North Carolina Motorcycle Statutes

North Carolina has several statutes that directly relate to motorcyclists, including licensure, inspections, and use of public roads. If you feel that your rights have been violated call us at 1-800-321-8968 and speak with an attorney who practices in North Carolina and are familiar with current North Carolina motorcycle laws.

1; § 20-4-01. Definitions. (edited) 

“All-terrain vehicle” means a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on three or four low-pressure tires, having a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.

“Utility Vehicle” – Vehicle designed and manufactured for general maintenance, security, recreational, and landscaping purposes, but does not include vehicles designed and used primarily for the transportation of persons or property on a street or highway.

“Moped” means (GS 105-164.3) a vehicle that has two or three wheels no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface.

“Motor vehicle” means every vehicle which is self propelled and every vehicle designed to run upon the highways which is pulled by a self propelled vehicle.

“Vehicle” means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or on fixed rail. Bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provision of this chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application.

“Motorcycle” means every vehicle having a saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, including motor scooters and motor-driven bicycles, but excluding tractors and utility vehicles equipped with an additional form of device designed to transport property, three wheeled vehicles while being used by law enforcement agencies and mopeds.

2; § 20-7. Examination and road test required for license to operate motorcycle; Motorcycle learners permit. 

(a1) Motorcycles and Mopeds. – To drive a motorcycle, a person shall have one of the following:

  1. A full provisional license with a motorcycle learner’s permit.
  2. A regular drivers license with a motorcycle learner’s permit.
  3. A full provisional license with a motorcycle endorsement.
  4. A regular drivers license with a motorcycle endorsement.

Subsection (a2) of this section sets forth the requirements for a motorcycle learner’s permit. To obtain a motorcycle endorsement, a person shall pay the fee set in subsection (i) of this section. In addition, to obtain an endorsement, a person age 18 or older shall demonstrate competence to drive a motorcycle by passing a knowledge test concerning motorcycles, and by passing a road test or providing proof of successful completion of one of the following:

  1. The North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Education Program Basic Rider Course or Experienced Rider Course.
  2. Any course approved by the Commissioner consistent with the instruction provided through the Motorcycle Safety Instruction Program established under G.S. 115D-72.

A person less than 18 years of age shall demonstrate competence to drive a motorcycle by passing a knowledge test concerning motorcycles and providing proof of successful completion of one of the following:

  1. Repealed by Session Laws 2012-85, s. 1, effective July 1, 2012.
  2. The North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Education Program Basic Rider Course or Experienced Rider Course.
  3. Any course approved by the Commissioner consistent with the instruction provided through the Motorcycle Safety Instruction Program established under G.S. 115D-72.

A person less than 18 years of age with a motorcycle endorsement may not drive a motorcycle with a passenger.

Neither a drivers license nor a motorcycle endorsement is required to drive a moped.

(a2)      Motorcycle Learner’s Permit. – The following persons are eligible for a motorcycle learner’s permit:

  1. A person who is at least 16 years old but less than 18 years old and has a full provisional license issued by the Division.
  2. A person who is at least 18 years old and has a license issued by the Division.

To obtain a motorcycle learner’s permit, an applicant shall pass a vision test, a road sign test, and a knowledge test specified by the Division. An applicant who is less than 18 years old shall successfully complete the North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Education Program Basic Rider Course or any course approved by the Commissioner consistent with the instruction provided through the Motorcycle Safety Instruction Program established under G.S. 115D-72. A motorcycle learner’s permit expires twelve months after it is issued and may be renewed for one additional six-month period. The holder of a motorcycle learner’s permit may not drive a motorcycle with a passenger. The fee for a motorcycle learner’s permit is the amount set in G.S. 20-7(l) for a learner’s permit.

3; § 20-63. Registration plates fastened; altering appearance of registration plates. 

(d) The division shall provide registered owners of motorcycles and motorcycle trailers with suitably reduced size registration plates.

(e) It shall be the duty of each and every registered owner to keep the registration plates assigned to such vehicle reasonably clean and free from dust and dirt.

