To understand San Diego motorcycle safety, one needs to understand the inherent risks of riding and what potential hazards to void. Motorcyclists are nearly 28 times more likely than car drivers to die if they get in an accident. Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car for several reasons.

Motorcycle Safety Hazards

Debris and objects on the road

Motorcycles have less weight than automobiles and have less stability because they are on two wheels.  As such, hazards that have little effect on cars such as leaves, brush, dirt, gravel, and other debris on the pavement can cause a motorcycle to lose traction and crash. 

Debris on the road is especially dangerous for motorcyclists while cornering.  Winding roads which require lots of cornering are popular with motorcyclists but are often more likely to have debris on the pavement due to the surrounding terrain and natural slopes. 

Other objects on the road may include tire treads, branches, rocks, and things that have fallen from trucks such as tools, furniture, boxes, and appliances.  These objects can cause a crash and can also hit and seriously injure the motorcycle rider.

Slick surfaces

Slick surfaces are dangerous for motorcycles because they cause the motorcycle to lose traction.  Oil, antifreeze, and other fluid spills cause road surfaces to become slippery.  Wet pavement, mud, snow, and ice are slick surfaces that can cause an accident.  Other slippery road conditions are less obvious.  Crosswalk lines and other painted surfaces become slick when wet, as do manhole covers, and train and trolley tracks. 

The first rain after a dry spell is particularly dangerous for motorcycles because of the accumulated oil and other fluids on the surface of the pavement.  The first 30 minutes of rain are the most dangerous because the surface oils have not yet been washed away.  Motorcyclists should avoid slick surfaces.  If you must pass over a slippery surface, reduce your speed, avoid sudden movements, and use both brakes.

Uneven surfaces

Uneven road surfaces are more dangerous for motorcycles than for cars because motorcycles are smaller and less stable.  Potholes, divots, bumps, and broken pavement can buck a rider off the motorcycle and send them flying.  Rough and bumpy roads, whether caused by disrepair, construction, or resurfacing efforts, can be dangerous for motorcyclists. 

Sometimes different sections of the road are at different heights.  Joints, where two pieces of road connect, may have uneven ledges.  Two traffic lanes may be of different heights.  Bridge joints that connect a road to a bridge, or connect two pieces of a bridge, may also have uneven ledges.  Uneven surfaces such as these can cause a motorcycle to crash even if they are easy for cars to navigate. 

Inclement weather

Rain, snow, hail, and fog are especially dangerous for motorcyclists because they reduce visibility and cause the roads to become slick.  Inclement weather makes it more difficult for the motorcycle rider to see, and more difficult for other vehicles to see the rider.  San Diego sometimes goes long periods without rain, meaning that when it does rain the roads become very slick with accumulated oil.

Automobile drivers are protected from the elements by a roof, windshield, doors, and windows.  Motorcycle drivers are not.  Cars have windshield wipers and washers to assist with visibility in rain and snow.  Motorcycles do not.  Motorcyclists should avoid riding inclement weather unless it is really necessary and should exercise extreme precaution when doing so. 


Hitting a small animal can throw a motorcycle off balance and cause an accident.  Large animals, like deer, are a major hazard in areas with large deer populations.  Hitting a deer while riding a motorcycle can be fatal, especially while driving at high speed. 

Dogs can be a problem for motorcyclists.  Hitting a dog can result in death or serious injury for the rider, but hitting a dog is not the only bad outcome.  Off-leash dogs can cause the motorcyclist to swerve, lose control, run off the road, or otherwise cause a serious accident.  In this case, the dog owner or person responsible for the dog is responsible for the accident.  San Diego leash laws require that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times except when confined to a home or backyard (or at a designated dog park).

Drunk motorists

Drunk motorists are especially dangerous for motorcycle riders because motorcycles offer almost no protection in a collision.  Motorcycle riders should always be watching for erratic drivers and keep as much distance from them as possible, especially when riding at night.  Signs that a driver is intoxicated include swerving, erratic acceleration, or deceleration, driving well above or well below the speed limit, driving with headlights off at night, collisions or near collisions, stopping or turning abruptly, driving down the wrong side of the road, veering across lanes, failure to follow traffic signals and slow response time.  When a drunk motorist causes an accident, they are responsible for all the damage they cause.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that approximately 50 percent of motorcycle-vehicle collisions occur at intersections.  Intersections where vision is impeded by buildings, plants, or parked vehicles are especially dangerous for motorcycles.  Some of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents at intersections are speeding, running red lights, distracted driving, failing to see a stopped motorcycle, and failing to yield while making a left turn.

