Minnesota’s Motorcycle Laws

Minnesota Laws and Regulations

All motorcycle operators with a license must:

  • Have a valid driver’s license with a motorcycle instruction permit or endorsement.
  • Register their motorcycle and display a valid license plate.
  • Carry liability insurance.
  • Carry proof of insurance when riding.
  • Wear eye protection: face shield, goggles, or glasses. Windshields do not meet legal requirements.

Motorcycle operators with a learner’s permit*

  • Must wear a DOT-approved helmet. A DOT-approved helmet has a DOT sticker on the back. For a helmet to be DOT-approved, it goes through a regimen of testing related to protection during impact, penetration, and ability to stay on the rider’s head during an accident.
  • May not carry passengers.
  • May not ride on Interstate freeways.
  • May not ride at night.
  • *Motorcycle permits are valid for one year.

Motorcycle operators under the age of 18 must:

  • Wear a DOT-approved helmet.

Trike (3-wheel) and sidecar operators:

  • Must have a motorcycle instruction permit, motorcycle endorsement, or “also valid for 3-wheel motorcycle” under restrictions.

Rules of the road:

  • Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of their lanes and have all the rights and duties of other drivers.
  • Motorcyclists are permitted to travel in high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) carpool lanes.
  • All laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs apply to motorcyclists as well.
  • Careless and reckless driving applies to motorcyclists as well, and includes “wheelies,” “stoppies,” standing on the seat, etc.
  • A motorcyclist may only ride on a permanent seat. Passengers may ride on a passenger seat or in a sidecar.
  • Passengers under the age of 18 must wear a DOT-approved helmet.
  • Passengers must be able to reach both footrests while seated on the passenger seat.
  • Operators and passengers must face forward with one leg on each side of the motorcycle.
  • Motorcyclists must not carry anything that interferes with holding onto the handlebars.
  • Splitting traffic, by riding between lanes of traffic or in the same lane with another vehicle, is illegal. It is legal for two motorcyclists to ride side-by-side if both riders agree to it.
  • Motorcyclists are provided with an affirmative defense when proceeding through an unchanging red light that has shown red for an unreasonable time if no vehicle or pedestrian is approaching the street.
  • Headphones/earphones are permitted in one ear only.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 100,000 motorcyclists have been killed in accidents in the last 40 years. Approximately ¾ of all motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle, usually a car, and most of these were caused by failure of the driver of the vehicle to yield right-of-way to the motorcycle or fails to see the motorcycle. If you are on a motorcycle and are hit by a car, you are three times more likely to be seriously injured, and fourteen times more likely to be killed, than a person injured in an accident involving two cars.

Motorcyclists have to wear a helmet to lower the chance of a head injury. A motorcyclist can reduce the risk of a fatality by 29% and decrease the chance of a traumatic brain injury by 67% by wearing a helmet. Minnesota Department of Public Safety statistics show that the majority of motorcyclists killed in Minnesota over the past decade were not wearing helmets. Approximately 574 Minnesotans have died in motorcycle accidents over the past decade.

If You Are Involved in a Motorcycle Accident:

  • Seek medical attention and treatment right away.
  • Contact law enforcement and file a report.
  • Inform your insurance company that you have been involved in an accident as soon as possible.
  • Take photographs of the scene of the accident and damage to your motorcycle all of the vehicles involved in the accident, if possible.
  • Obtain names of persons involved in the accident and witnesses and obtain driver’s license and insurance information from all persons involved in the accident.

Some Safety Tips for Motorcyclists:

  • Wear a helmet. Wear a helmet! WEAR A HELMET!!!! According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), helmets are proven to be 37% effective at preventing fatalities to motorcycle drivers and 41% effective for passengers.
  • Reduce alcohol impairment – NHTSA reports that in 2010 29% of motorcycle fatalities had a bac of .08 or higher. That is the highest impairment rate of all vehicles on the road.
  • Reduce speeding – the most recent data shows 35% of motorcycle riders killed on the roads were speeding, and more than half of these crashes did not involve another vehicle.
  • Provide motorcycle operator training to all that need or want it – most states offer training programs, but some do not provide convenient times or locations for the riders to attend.
  • Encourage all drivers to share the roads with motorcyclists.

Attorney Laura J. Busian