(f) No false numbers

  1. Display of a number plate in other than a horizontal upright position, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Comment: The main thing is that the plate must be visible, but, if you mount the plate vertically as opposed to horizontally you are violating this statute.

4; § 20-124. Brake Light. (edited) 

Every motorcycle and every motor-driven cycle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with at least one brake which may be operated by hand or foot.

5; § 20-125. Horns 

Every motorcycle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions of not less than 200 feet. All such horns and warning devices shall be maintained in good working order and shall conform to regulation not inconsistent with this section to promulgate by the Commissioner.

6; § 20-126. Mirrors 

No person shall operate a motorcycle upon the streets or highways of this state unless such motorcycle is equipped with a rearview mirror so mounted as to provide the operator with a clear, undistorted and unobstructed view of at least 2000 feet t the rear of the motorcycle. No motorcycle shall be registered in this state after January 1, 1968, unless such motorcycle is equipped with a rearview mirror as described in this section.

Violation of the provisions of this subsection shall not be considered negligence per se in any civil action.

Comment: The statute requires a review mirror.  Not multiple. So long as your motorcycle has one mirror you are in compliance.

7; § 20-128. Exhaust system in good working order. 

No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway unless such motor vehicle is equipped with a muffler, or other exhaust system of the type installed at the time of manufacture, in good working order and in constant operation as to prevent excessive or unusual noise, annoying smoke and smoke screens.

It shall be unlawful to use a “muffler Cut-out” on any motor vehicle upon a highway.

No motor vehicle registered in this State that was manufactured after model year 1967 shall be operated in this State unless it is equipped with emissions control devices that were installed on the vehicle at the time the vehicle was manufactured and these devices are properly connected.

Comment: .Notice that there is no decibel level in North Carolina.

8; § 20-129. Head lamps, rear lamps, illumination of registration plate; brake lamps, and stop lamps. (edited) 

Every motorcycle shall be equipped with at least one and not more than two headlamp which shall be capable of projecting sufficient light to the front of such motorcycle to render discernible a person or object at a distance of 200 feet. The headlamps on a motorcycle shall be lighted at all times while the motorcycle is in operation on highways or public vehicular areas.

Every motorcycle shall have the originally equipped rear lamp or the equivalent in good working order, which lamp shall exhibit a red light plainly visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of 500 feet to the rear of such vehicle. The rear lamps of a motorcycle shall be lighted at all times while the motorcycle is in operation on highways or public vehicular areas.

Comment: See also § 20-130 below

A lamp shall be so constructed and placed that the number plate carried on the rear of such motorcycle shall under like conditions be illuminated by a white light as to be read from a distance of 50 feet to the rear of such vehicle.

No person shall sell or operate on the highways of the State any motorcycle manufactured after December 31, 1955, unless it shall be equipped with a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle. The stop lamp shall display a red or amber light visible from a distance of not less than 100 feet to the rear in normal sunlight, and shall be actuated upon application of the rear brake. The stop lamp may be incorporated into a unit with one or more other rear lamps.

§ 20-130.  Additional permissible light on vehicle.

(a) Spot Lamps. – Any motor vehicle may be equipped with not to exceed two spot lamps, except that a motorcycle shall not be equipped with more than one spot lamp, and every lighted spot lamp shall be so aimed and used upon approaching another vehicle that no part of the beam will be directed to the left of the center of the highway nor more than 100 feet ahead of the vehicle. No spot lamps shall be used on the rear of any vehicle.

(b) Auxiliary Driving Lamps. – Any motor vehicle may be equipped with not to exceed two auxiliary driving lamps mounted on the front, and every such auxiliary driving lamp or lamps shall meet the requirements and limitations set forth in G.S. 20-131, subsection (c).

(c) Restrictions on Lamps. – Any device, other than headlamps, spot lamps, or auxiliary driving lamps, which projects a beam of light of an intensity greater than 25 candlepower, shall be so directed that no part of the beam will strike the level of the surface on which the vehicle stands at a distance of more than 50 feet from the vehicle.

