Requirements for Riding a Motorcycle in New York

motorcycle rider

You may be eager to hit the road on two wheels, but before you venture onto New York streets, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with local laws and riding requirements.

At Finz & Finz, P.C. our legal team wants to help you understand safe motorcycle riding in New York. Knowledge of the law can help keep you safe while exploring the Empire State.

New York Motorcycle Laws

Before legally operating a motorcycle in New York, you must earn a Class M or Class MJ driver’s license or permit. You can apply for the appropriate license at the New York Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV requires proof of age, identity, and residence. You must also acquire a permit before you can apply for a full license. Once you have the appropriate documentation, you can apply to take your written motorcycle permit test online or in person at any New York DMV location.

After passing the written test, you will receive a motorcycle permit and can schedule your road test. If you pass the road test and pay all applicable fees, the state issues you a temporary motorcycle license within two weeks. For drivers who already have a valid New York driver’s license, passing all requirements means you may add the Class M designation to your current license at a DMV office seven days after completing a successful motorcycle road test. If you do not have a driver’s license, the DMV will issue one within about two weeks.

Motorists can waive the road test if they complete a state-approved motorcycle safety course. Completing a course in another state does not waive the motorcycle road test requirement.

As with other motor vehicles, New York requires motorcycle operators to register vehicles with the state and carry valid insurance. You must get a motorcycle inspection once every 12 months at a station licensed by the DMV. When riding, keep a copy of your license, registration, and insurance information on you.

Requirements for motorcycles include:

  • Motorcycles must include approved and operational headlights, rear lights, a stop lamp, and a license plate lamp. Motorcycles should also have at least one red reflector on the rear of the vehicle and directional signals if the motorcycle is a 1985 model or newer.
  • Brakes on both wheels
  • At least one mirror mounted on a handlebar
  • Approved mufflers, as mufflers with removable baffles are prohibited
  • Handlebars that come no higher than shoulder height to the operator
  • A designated seat for passengers is the operator carries passengers
  • A horn or other warning device

New York Helmet Laws

Under New York law, all motorcyclists and passengers must wear a helmet approved by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT). Operators must also wear eye protection, even if the motorcycle has a windshield. Eye protection can include goggles, or a face shield attached to a helmet.

Helmets should fit snugly but not feel tight. Once on, it should not be able to move freely on your head. Measure the circumference of your head for the best fit. However, consider your head shape as well. If you are unsure what size and shape helmet will protect you, most retailers are happy to help you find the correct fit.

Beware of novelty helmets when shopping. A USDOT-approved helmet has a decal on the back with the DOT symbol indicating that it meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard requirements. Snell and other independent safety inspectors have a separate rating system for certifying helmets. Helmets that meet DOT and Snell safety requirements may give you an extra sense of security.

New York Motorcycle Accident Statistics

New York requires all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear approved safety helmets because helmets save lives. Data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration show that motorcyclists are almost 28 times more likely to die in traffic accidents than those driving passenger vehicles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent. Wearing a helmet also reduces the risk of death by at least 37 percent.

In New York City, only 2 percent of registered vehicles are motorcycles. However, data from a New York City Motorcycle Safety Study shows motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of traffic fatalities. As recently as May 2022, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee issued a statement indicating a 50 percent increase in fatal motorcycle crashes. In 2021, motorcycle crash fatalities represented over 18 percent of motor vehicle crash fatalities in the state.

Preventing Motorcycle Accidents

Understanding New York’s unique motorcycle laws and regulations is step one in protecting yourself when riding. However, there are other measures you can take to prevent significant accidents while exploring the open roads of New York’s countryside or the packed city streets of the Big Apple.

  • Gear Up – Wearing a helmet is mandatory. You can also protect yourself when riding by wearing the right gear. Choose sturdy shoes or boots, long pants, leather chaps, and a jacket. Durable nylon jackets and clothing or items reinforced with Kevlar or Dyneema also offer good protection from road rash. Consider wearing gloves, as well.
  • Enroll in a Safety Course – It never hurts to brush up on your driving skills. Consider enrolling in a motorcycle safety course.
  • Check road conditions and weather –Before you hit the road, check local weather and road conditions. New York 511 offers up-to-date road conditions, weather alerts, incident closures, and construction information.
  • Stay visible –Never assume other drivers can see you. Try to stay visible, meaning stay out of blind spots for prolonged periods and wear bright or reflective clothing.
  • Inspect your motorcycle every time-Before you get on your motorcycle, check your tires, headlights, brakes, and turn signals. Take the time to ensure your vehicle is safe before every ride.

Contact an Experienced New York Motorcycle Accident Attorney for Help

You can take every safety precaution and still find yourself on the wrong end of a collision with a motorist. If you are injured in a crash involving a careless driver, contact an experienced motorcycle accident attorney with Finz & Finz, P.C. Our legal team is committed to helping you pursue the compensation you deserve.

For a free case review, contact our New York office today. We can review the specifics of your situation and outline your legal options.




  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.