Left-hand turns

Left-hand turn accidents occur when a driver fails to yield and makes a left-hand turn in front of another driver.  During a left turn, drivers must cross the path of oncoming traffic. As such, left-hand turns pose the risk of a driver turning in front of a driver traveling in the opposite direction.  This risk is much greater for motorcycles due to their narrow profile, which makes it more difficult for other drivers to see them and judge their distance.  The NHTSA reports that 42 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes occur when a vehicle makes a left turn in front of a motorcycle. 

The left-turn right-of-way law is clear: drivers turning left must yield to oncoming traffic.  So, a driver who fails to yield and hits a motorcycle while turning left will almost certainly be at fault.  However, the motorcyclist may share fault if they speed, run a red light, or travel in the wrong lane.  Motorcyclists should anticipate that oncoming drivers may make a left-hand turn in front of them (especially at intersections) and prepare to make defensive maneuvers. 

Lane splitting

Lane splitting means driving a motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving traffic. California is one of few states that allows lane splitting. Lane-splitting accidents may occur because the other driver did not see the motorcyclist traveling between lanes of traffic, made an abrupt lane change without using signals, or drifted from one lane into the other. Motorcyclists should exercise extreme caution when lane splitting and should not speed or weave in and out of lanes. Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could harm the rider is illegal (this includes opening the door to block their path).

Dooring accidents

A dooring accident occurs when someone opens a door in front of a passing motorcycle. Dooring accidents typically happen when a motorcycle is riding between cars (lane splitting) or riding alongside parked cars. California law makes clear that it is illegal to open a door in front of moving traffic. As such, the law is typically on the side of the motorcycle rider (unless the rider was speeding or driving recklessly).

Rear-end collisions

Rear-end collisions occur when a vehicle hits the rear end of a motorcycle.  Rear-end accidents are one of the most serious types of accidents that can happen to a motorcyclist because the bike may lift flip or crash into the vehicle in front of it.  Common causes of rear-end collisions include tailgating, blind curves, distracted driving, and failure to see a motorcycle stopped at an intersection.


Fleeing from the scene of an injury accident is a serious crime.  Call 911 immediately if you were injured by a hit-and-run driver.  Take photos of the vehicle and license plate if you can.  Record everything you can remember about the driver (unique identifying characteristics) and the vehicle (color, make, model, unusual features).  If the driver is not caught, your best source of coverage may be your own insurance company.  However, your insurance company may deny you coverage even if you are entitled to it under your policy.  It is best to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer before you contact an insurance company if you were injured in a hit-and-run.

Motorcycle Safety Tips

Following these safety tips will help you avoid accidents and minimize the risk of getting injured while riding a motorcycle.

Attend a motorcycle rider training course

Make sure that you have the knowledge and skill necessary to ride a motorcycle.  Operating a motorcycle safely requires different skills and knowledge than are needed for operating a car.  Attending a motorcycle rider training course is the best way to learn how to operate a motorcycle safely and skillfully.  Rider-training classes provide professional knowledge and skill that you may not learn if you learn from a friend.  Many motorcycle accidents are caused lack of basic riding skills, such as braking and cornering.  It is best to learn how to ride a motorcycle from a professional instructor.  Motorcyclists under 21 years old are required to complete a motorcycle training course before receiving a motorcycle permit or license.  After completing a motorcycle training course, practice in an empty parking lot or another off-highway area until you perfect the skills of balancing, turning, stopping, and shifting.

Don’t ride without a motorcycle license

It is illegal to ride a motorcycle without a license.  Always carry your license with you when you ride.  Obtaining a motorcycle license requires you to complete a training course or pass a motorcycle driving test at a DMV office.  These prerequisites are designed to keep unsafe drivers off the road.  36 percent of motorcycle riders killed in accidents were driving without a license.

