Motorcycle Manual: Motorcycle Licenses, Ownership, Special Rules


To operate a motorcycle in New York State, you must have a motorcycle operator’s license (Class M) or a motorcycle junior operator’s license (Class MJ). You can drive a motorcycle in New York if you are a resident of another state or country and have a valid motorcycle license from there. If you are less than 18, you must obey the restrictions for both the out-of-state jurisdiction and New York State. The instructions to apply for a driver license, which includes a motorcycle license, are in Chapter One of the NYS Driver’s Manual. You can study that manual as well as this one, even if you already have a license. Your motorcycle license written test will be based on information from both manuals. The Driver’s Manual also contains the junior operator and learner permit restrictions, information on license suspension and revocation and vehicle registration, title and insurance. The Driver’s Manual describes the junior operator and learner permit restrictions, information about license suspension and revocation, and vehicle registration, title and insurance. Junior motorcycle operators are also subject to the New York State graduated license requirements that apply to other drivers. In addition to the information in the Driver’s Manual, motorcycle operators must know that:

  • When a motorcycle learner practices the supervising driver must hold a valid motorcycle license, be at least 21 and remain within 1/4 mile of the learner at all times. Additional restrictions apply to junior learners. The supervising driver need not ride on the motorcycle of the learner, but only the supervising driver can be a passenger. The learner and supervising driver should remain within sight of one another at all times and discuss the learner’s performance after prac­tice. We recommend at least 30 hours of practice, with at least 10 in moderate to heavy traffic.
  • Your road test will include left and right circles and figure-eights on public streets. In addition to normal driving maneuvers, you must be able to accomplish these while being alert for other traffic. If you take the test on a three-wheeler, your motorcycle license will be restricted to driving three-wheelers.
  • You must provide road test transportation for the license examiner in a properly registered and inspected car or truck, and a driver at least 21 years old who is licensed to drive both this vehicle and the motorcycle you will drive during the test.
  • If you have a driver license, your current class and motorcycle class will both be listed on one license document (for example, Class DM).
  • If you already have another class of driver license and a motorcycle operator’s learner permit, the DMV will waive your motorcycle road test if you complete the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s (MSF) Motorcycle Basic RiderCourse®
  • To qualify for the waiver, the course must be given by an approved training provider in New York State.
  • For information about the nearest course, visit or call MSF at 1-800-446-9227.


Registration, Inspection, Insurance

Unlike most other motor vehicles, motorcycles are registered for one year rather than two, and all motorcycle registrations expire on April 30.

Motorcycles must be inspected at least once every 12 months at a station licensed by the DMV to perform motorcycle safety inspections. The station will display a blue and orange or blue and gold sign reading "Official NYS Motorcycle Inspection Station." Dealerships must inspect motorcycles prior to delivery. If purchased in a private sale, you will be given 10 days from the date of registration to have the motorcycle inspected.

Motorcycles are not included in the "no fault" insurance provisions that cover other motor vehicles in New York State. Motorcyclists owners and operators should know and understand the extent and limitations of their insurance coverage for themselves and their passengers.

Unlike other motor vehicles, liability insurance may be terminated on a motorcycle without a turn-in of the license plate at a DMV office. This makes it easier to put the motorcycle back on the road after winter storage. Under no circumstances may a motorcycle be operated on public highways without liability coverage. This also applies to motorcycles registered out-of-state. 


Special Rules and Required Equipment

All motorcycle operators and passen­gers must wear approved motorcycle helmets as defined by USDOT federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS 218). To improve the visibility of the motorcyclist, we recommend that hel­mets have at least four square inches of reflective material on both sides.

All motorcycle operators must wear approved eye protection even if the motorcycle has a windshield. Any wind­shield must also be of an approved type. Prescription or made-to order safety glasses may be used if the user can pre­sent written certification that they meet DMV standards. The eye protection must be made in a way that conforms with the regulations established by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI -Z87.1). However, the DMV recommends approved goggles or a face shield for full protection.

The headlight and rear light of the motorcycle must be on at all times when you operate on the road.

Motorcyclists can use a full lane and can ride two abreast in a single lane. You cannot ride abreast of another vehicle in the same lane, between lanes or between traffic and parked cars. Motorcyclists are subject to all rules of the road. This includes signals for all turns and lane changes and pass only where it is allowed for other vehicles.


Children as Passengers

A child of any age can be a motorcycle passenger in New York State. Every passenger must wear a DOT-approved motorcycle helmet, and ride upon a permanent, seat on a motorcycle that can carry more than one person. The passenger must sit facing forward, one leg on each side of the motorcycle, with each foot on a foot peg, unless that passenger is seated in a properly attached sidecar. It is illegal for an operator to carry a pas­senger, or for the passenger to ride, in a position that will interfere with the opera­tion or control of the motorcycle or the vision of the operator. 


A motorcycle must have all of the following equipment in good working order: 

  • Approved lights, that include head­light, rear light, stop lamp and license plate lamp, at least one red reflector on the rear and directional signals if the motorcycle was originally equipped with turn signals or is a 1985 or newer model.
  • Brakes, on 1971 and newer motorcy­cles brakes are required on both wheels
  • A horn or other warning device
  • At least one mirror mounted on a handle bar, although mirrors on both handlebars are recommended
  • A suitable muffler. "Cutouts" or mufflers with removable baffles are prohibited
  • Handlebars no higher than the shoulder height of the operator
  • A seat for the operator and a passenger seat in the rear if a passenger is carried (no more than one passenger is permitted)

For more information, please see Equipment Required for Motorcycles (Including Limited Use Motorcycles) (form MV-529B) available from the DMV Web site, by request from a DMV Call Center, and at any motor vehicle office.