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Minnesota terrain is ideal for motorists who especially love communing with nature on their rides. Its tourism arm endorses scenic roadways and whole regions within the North Star State for motorcycle riders to enjoy—across the western prairies that serve as the agricultural heart of Minnesota, at the outskirts of the forests covering a third of the state’s geography, and by freshwater shores that have earned the state the nickname of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Alongside this endorsement is the state government’s high-visibility campaign to ensure the safety of motorists and curb concerning patterns in motorcycle accident statistics. A total of 1,501 motorcycle crashes occurred on Minnesota roadways from 2016 to 2020, with an annual average of 300 crashes that involved serious or fatal injuries. Crashes primarily occurred in rural areas and on county systems. In 2021, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety recorded 998 injuries and 69 fatalities due to accidents involving motorcycles.

Truly enjoying your Minnesota motorcycle ride must go hand-in-hand with vigilance. This article will share the measures Minnesota has put in place to promote increased traffic safety, safeguard the well-being of vulnerable motorcycle riders, and uphold the legal protections available to motorcyclists who have figured in crashes.

Minnesota Motorcycle License Process

Minnesota law requires that all motorcycle operators carry a driver’s license with the appropriate instruction permit or license endorsement, and the driver must have these documents on their person when traversing public roadways. The penalties for riding without these qualifications include up to 90 days in jail, $1,000 in fines, and getting your motorcycle towed and impounded.

Motorcycle license permits and endorsements involve crucial skills training that helps ensure a driver’s road-readiness. Crash data for 2021 underscores the need for proper training for motorcycle operators, whether they’re younger drivers trying a new way to get around or middle-aged people getting back on their bikes. That year, 32% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes did not have valid endorsements to drive a motorcycle

As an overview of the process: You’ll need to already have a valid driver’s license, then apply for a motorcycle instruction permit, then apply for a motorcycle endorsement, and then apply for a duplicate driver’s license with the added motorcycle endorsement. Specific limitations apply, depending on the permit or endorsement that a driver carries, but the final step (the duplicate driver’s license with the motorcycle endorsement) permits you to drive with no restrictions. 

Step One: Motorcycle Instruction Permit

Individuals with a Minnesota driver’s license can apply for a motorcycle instruction permit, which can be secured by passing a written knowledge test at a driver examination station. If you’re under 18, you must also provide certification that you have completed a state-approved motorcycle rider training course. 

The instruction permit is valid only for one year, but it does allow you to operate your motorcycle on public roads. It has the following restrictions:

  • You are not allowed to carry passengers.

  • You are not allowed to operate your motorcycle on interstate highways.

  • You are not allowed to operate your motorcycle at night, which is defined by the state as half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise.

  • You must wear a helmet and eye protection approved by the federal Department of Transportation.  

Even within these restrictions, carrying a motorcycle instruction permit allows drivers to not only familiarize themselves with the state’s roadways and driving conditions but also get comfortable with operating their vehicle.

Step Two: Motorcycle Endorsement for Instruction Permit Holders

Once you’re confident about how you operate your motorcycle, you’re ready to take a skills test. Think of the endorsement you’ll receive upon completion of the test as leveling up your permit, as you’ll have fewer restrictions regarding operating your vehicle.

The skills test at an exam station involves four riding exercises that will assess your vehicle control and how you navigate simulated hazards. For the test, you are required to bring your current driver’s license and your motorcycle instruction permit; a properly equipped, registered, and insured motorcycle; and a helmet and eye protection approved by the DOT. On the other hand, there is an option to waive the skills test in securing the endorsement by completing the Basic Rider Course of the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center.

Upon passing the skills test or completing the Basic Rider Course, you’ll receive a motorcycle endorsement for your driver’s license. All previous restrictions are lifted, and you’ll be expected to follow the general rules of the road that other motor vehicle operators in Minnesota must abide by.

Motorcyclist Rights and Responsibilities

Motorcycles are entitled to full use of Minnesota traffic lanes, which also means motorcycle operators are afforded the same roadway rights as drivers of four-wheel motor vehicles.

As a quick example from Title 23 of the United States Code, motorcycles are permitted to use high-occupancy vehicle carpool lanes. It follows that motorcycle drivers are subject to the same responsibilities as other motorists, though certain roadway laws in Minnesota are adjusted to better fit the dimensions and roadway behavior of motorcycles.

Impaired Driving Laws

Thirty-one of 67 motorcycle crash fatalities in 2021 tested positive for alcohol in their system, with seven of those charting an alarming 0.20 or higher blood alcohol concentration. To put things into perspective, Minnesota’s blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers is 0.08%, but—given that drunk driving accounts for a third of the state’s total traffic fatalities—impaired motorists can be arrested for DWI even if they register a lower BAC reading. Two of the 2021 motorcycle driver fatalities had a BAC level ranging from 0.01 to 0.07. 

Like DUI laws, Minnesota laws regarding driving while impaired that govern operators of four-wheeled vehicles also apply to motorcycle drivers. Penalties vary, usually based on the severity of the violation. First-time offenders typically face license suspension for 30 days up to a year, as well as possible jail time. But if a first-time DWI offender is arrested and tested with at least twice the legal limit (0.16 alcohol concentration), they will be required to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle, or they lose their driving privileges for one to two years.

Careless and Reckless Driving Laws

The Minnesota Statutes classify motorists as guilty of reckless driving if they consciously operate their vehicles in a manner that poses “substantial and unjustifiable risk” to another person or property. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor, and convicted offenders face jail time of up to 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine. If the offense caused great bodily harm, the offending motorist faces up to a year in jail and/or $3,000 in fines.  

Racing your motorcycles in Minnesota (outside of an official sanctioned competition) is considered reckless driving and a gross misdemeanor. Whether or not the participating motorists go over the maximum speed limit, the very act of comparing or contrasting motorcycle speeds on Minnesota roads, driveways, or parking lots, is illegal.

Careless driving, meanwhile, is a misdemeanor that carries the same penalties as above. The charge is levied on motorists who operate their vehicles with a disregard of the rights of other motorists and pedestrians, in a way that endangers their well-being and/or their property.

The state government very sternly warns that reckless driving and careless driving charges apply to motorcycle operators who carry out stunts like standing on the passenger seat while the motorcycle is in motion; “wheelies,” or the driving maneuver where the motorcycle’s front wheel is off the ground; and “stoppies,” or the driving trick where the motorcycle is ridden with the back wheel lifted off the ground through timed braking.

Lane Splitting and Lane Sharing Laws

Splitting traffic—also known as lane splitting, or “threading the needle”—is illegal in Minnesota. Motorcycles are not allowed to ride between lanes of traffic, or within the same lane with another vehicle. Lane splitting can be tempting for motorcycle operators, given the perception that the smaller dimensions of their vehicle naturally gives it access to tighter spaces. But this infringes on the right of other motorists to a full lane, and poses distraction and danger on roadways.  

It is, however, okay (and legal) to share the road under certain circumstances. In Minnesota, two motorcycle drivers may ride side-by-side if both riders agree to do so.

Red Light Allowances for Motorcyclists

Motorcyclists are granted an affirmative defense to run through an intersection red light that has not changed for an unreasonable amount of time, if no other vehicle or pedestrian is approaching the street. For this affirmative defense to be valid, the motorcycle must have been at a complete stop, the traffic light must be considered malfunctioning, and there should be no danger posed to anyone at the intersection.

Safety Gear for Minnesotan Motorcyclists

In Minnesota, only motorcycle operators and passengers who are under 18 are required by law to wear a DOT-compliant helmet. The state, however, urges the use of helmets for motorcyclists of all ages, given their proven efficacy in lowering the risk of serious head injuries. Of the motorcycle crash data in 2021, 46 of the 69 fatalities and 574 of the 998 injured motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet at the time of their crash.

A helmet that is compliant with U.S. Department of Transportation standards, whether it’s a three-quarter or full-face design, provides proper head protection without obscuring the wearer’s line of sight. Helmets endorsed via an affixed label from the Snell Memorial Foundation also meet federal and state criteria.

Meanwhile, a legal non-negotiable in Minnesota is eye protection for all motorcycle operators. A driver can use goggles, though the state recommends a plastic, shatter-resistant face shield that can minimize distraction from debris while driving and which can protect the wearer’s face in the event of an accident. The windshields attached to the motorcycle do not meet legal requirements.

Though not required by law, protective clothing like hearing protection, driving gloves, and body armor inserts is recommended by Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety to lower the risk of serious injury should motorcyclists get into an accident.

Take note that it is illegal in Minnesota for motorcyclists to wear headphones or other listening devices in both ears while operating their vehicles. The intention behind this prohibition is to minimize distractions and ensure that drivers remain attentive on the road. Using headphones or earphones in or over just one ear is permitted, however. Of course, an exception applies to individuals who rely on hearing aid devices.

