Motorcycle Safety & Tennessee Law

Motorcycle Safety & Tennessee Law

Sport, Standard, or Cruiser?  Gas or electric? 2 wheels or 3?

There are a variety of options for motorcycle beginners and experts to ride the hills, mountains, and cities of Tennessee.  Before motorcyclists adventure out, they should be aware of the safety and legal requirements of Tennessee law.

License Requirements

Two-wheeled motor vehicles with engines larger than 126 cc (cylinder capacity or cubic centimeter capacity) require a special Class M license for operation.   Drivers may apply for a motorcycle-only license or a motorcycle-secondary license if their main transportation vehicle is a car.  Drivers must be 16 years of age and older.

Motor-driven cycles, aka scooters, require a Class M limited license.  Scooter engines vary from 51-125 cc.  Motorized bicycles under 51 cc only require a driver’s license.  15- and 16-year-olds may apply for restricted license to operate a scooter or motorized bicycle between the hours of 4:00 am and 8:00 pm and within seven-mile radius of the driver’s home.

Did you know?

The Tennessee Department of Safety administers the Motorcycle Rider Education Program (MREP) which provides rider education and other motorcycle issues through two programs for both beginners and experienced riders.  Those who successfully complete either course are entitled to insurance premium discounts.  Those applying for a TN motorcycle license who bring their course certificate within a year of issuance will have their license skills and knowledge tests waived.

Equipment Requirements
  • A safety helmet is required to be worn by motorcyclists.  Approved helmets include DOT (FMVSS 218 Certified), CSPM, SNELL, and SIRC.
  • The daytime use of headlight is required.
  • The motorcyclist must wear eye protection unless the motorcycle is equipped with a windshield.
  • Motorcycles must be equipped with 2 rearview mirrors and securely attached footrests and seats for operators and passengers.
  • Mufflers are required on motorcycles.
  • Cutouts are prohibited.
  • Lane splitting, drag racing, wheelies, and reckless driving are not legal on Tennessee public roads.
Safety

The Tennessee Highway Safety Office reminds all motorists to “look twice” and safely “share the road” to help keep motorcyclists safe. The most common configuration of motorcycle accidents in the United States is when a motorist pulls out or turns in front of a motorcyclist, violating their right-of-way.  Intersections are where most motorcycle accidents occur.

Motorcycles are the most vulnerable on the road. There are no seat belts, so a rider may be thrown off their seat in a crash. Wearing a helmet increases chances for survival. Motorcyclists should watch their position within truck and other vehicle blind spots. To decrease chance of severe injury, inspect your motorcycle before each ride and wear protective clothing.

Liability and Fault

Tennessee is a comparative fault state.  If a motorcyclist is in an accident with another vehicle on the road, both parties could be at fault.  The motorcyclist is liable for the amount their actions contributed to the accident.  Whoever is more than 50% responsible for the accident cannot recover damages for the altercation.

Motorcycle Facts
  • Motorcycles are not heavy enough to trigger the vehicle detection sensor at some traffic lights.  At these intersections, Tennessee allows a motorcyclist to proceed, with caution, through a red-light intersection after coming to a full and complete stop.
  • Motorcycle deaths accounted for 14% of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2019, even though motorcycles are only 3% of the vehicles on the road.
  • Motorcyclists are 28 times more likely than car occupants to die in a car crash.
  • More than 80% of these types of crashes result in an injury or death.
  • In the past 20 years, known motorcyclist deaths have increased significantly in Tennessee.
  • In the past five years, Tennessee has averaged 150 motorcyclist deaths per year.
  • Tennessee has approximately 3,000 motorcycle crashes a year.
  • Tennessee is one of 19 states that requires all riders to wear helmets.  Only three states, Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire, have no mandatory helmet laws.
Ride Responsibly

Motorcycle drivers should know local traffic laws and pay attention to traffic lights, signs, speed limits, and lane markings.  Driving defensively, leaving room to maneuver, and taking note of the vehicles around contributes to a safer ride.  Most multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents are caused when other drivers do not see the motorcyclist.  Reflective materials on clothing and the motorcycle increase visibility as well as using the headlights and high beams during the day. Stay alert to stay alive.

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