North Carolina Motorcycle Laws Give You Rights and Responsibilities
Under North Carolina law, an individual must have a motorcycle learner permit or a motorcycle endorsement on their provisional, regular or commercial driver license to operate a motorcycle in the state. To be street legal, a motorcycle must have certain safety equipment.
North Carolina law requires all operators and passengers on motorcycles to wear a motorcycle safety helmet that complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218.
A motorcyclist must follow all the state’s general traffic laws, including speed limits, right-of-way rules, stopping for stoplights and stop signs, and signaling lane changes or turns. These requirements, which are part of N.C. General Statutes Chapter 20 – Motor Vehicles, underscore the state’s intention that motorcycles and motorcyclists will use North Carolina’s public roads alongside other vehicles and other users.
The N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) says motorcycles represent about 2 percent of all registered vehicles in North Carolina, but motorcyclists account for about 10 percent of all fatalities on the state’s roads.
The DMV says there were 3,566 motorcycle accidents in North Carolina in 2018, of which 176 were fatal and 2,806 caused injuries. This does not include more than 1,000 more accidents the DMV classifies as “moped,” and “motor scooter or motor bike” accidents with 20 deaths and 850 injuries.
Common Injuries from Motorcycle Accidents
Motorcyclists do not have the enclosed compartment of a vehicle to protect them in a crash. Further, in a motorcycle accident, the motorcyclist may be injured by the initial collision with a motor vehicle, and again as their body hits the ground and/or another object on the roadside. In some cases, a motorcycle that has been hit and knocked over by a car may drag the rider along the pavement.
Injuries commonly suffered in motorcycle accidents include:
• Head injuries (concussions and more severe traumatic brain injury)
• Spinal cord injuries, which may lead to paralysis
• Broken bones and/or amputation of arms, legs, wrists, ankles, hands, feet, fingers, toes
• Facial injuries, including fractures of the face and jaw, loss of teeth, or disfigurement
• Trunk / chest injuries, such as broken ribs, fractured sternum
• Abdominal injuries, such as vital organ and bowel damage, crushed pelvis
• Burns from contact with hot vehicle parts
Experienced motorcyclists are familiar with “road rash” injuries – cuts, bruises, scrapes and potential degloving injuries – that happen when a rider has been hit and thrown from his motorcycle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says wearing a FMVSS No. 218-compliant motorcycle helmet is estimated to be 37 percent effective at preventing fatal head injuries to motorcycle drivers and 41 percent effective for passengers. In other words, for every 100 motorcycle operators killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets.
Whether a motorcycle accident victim was wearing a helmet has no effect on a claim, because a helmet is not a factor in responsibility for the accident. But wearing a motorcycle helmet may be the deciding factor in pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim.