction permit for one year before they are permitted to add a motorcycle endorsement to their Colorado license. Those under 16 must be under the express supervision of a MOST motorcycle instructor at all times during motorcycle operation.
Rules of the Road: Passing or overtaking a vehicle in the same lane is illegal in Colorado. Motorcycles can share a lane or “co-ride” with one other motorcycle, but a motorcycle cannot be attached to another vehicle (towing). Colorado has no limitations regarding passenger age, helmet speakers, turn signals, or handlebars.
Lane splitting is not permitted in Colorado, meaning no person may drive a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic. Although riding two abreast in a single lane is permissible in Colorado, motorcyclists should ride offset, not directly parallel to each other, to be the most visible to other motorists.
Passengers: According to state law, motorcycles in Colorado must have footrests for passengers, and passengers must use them. Passengers are legally required to ride on the seat behind the driver or to the side in a sidecar, never in front of the driver.
Appropriate Gear: In spite of overwhelming evidence supporting helmet use, adult motorcycle drivers or passengers are not required to wear helmets in Colorado, although those under age 18 must wear helmets that meet or exceed the standards established by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Why Do Motorcycle Accidents Happen?
Some of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents and injuries include:
Speeding: Speeding frequently leads to motorcycle crashes, mainly because drivers who are exceeding the speed limit do not have time to slow down or react to the vehicles around them, particularly motorcycles, which may be difficult to see due to their relatively small size.
Braking Systems: Motorcycles can be more difficult to stop than a car, largely because the front and rear wheels have separate brakes: Braking hard can cause the motorcycle to flip, but not braking firmly enough can also result in a crash. Antilock brakes allow a rider to brake fully without fear of locking up the motorcycle.
Weather Conditions: Poor visibility and adverse road conditions due to weather are the cause of many motorcycle accidents. When riding in the rain, motorcyclists need to be most cautious when it first begins to rain, because that is when the road surface is most slippery. Once oil on the surface is washed off, traction will typically be better, but never equal to that of a dry road.
Night Driving: Dusk can be the most dangerous time to drive a car or ride a motorcycle, so slowing down and taking extra care is advisable just after sunset, when people’s eyes are adjusting from daylight to headlights. Motorcyclists should also keep an eye on the road’s surface at night since it is more difficult to see debris when the road is dark. Motorcyclists who are conspicuous are less likely to get involved in crashes, so the use of high beams whenever possible (without blinding other drivers) is encouraged.
Impairment: According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 30 percent of the motorcycle riders who were involved in fatal crashes in 2014 had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more (the national definition of drunk driving). That same year, 29 percent of the motorcycle riders who were fatally injured were riding impaired.
Prevention Is Key
Some ways to avoid injury while riding a motorcycle include:
Proper Training: Training is one of the most effective ways to stay safe and reduce the risk of injury. There are many organizations across the U.S. that offer Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses, including state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations.
Defensive Driving: Motorcyclists need to practice defensive driving techniques. This does not mean driving particularly slowly, but rather with extra caution, by:
- Being aware of the surroundings.
- Staying focused on the road.
- Being prepared to react quickly to avoid a crash.
Motorcycle Maintenance: A motorcycle requires regular maintenance to operate properly, and part of the responsibility of owning one is either performing this maintenance personally or seeing that it gets done. Simply washing and detailing a motorcycle can expose areas of concern, and changing the oil regularly — every three months or 3,000 miles — will help keep a motorcycle running smoothly.
Road Condition Awareness: Skilled motorcyclists monitor weather conditions closely, avoiding rain, excessive heat, and severe cold. If a motorcyclist must ride in these circumstances, he should take a short break every few hours to avoid fatigue, slow down if visibility is poor, and consider stopping for the night in the middle of a long trip.
Motorcycle Accident Injuries
Protective Clothing and Equipment: Motorcycle accidents often result in fatalities because the motorcycle itself provides little or no protection in a crash. Riders who wear suitable gear typically have a better chance of avoiding serious injury. According to the Colorado Motorcycle Operator’s Handbook, safety gear that all motorcyclists should wear includes:
- Protective clothing
- Face or eye protection
- A motorcycle helmet that meets the standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a helmet will protect the head and face, cut down on wind noise, deflect bugs and other objects flying through the air, make a rider more comfortable during variable weather conditions, and help lessen fatigue.
The most common injury resulting from a motorcycle accident is a head injury, which can range anywhere in severity from a concussion to brain damage. To protect themselves from such debilitating injuries, all motorcyclists should wear a helmet.
Involved in a Motorcycle Accident in Colorado? What to Do
Like other Colorado motorists, motorcyclists must carry liability insurance in accordance with the state’s financial responsibility law:
- $25,000 per person (bodily injury)
- $50,000 per accident (bodily injury)
- $15,000 per accident (property damage)
If you’re involved in a motorcycle accident in Colorado, you should:
- Never drive away, as it is illegal to leave an accident scene in Colorado.
- Report the accident immediately. (The police report will help establish liability.)
- Seek medical attention, even if you don’t think you are injured.
- Notify your insurance company, but don’t speak to the liability carrier until after you’ve consulted with an attorney.
- Don’t sign anything until you get legal advice.
If you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident anywhere in Colorado, please contact our office for a free consultation about your case.