Never ride without a certified helmet and eye protection

A helmet is the most important piece of equipment when riding a motorcycle.  Make sure the helmet fits comfortably and snugly and is fastened for the ride.  Make sure your helmet has the DOT label which certifies that the helmet conforms to the Federal standard.  It is illegal to ride without a DOT-certified helmet, even though only 65 percent of riders used certified helmets in 2021.

It is imperative for motorcyclists to wear eye protection when riding.  The wind can cause the eyes to tear up and blur vision, and clear vision is essential when riding a motorcycle.  Riders must also protect their eyes against dirt, insects, rocks, and other airborne matter.  Choose good quality goggles with plastic or safety lenses, or a helmet equipped with a face shield.  Goggles, glasses, and face shields should be scratch-free, shatterproof, and well-ventilated to prevent them from fogging up.  Tinted shields should not be used at night because they reduce contrast and make it more difficult to see.  As such, only clear shields should be worn at night.  Wear eye protection even if the motorcycle has a windshield.

Inspect your bike before you ride

Check the lights, turn signals, tires, brakes, chain, fuel and oil and levels, mirrors, and control cables before you ride.  Replace any damaged or worn parts at once.  Lubricate and adjust the chain as prescribed in the motorcycle’s owner’s manual.  Read the owner’s manual cover to cover and carry it with you on the motorcycle, along with any recommended tools and spare parts.  The owner’s manual will tell you how to operate, maintain and diagnose problems with your motorcycle.

Wear protective shoes, gloves, and clothing

Protective clothing and equipment serve multiple purposes for motorcycle riders: (1) comfort and protection from the elements (wind, sun, rain, hot and cold temperatures), (2) a means for other motorists to see the motorcyclist (via bright colors or reflective material), and (3) some degree of injury protection in the event of a crash.  Upper-body clothing should be brightly colored.  Jackets should have long sleeves and provide some measure of protection in the event of a crash.  Pants should not be baggy or flared to prevent entanglements with the chain and other parts of the motorcycle.  Don’t wear shorts.  Durable gloves are recommended.  Proper footwear should protect the feet, ankles, and lower part of the leg and should not have dangling laces.  Leather boots are best.  Sandals should be avoided.

Never drink and ride

A motorcycle requires more skill and coordination to operate than a car.  Riding a motorcycle while under the influence of any amount of alcohol significantly impairs the rider’s ability to operate a motorcycle safely.  Drinking and driving is always a bad idea, but it is especially dangerous on a motorcycle.  41 percent of motorcyclists who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2020 were impaired.

Avoid riding in the rain 

Rain impairs vision and causes the roads to become slick.  Rain makes it harder for the rider to see, and harder for other vehicles to see the rider.  If caught in the rain while riding, pull off the road and wait under shelter until the rain stops.  If you must ride in the rain, wear reflective clothing, and try to at least sit out at the beginning of the rain shower.  Conditions are most dangerous in the first 30 minutes of rainfall because of oil and other automobile fluids on the roadway. 

Obey all traffic laws

Traffic laws are in place to protect you and everyone else on the road.  Obey all traffic lights, signs, speed limits, and lane markings.  Use your signals when turning.  Check behind you and signal when changing lanes.  Yield to pedestrians and other vehicles as appropriate.  Do not speed or weave in and out of traffic. 

Always use daytime riding lights

California law requires that motorcycles always have their daytime riding lights on unless the motorcycle was manufactured before 1978. 

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Traffic Safety Facts – Motorcycles

County of San Diego Animal Services – Pet Ownership Laws

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Motorcycle Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Get Up to Speed on Motorcycles

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code § 21801

California Legislative Information – Assembly Bill No. 51

California Highway Patrol – California Motorcyclist Safety

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code § 22517

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code §§ 20001-20002

California Department of Motor Vehicles Motorcycle Handbook – License Requirements

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code § 12500

California Department of Motor Vehicles – Motorcycle Licenses

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code §§ 27802-27803

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Traffic Safety Facts – Motorcycle Helmet Use in 2021

California Legislative Information – California Vehicle Code §§ 25650.5-25651