Is a Motorcycle Classified As a Vehicle?

Motorcycles are popular because they are just plain fun. They have a long history and are associated with freedom, the open road, and in some ways, a sense of rebellion. However, are they considered vehicles, and, if so, what features classify them as such? Let’s take a look at what qualifies a motorcycle as a vehicle and the DOT requirements.

A group of motorcyclists riding their motorcycles on a highway.
motorcycle | Getty Images

The DOT considers motorcycles vehicles

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), a motorcycle is defined as a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or a saddle for the rider’s use and designed to travel with not more than three wheels in contact with the ground. As the definition implies, motorcycles can come with more than two wheels. Motorcycles with three wheels are called trikes.

Laws for three-wheel motorcycles can vary from state to state. Many states base the requirements to operate a trike on the roadways based on the wheel configuration. For example, some states allow riders to operate them even if they don’t have the motorcycle endorsement if the wheel configuration is one in the front, two in the back. However, if the wheel configuration is one wheel in front and two in back, a motorcycle endorsement is needed.

Motorcycles have different requirements than cars and trucks

In general, motorcycles and cars need to obey the same rules of the road. If there is any rule-breaking, for example, if a motorcyclist is speeding, they will receive the same fines as if the vehicle were a car or truck. However, seat belts are not required on motorcycles, and in most states, there are seatbelt laws.

Motorcyclists may be required to wear a helmet in some states. Statistically, 40% of fatal motorcycle accidents involve riders that are not licensed properly, making proper licensure important to operate motorcycles safely.

Some laws are specific to motorcycles, such as two motorcycles are allowed to occupy a single lane. Some states also have laws that require motorcyclists to wear eye protection, such as Florida, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. 

Licensing for motorcycles

There are requirements that a person must meet to operate a motorcycle. The learner’s permit is a written test and also requires an eye exam. A rider course is a good idea even if it isn’t required because it helps familiarize riders with motorcycle laws and riding techniques. Some states will offer the endorsement after the rider course is completed without taking the road test.

Then, a motorcycle learner’s permit can be obtained so that the rider can get experience in real-life situations on the road. The permit will last 6 to 18 months, depending on state laws.

Once the rider has practiced enough and feels ready, it’s time to take the road skills test. The bike used to take the test must have a valid license plate, registration, and insurance. After passing the road skills test, the rider will receive a new license with a motorcycle endorsement. 

Motorcycles are a great alternative to cars and trucks because they tend to be more affordable to purchase. They are not only an economical way to get around, but they are also endlessly fun. Taking the right precautions and being well-versed in the road rules can make them a safe alternative to commuting in a car or truck.  Because operating a vehicle and riding a motorcycle require different skill sets, practice and instruction are essential when purchasing a motorcycle as an alternative to cars and trucks.

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