A Guide to Washington State Motorcycle Laws

Whether you ride a motorcycle or drive a car, it’s important to know the motorcycle laws for Washington State. We have an obligation to keep our roads safe. Motorcyclists must adhere to the same basic rules of the road that other motor vehicles do. However, the State has some laws specifically geared to motorcyclists.

In this post, we will look at some of the key motorcycle laws for Washington State. As laws can and do change, we will periodically review this post for any corrections.

Last updated: May 2023

Overview of Washington State’s Motorcycle Laws

There are many laws that apply to motorcyclists in Washington State. Here is a brief overview of some of the key laws:

Legal Definition of a Motorcycle in Washington

A motorcycle is legally defined in Washington as a motor vehicle that travels on not more than three wheels. The motorcyclist rides on a seat or saddle and steers it with a handlebar.

There are other, similar types of vehicles that don’t fall under the definition of a motorcycle. For instance, a moped, motorized foot scooter, or power wheelchair are not legally classified as motorcycles. We have also discussed Washington e-bike laws separately.

Motorcycle Endorsement Licensing Requirements

To ride a motorcycle in the State of Washington, a rider’s license needs to have a special motorcycle endorsement. Failure to do so can result in penalties, including fines. This endorsement isn’t needed if you’re riding a moped or motorized scooter.

So how do you get the motorcycle endorsement on your Washington State driver’s license? Here are the requirements:

  1. You must be at least 16 years old. (If you are under 18, you’ll need to pass a motorcycle safety course and have a parent sign a consent form.)
  2. You must have a valid Washington State Driver’s License.
  3. You must pass a 2W or 3W permit motorcycle operation and riding skills tests. The permit will be valid for 180 days.
  4. When ready, pass the 2W or 3W endorsement motorcycle operation and riding skills tests.

In other words, you will need to pass a total of four tests (two for the permit and two for the endorsement). This was enacted in 2020 to reduce motorcycle fatalities through increased safety training. For more information on getting your endorsement, please see the DOL website. You can also send your questions to the email address motorcycle@dol.wa.gov.

Motorcycle Insurance Requirements

As of July 2019, all motorcyclist must be insured in Washington State. However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, you could opt instead to hold a liability bond of at least $60,000. (Side note – we highly recommend you get insurance. Collisions can be extremely costly events.)

Like other motorists, you should keep proof of insurance with you whenever you’re on the road. By law, you need to furnish this proof to law enforcement if asked.

Here’s how much insurance motorcyclists must carry, at a minimum:

  • $25,000 for injuries or death to another person
  • $50,000 for injuries or death to all other people
  • $10,000 for damage to another’s property

Keep in mind that these are minimums, and they only cover expenses you cause to others. We recommend that you add comprehensive and collision. We’ve also written more about why we highly recommend PIP and UM/UIM coverage (make sure to read those posts for details). These additional coverages can help cover medical expenses and damages to your motorcycle, even if you caused the accident. Discuss your needs and options with your insurance agent.

Washington Motorcycle Helmet Law

Motorcyclists must wear a helmet when riding on Washington roads. Additionally, our law requires that motorcycles be outfitted with side mirrors and that riders wear goggles or a face shield.

To learn more about the impact of this law, please read our post on how helmets save motorcyclists’ lives.

Motorcyclists May Not Drive Under the Influence

It is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Washington State. You can be charged with a DUI if you are found, within two hours of driving to have:

  • An alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater, and/or
  • A TCH concentration of 5.00 or greater.

The exact numbers may change over time. As a result of increased alcohol-related crashes, Washington lawmakers have proposed lowering the legal alcohol concentration limit to 0.05. Others have argued that the TCH concentration level of 5.00 is arbitrary, and that we don’t have a reliable way of measuring impairment caused by cannabis.

In other words, it is possible that our DUI law could change soon. If so, motorcyclists should expect the law to become tougher, not relaxed.

Lane Splitting is Illegal in Washington

Washington State law prohibits lane splitting. Lane splitting is when a motorcycle maneuvers between two lanes, typically to pass through slower moving or stopped traffic. There has been much discussion over the years if the practice should be legalized here. Currently, lane splitting is legal only in California.

Motorcyclists are entitled to full use of a lane. This also means that other drivers need to give motorcyclists that right and not crowd or run a motorcyclist off the road. Motorcyclists are also permitted to rude up to two abreast in a single lane.

Motorcycle Passenger Requirements

A passenger may ride on a motorcycle only if the motorcycle is properly equipped with another seat. Additionally, the passenger must have access to their own foot pegs or ride in a bucket seat equipped with a seat belt.

Children under the age of 5 are strictly prohibited from riding as a passenger on a motorcycle. (This law is outlined in the same RCW that discusses helmets and other equipment.)

Washington Motorcycle Noise Restriction Law

Believe it or not, Washington has a noise restriction law for motor vehicles. This includes motorcycles. The law states that all vehicles must be equipped with an exhaust system and muffler in good working condition to prevent excessive noise.

Other obnoxious behavior such as screeching or squealing tires is also illegal. (Of course, there’s an exception for maneuvers such as emergency braking to avoid a collision.)

Pursuing Justice after a Motorcycle Accident

If you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident, we welcome you to reach out to our team of lawyers. Chances are that your expenses are significant as motorcycle injuries are often very serious. It’s always free to call us to see if you have a case. Plus, we only charge a fee if we’re able to win your case. To get started, call us or fill out the short form on our website.

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