Motorcyclists in picturesque Delaware often treat themselves to drives on the rolling hills of the Piedmont Plateau and the level flatlands of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Riders who enjoy nature travel the Brandywine Valley Loop and visit Longwood Gardens and Anson B. Nixon Park. These scenic drives, however, must go hand-in-hand with Delaware motorcycle laws that promote safe riding practices, protect riders' rights, and reduce the likelihood of accidents on the roads.
Sadly, the First State recorded a total of 28,473 traffic crashes in 2021 — its third-highest in 10 years — and 139 traffic deaths. The top contributing factor to these accidents was driver inattention, making up around 23% of the total at 6,552 instances. There were 372 motorcycle crashes reported in 2021, and 6% of these collisions resulted in fatalities.
To combat these alarming figures, Delaware has put in place a Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which aims to lower serious injuries and accident-related deaths by 15% from 2021 to 2025. The state hopes to achieve its goal by promoting education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical services.
This article aims to empower riders with knowledge that can contribute to safer and more enjoyable motorcycling experiences. Being well-versed in the state's legal framework will enable riders to confidently navigate Delaware's open roads while fostering a culture of responsible motorcycling.
Delaware Motorcycle Helmet Law
To ensure your helmet meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, you can check for the DOT symbol, which should be easily found on the back outside. The label should contain the following information:
Manufacturer or brand
FMVSS No. 218
Unsafe helmets are normally less than an inch thick and may or may not have a stiff foam inner lining. They are also much lighter, much smaller in diameter, and have plastic buckles that cannot withstand the impact of a crash. These unsafe helmets are marketed as “light-weight,” “thin,” or “novelty” and will not be able to provide any protection in case of an accident.
There are currently no fixed penalties for not following helmet laws in the state, but first-time offenders can be fined anywhere from $25 to $115.
It is highly advisable to wear a helmet at all times while driving a motorcycle around the state, given that a motorist who figures in an accident without wearing safety headgear can end up in far worse shape than if they had a helmet on. Helmets have been statistically proven to reduce the risk of serious head injuries by nearly 70% and fatal head injuries by 65%.
Delaware Headlamp and Tail Lamp Law
Every motorcycle being operated in Delaware is required to have at least one but not more than two headlamps. These lights must be at a height of not more than 54 inches but not less than 24 inches measured from the center of the headlamp to the ground, and they must be seen at a distance of 1,000 feet ahead.
At least one tail lamp is also required, mounted on the rear, and must comply with the specifications listed below:
Must be emitting a red light that is visible from at least 500 feet away.
Must be installed at a height of not more than 72 inches or less than 20 inches.
Must illuminate the rear registration plate enough to be seen at a distance of at least 50 feet away. If not possible, a separate lamp must be installed.
Headlamps and taillamps are required to be turned on after sunset. Additionally, modulating headlights may be installed, if desired, to warn other vehicles on the road. Motorcyclists are also allowed to operate vehicles equipped with LED ground-effect lighting, as long as it only emits a non-flashing white or amber light.
Delaware Spark Arrestor Law
A motorcycle falls under a category called an "off-highway vehicle. OHVs in Delaware are required by law to be equipped with a spark arrestor muffler to reduce the vehicle’s noise emissions to under 60% per revolution per minute, making noise that only ranges below 88 dBA. The only motorcycles exempt from this rule are those used in competitions, and only while they are used in competitions.
Motorcyclists must equip mufflers that are in accordance with manufacturer specifications and are not allowed to use a “muffler cutout,” especially on a highway. It is also considered illegal to sell any muffling devices that are “gutted” or “straight exhaust.”
Mufflers are legally required to maintain peace and quiet, especially in neighborhoods. Violating noise ordinances in Delaware can warrant the offender a fine ranging from $25 to $1,000 for each instance. These laws may differ and be more strict according to the municipality where the motorist is driving.
Delaware Speed Limit Law
Motorcyclists in Delaware must be aware of the types of speeding laws imposed in the state. The general or basic speed rule prohibits motorists from exceeding a reasonable or prudent speed under certain driving conditions. This requires common sense and considering weather, traffic, and other environmental hazards. For example, a posted speed limit may say 30 mph. This may sound reasonable on any given sunny day, but when it is foggy or the visibility is almost zero, it would not be reasonable to drive at this speed.
Meanwhile, absolute speed limits dictate a motorist's maximum speed in certain areas. For example:
Residential and business districts
Four-lane or divided roadways
Violating these speed limit laws may warrant a fine that will depend on how many times the offender has committed the violation and how fast they were going.
5 mph to 15 mph over the speed limit
$1 for each mph over the limit, or $2 if this is a second or subsequent offense
15 mph to 20 mph over the limit
$2 for each mph over the limit, or $3 if this is a second or subsequent offense
20 mph or more over the limit
$3 for each mph over the limit, or $4 if this is a second or subsequent offense
In addition to speeding fines, the offender is likely to face reckless driving charges, depending on the circumstances of their arrest and the nature of the violation. This charge carries a jail sentence of around 10 to 30 days. Fines are also doubled if speeding happens when there’s roadwork or construction, and any speeding violation will cost the driver two to five points added to their driving record.
Delaware Law on Operation of a Motorcycle on Public or Private Property
Because motorcycles are considered off-highway vehicles, they can be operated off the road and onto properties not belonging to the driver. But, in Delaware, it is unlawful to operate a motorcycle on any property without the explicit permission of the owner. Motorcyclists are required to stop and identify themselves to the person in ownership or control of the property they are driving on.