Minnesota Motorcycle Insurance Requirements

It is mandatory in Minnesota for motorcycle operators to carry liability insurance coverage with specified minimum amounts. If you figure in an accident, liability coverage pays for the losses the other person sustained. The insurance requirements for motorcycles in Minnesota are, by law, as follows:

  • $30,000 for death or bodily injury to one person

  • $60,000 for death or bodily injury to two or more persons

  • $10,000 for property damage

Basic motorcycle insurance policies are not required by law to include personal injury protection, which would cover your own losses in an accident, like medical costs for your injuries or repairs to damage to your property. Additional endorsements, like first-party medical coverage (similar to PIP), can be added to a motorcycle policy, to cover your own bodily injuries following a traffic crash. Another optional add-on is guest passenger liability, which will cover the injuries sustained by another person while they were riding with you on your motorcycle.

Motorcycle operators must always carry proof of insurance while driving, and failure to show proof upon the request of law enforcement is a misdemeanor. The penalties for violations include a fine of no less than $200, possible revocation of the license, and possible revocation of the offending motor vehicle’s registration.

Minnesota Is a No-Fault State for Insurance Claims

Minnesota follows a "no-fault" system, which means if you sustain injuries in a motorcycle accident, you are entitled to receive no-fault benefits from your own insurance company. 

Under the no-fault law, your own insurance company compensates you for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other related costs up to the policy limits. This applies regardless of who is at fault for the accident. 

There are certain situations where you have the option to pursue a personal injury or bodily injury claim against the at-fault driver and their insurance company. An example is when the medical costs to treat your injuries exceed financial thresholds. 

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit in Minnesota?

The amount you can sue for in a motorcycle accident lawsuit in Minnesota depends on the specific circumstances of your case. Note, though, that you can seek compensation for economic and non-economic damages in a personal injury suit.

Economic damages cover the financial losses following a motorcycle accident, such as medical expenses (both past and future), lost wages, property damage, rehabilitation costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses. The damages are generally calculated according to the financial impact of the accident on the injured party.

Non-economic damages address the intangible losses that cannot be easily quantified, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. The calculation of non-economic damages often relies on factors such as the severity of the injuries, the accident’s impact on daily life, and its long-term effects.

In Minnesota, there are no specific caps or limits on damages in personal injury cases like motorcycle accident lawsuits. However, it is essential to consult with a legal professional who can evaluate the details of your case, consider applicable laws, assess the full extent of the damages you are entitled to, and provide guidance on the compensation you can potentially secure through a lawsuit or a settlement. 

Minnesota Is a Modified Comparative Fault State for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits

Minnesota adheres to the modified comparative negligence rule, which governs the allocation of fault and damages in personal injury cases. Under this doctrine, you can seek compensation for your damages if you are found to be 50% or less at fault for the accident. However, if your percentage of fault exceeds 50%, you may be barred from recovering any damages. It is important to note that the percentage of fault assigned to each party can significantly impact the amount of compensation one will receive.  

Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle accident victims who wish to file a personal injury lawsuit have a time limit of six years from the date of the incident to do so. It is crucial to be aware of this deadline, as failing to file within the specified timeframe often results in the injured party being rendered unable to seek compensation for their injuries and losses. It is essential for accident victims to promptly consult with legal counsel and initiate the legal process within the prescribed deadline to protect their rights and maximize their chances of receiving the appropriate compensation.  

Legal Resources for Minnesota Motorcycle Accident Victims

Minnesota Department of Public Safety

The state’s Department of Public Safety offers comprehensive information on motorcycle operation, safety protocols, resources like referrals to motorcycle safety courses to enhance rider skills, and relevant laws and regulations that can apply to motorcycle accident victims. 

Minnesota Department of Commerce

The Minnesota Department of Commerce can assist motorcycle accident victims when it comes to insurance-related matters. Its website serves as a resource for understanding insurance policies, coverage options, and the rights and responsibilities of policyholders. In the aftermath of a motorcycle accident, victims can access information on filing insurance claims, including the necessary steps and documentation required. The agency also provides guidance on filing complaints should there be issues or disputes with insurance companies.

Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry

If you were involved in a motorcycle accident while working or performing a work-related task, the Department of Labor and Industry in Minnesota can help you by offering information on workers' compensation claims and other legal recourses to cover your medical expenses and lost wages.

Minnesota Motorcycle and Motorized Bicycle Manual

The Minnesota Motorcycle and Motorized Bicycle Manual is a comprehensive guide provided by the state’s Department of Public Safety, Driver and Vehicle Services Division. It is a valuable resource for motorcycle and motorized bicycle riders—offering important information on laws, safety guidelines, and operating procedures specific to Minnesota. The purpose of the manual is to educate riders, promote responsible riding practices, and enhance overall safety on Minnesota's roadways. It is often used as a study guide for those preparing to obtain a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license or seeking to refresh their knowledge on motorcycle operation and safety.

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