What Age Can a Child Ride on the Back of Motorcycle?

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In 2017, 529 Californian motorcyclists died in traffic accidents. The majority (476) were wearing helmets at the time. Unfortunately, helmets cannot always prevent motorcycle accident deaths – especially when the victim is a child. Child motorcycle passengers are especially vulnerable to personal injuries in traffic accidents. Yet no California laws prohibit minors from riding on the backs of motorcycles. Despite a lack of safety devices and no protective metal shell like in a car, children can ride on motorcycles in California as long as they meet certain requirements.

Are Children Legally Allowed to Ride Passenger on a Motorcycle in California?

Children can lawfully ride as passengers on motorcycles in California. Although the state’s seat belt laws state that all children under the age of eight must have proper safety restraint harnesses when riding in motor vehicles, these laws don’t apply to motorcycles. Children do not need to wear seatbelts on motorcycles, although this can keep them marginally safer in a collision. The California Motorcycle Handbook states that children may ride on motorcycles as long as riders take “proper precautions.” These include:

  • Having a motorcycle with a passenger seat and passenger footrests
  • Making sure the child is tall enough to reach the footrests
  • Equipping the child with a snug, federally approved safety helmet
  • Dressing the child in motorcycle gear: long pants, closed-toed shoes, protective gloves, and a heavy jacket
  • Installing a restraint system for a child passenger

If you must have a child passenger ride on the back of your motorcycle, do so as safely as possible. Most authorities agree, however, that parents should avoid riding with kids on the backs of motorcycles whenever possible. In an accident, children can suffer catastrophic and fatal injuries, such as traumatic brain damage, spinal cord injuries, or organ damage. While an adult motorcyclist can understand and accept these risks, child passengers cannot.

How Old Does a Child Have to Be to Ride?

California does not have an age requirement for children to ride on the backs of motorcycles. Instead, there is a general height requirement – the same as the requirement for using a safety restraining device in standard motor vehicles. A child must be at least four feet, nine inches to lawfully ride on the back of a motorcycle. This is the height at which a child no longer requires a car seat, and at which a child can reach motorcycle passenger footrests. If a child is too short to reach the footrests, odds are that child is an unlawful passenger.

Such was most likely the case in the tragic California death of four-year-old Breann Creer while riding on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Although no charges were ever made against the driver of the motorcycle (her mother’s boyfriend, who suffered extensive injuries in the accident), it is unclear whether Breann was tall enough to ride on the back of the motorcycle according to California standards. The accident occurred when a tractor-trailer made a U-turn in front of the motorcycle. The U-turn was evidently a legal maneuver for the truck to make.

Allowing children to ride as motorcycle passengers is a controversial topic, with many differing opinions. However, California law permits it as long as the child can reach the motorcycle’s passenger footrests and the child is wearing a helmet. Whether or not parents should allow children to ride on motorcycles is a different question, but as long as riders take the necessary precautions, they generally won’t be liable for subsequent injuries to, or the death of, the child.

Get Help for Your Motorcycle Accident Claim

If your child recently suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident, seek counsel from a Los Angeles personal injury attorney. You may have grounds to file a claim against the motorcycle operator, the other driver, a parts manufacturer, or another party in pursuit of damages. A California motorcycle accident lawyer can help you work through the details of your case. Contact our team today! (310) 477-1700