Whether you’re a new or experienced motorcyclist, it can be challenging to keep track of both state and general traffic laws. It gets more confusing when you travel to a neighboring state; there’s a good chance the laws differ there. While some of these regulations seem reasonable — especially those intended to keep riders safe — others defy common sense. Here are seven of the strangest motorcycle laws by state.
1. Montana: confusing noise laws
A few states regulate noise output from motorcycles while other states outlaw muffler modifications. But Montana law 61-9-418 is different. If you own a vintage Yamaha TX 750 or any other bike made before 1987, you’ll need a noise level meter to figure out whether you need a muffler in order to legally ride. Then you have to decipher this state’s six categories of decibel levels according to the bike’s age.
By drafting such a confusing law it seems like Montana just wants most vintage bike owners to install a new muffler regardless of the bike’s age. Ironically, if they ride over the line into Wyoming, there are no muffler requirements.
2. Illinois: No helmet, no headset?
Illinois and Iowa are the holdout states for not requiring bikers to wear helmets. It seems as if the former state wants people to ride even more unencumbered. Illinois Vehicle Code Section 12-610 prohibits the use of headsets while riding a motorcycle.
But you can use a single-sided headset like a Bluetooth earpiece. You’re in luck if you’re a licensed amateur radio operator because you’re allowed to wear a headset while riding. But you still risk head injury in a crash.
3. Delaware: You must own a helmet but you don’t have to use it
It’s smart to wear a helmet. Period. And it’s the law in nearly all of the U.S. But several states have legal loopholes that permit riders to have the wind blow through their hair, no matter the risk of head injury and death. Delaware is one of those states, but with a twist.
This law says motorcycle operators under the age of 19 must wear a helmet. But then it states that riders over this age must have a helmet in their possession when riding. So if a rider wants to carry his or her helmet instead of wearing it, the First State is perfectly okay with it.
4. Maryland: No cursing
Maybe you’re cruising on your Harley in Rockville, near Washington, D.C. If you hit a pothole and spit out a curse word within earshot of others, watch out. You may be fined $100 for violating the town’s profanity law, Sec. 13-53. It states that a “person may not profanely curse and swear or use obscene language upon or near any street, sidewalk or highway within the hearing of persons passing by.” While this law may deter road rage, we wonder how well Rockville can enforce this law among drivers and riders.
5. New Mexico: Lane splitting by any other name
Some states avoid a controversial issue by establishing a law that says more between the lines. The Land of Enchantment’s Statute 66-7-325 does this. On the surface, the rule is about properly positioning your motorcycle for turning and using turn signals. But it’s actually about lane splitting, which is illegal in New Mexico.
If a motorcyclist breaks this law, they could also be cited for violating other laws concerning driving on roadways laned for traffic and turning properly at intersections. Compare this to California’s clearly defined lane-splitting law. And it’s legal there, too.
6. Minnesota: No pants, no rider education
Getting your motorcycle license means you learn important things, like what kind of clothing can protect you while riding. But should there be a state law requiring high school students in motorcycle programs to wear long pants? Oh, Minnesota, we’d hope this would be common sense, but obviously not everyone got the message.
7. Various states: Red lights aren’t a problem for motorcycles
The “Dead Red” law allows motorcyclists to treat a stoplight like a stop sign, as long as they yield to other traffic before moving forward. It’s valid in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Similar laws exist in Oregon and Washington.
The majority of stoplight sensors recognize a specific amount of metal, like a car or truck. A motorcycle has less metal, which these sensors can fail to identify. This is why the law was created. But states differ on how long you must wait before proceeding.
Unfortunately, many car drivers don’t know about this law and see it as a free pass for bikers to run a red light. One solution would be to increase driver awareness of the law, for the safety of all vehicle operators on the road. But it remains to be seen whether states will take this extra step.