Violating this ordinance will subject the offender to the following penalties:
Impoundment of the motorcycle for a maximum of 30 days. (May be suspended by the court)
Second or any subsequent offense*
Impoundment of the motorcycle for a maximum of 60 days.
* For an offense to be considered a subsequent offense, it must have been committed within 24 months of the last instance.
The motorcycle will be returned to the owner once the impoundment costs have been paid or if the fine is appealed. There is also the chance that the court decides that the owner or operator of the motorcycle is not guilty of the charge.
The owner of the motorcycle will also have to shoulder any compensation for damage done to property or if any personal injuries happened because of the violation.
Delaware Motorcycle Insurance Requirements
Motorcyclists in Delaware are required to have the same minimum insurance coverage as other motorists in the state. The policies below are triggered when your insurance company is obligated to pay a claimant because you were proven to be responsible for an accident.
Bodily Injury Protection
$25,000 for a single person in a single accident
$50,000 for everyone involved in a single accident (at a maximum of $25,000 per person)
$10,000 for the destruction of property
Personal Injury Protection or PIP*
$15,000 for a single person in a single accident
$30,000 for everyone involved in a single accident (at a maximum of $15,000 per person)
$5,000 for funeral expenses
*Your insurance company will pay for medical expenses and lost wages regardless of who was at fault in the accident. The figures above reflect the amount it pays out if you have minimum PIP coverage.
It would be good to know that opting for the lowest insurance premiums may restrict the benefits you can get. For example, in case of an accident, a low-premium policyholder may only get medical and lost wage benefits if the incident happened on a highway and if their motorcycle made actual, physical contact with the other vehicle. They may only become eligible for a wider range of coverage if they upgrade their policy.
To augment the coverage of their basic insurance policies, many motorists choose to add more, such as:
Collision coverage, which offers protection against damage sustained by your vehicle colliding with another vehicle or an object, like a tree or a fire hydrant.
Comprehensive coverage, which offers protection from damage caused by all other things except an accident, like vandalism, natural disasters, fire, and even crashing into wildlife.
Uninsured and underinsured coverage, which comes in handy if you get in an accident with another driver who’s either not insured or does not have enough insurance coverage to take care of your losses. This can also be used if the driver that caused your accident has run away from their obligations.
Delaware Is a Fault State for Insurance Claims
In Delaware, if you get into a motorcycle accident caused by another motorist, you can pursue compensation from that driver’s insurance company because the state follows the “fault” system.
Under this rule, the injured motorist has three options for getting compensation. They can file a claim with their own insurance company if their policy covers the loss; they can file a third-party claim with the negligent driver's insurance company; or they can take the case to civil court and sue the negligent driver.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Motorcycle Accident in Delaware?
The actual value of the case will depend on many factors, primarily the extent of the injuries you’ve suffered, the amount of time you’re unable to work, and how long it will take you to recover physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your attorney will consider these three types of damages:
Economic damages, which span losses that can be quantified, such as medical and repair bills, and wages lost.
Non-economic damages, which span losses that are more subjective, such as pain and suffering, diminished quality of life, and loss of companionship.
Punitive damages, which serve as a form of punishment by the court. They are rarely awarded and only considered when the behavior of the negligent driver is especially egregious.
There are no caps or limits to non-economic damages, except when a claim is made against a government entity, in which case the plaintiff can recover only up to $300,000 for either economic or non-economic damages.
Delaware Is a Fault State for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits
Delaware is an at-fault state, which means that the driver responsible for an accident will have to pay for the losses incurred by the injured. Nevertheless, each motorist is required to have personal injury protection coverage, which is triggered when they get into an accident. This is what makes Delaware an "add-on, no-fault” state.
Delaware follows the modified comparative negligence rule, which states that a driver, even though partially at fault, can still hope to recover compensation as long as their degree of responsibility does not go over 50%. If they qualify for compensation, the amount they receive is reduced by the percentage of their fault. For example, if they were to receive $100,000 but were proven to have contributed 10% to the accident, then they would only be receiving $90,000.
Delaware Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents
Injured motorists in Delaware have two years from the date of the accident to take the necessary legal steps to be compensated. If the negligent party in question is a government entity, then plaintiffs only have one year.
There are rare exceptions to this two-year statute of limitations, such as if the claimant discovered their injury much later. In this case, the date when the clock starts ticking is the date of the discovery. Claimants who are underage must also wait until they’re 18 to be able to file a claim for damages.
Legal Resources for Delaware Motorcycle Accident Victims
These websites can connect you to attorneys who can help you with your motorcycle accident case. They charge $35 for a 30-minute initial consultation. Unfortunately, neither of these websites provides pro bono services, and there is no guarantee that an attorney will take your case if you choose DSBA.
You can receive 15 minutes of legal assistance for free from volunteer attorneys if you go to the second floor of the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center at 500 N. King Street, Wilmington. You are encouraged to call them first at (302) 255-0476 to find out if you are eligible for the program. Please note that the attorney you will be assigned to will not meet you outside of the program, nor will they represent you in court.
The link above contains information on the minimum insurance requirements (and all optional coverages) for all motorists in Delaware.
This allows you to order driving records in Delaware for $36 for any reason you might need them.
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