(d)  Electronically Modulated Headlamps. – Nothing contained in this Chapter shall prohibit the use of electronically modulated headlamps on motorcycles, law-enforcement and fire department vehicles, county fire marshals and Emergency Management coordinators, public and private ambulances, and rescue squad emergency service vehicles, provided such headlamps and light modulator are of a type or kind which have been approved by the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.

(e) High Mounted Flashing Deceleration Lamps. – Public transit vehicles may be equipped with amber, high mounted, flashing deceleration lamps on the rear of the vehicle.

(1937, c. 407, s. 93; 1977, c. 104; 1989, c. 770, s. 7; 2004-82, s. 1.)

10; 20-140.4. Motorcyclist to wear helmets, etc.; passengers; penalty. 

A. No person shall operate a motorcycle or moped upon a highway or public vehicular area:

(1) When the number of persons upon such motorcycle or moped, including the operator, shall exceed the number of persons it was designed to carry.

(2) Unless the operator and passengers thereon wear on their heads, with a retention strap properly secured, safety helmets of a type that complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218.

(3) Violation of any provision of this section shall not be considered negligence per se or contributory negligence per se in any civil action.

(4) Any person convicted of violating this section shall have committed an infraction and shall be fined according to G.S. 20-135.2A (e) and (f).

Comment: It is interesting that the statute does not state that the helmet shall be certified as compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218, only that it be compliant.

11; § 20-146.1. Driving two abreast in a single lane. 

(a) All motorcycles are entitled to full use of a lane and no motorcycle vehicle shall be driven in a manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane. This subsection shall not apply to motorcycles operated two abreast in a single lane.

(b) Motorcycles shall not be operated more than two abreast in a single lane.

12; § 20-146.2. Rush hour traffic lanes authorized. (edited)

A. The Department of Transportation may designate one or more lanes of any highway in the State Highway System, as high-occupancy vehicle lanes, hereinafter referred to in this section as HOV lanes. Cities may designate HOV lanes on the Municipal Street System. When lanes have been so designated and have been appropriately marked with such signs or other markers, they shall be reserved for privately and publicly operated buses, and automobiles or other vehicles containing the specified number of persons.   Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, no designation of any lane or lanes of any highway as HOV lanes shall apply to the use of any such lanes by:

1. Emergency vehicles such as fire-fighting vehicles, ambulances, and rescue squad vehicles,

2. Law-enforcement vehicles,

3. Motorcycles,

4. a. Transit and commuter buses designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.

13; § 20-158. Control of Vehicles at Intersection; Blow through the red light; defense. (edited) 

(b)(2) a.

When a traffic signal is emitting a steady red circular light controlling traffic approaching an intersection, an approaching vehicle facing the red light shall come to a stop and shall not enter the intersection.

(e)

Defense. – It shall be a defense to a violation of sub-subdivision (b)(2)a. of this section if the operator of a motorcycle, as defined in G.S. 20-4-01(27)d., shows all the following:

1. The operator brought the motorcycle to a complete stop at the intersection or stop bar where a steady red light wa being emitted in the direction of the operator.

2. The intersection is controlled by a vehicle actuated traffic signal using an inductive loop to activate the traffic signal.

3. No other vehicle that was entitled to have the right-of-way under applicable law was sitting at, traveling through, or approaching the intersection.

4. No pedestrians were attempting to cross at or near the intersection.

  1. The motorcycle operator who received the citation waited a minimum of three minutes at the intersection or stop bar where the steady read light was being emitted in the direction of the operator before entering the intersection.

§ 20‑16.3A.  Checking stations and roadblocks.

(a)  A law‑enforcement agency may conduct checking stations to determine compliance with the provisions of this Chapter. If the agency is conducting a checking station for the purposes of determining compliance with this Chapter, it must:

(1)        Repealed by Session Laws 2006‑253, s. 4, effective December 1, 2006, and applicable to offenses committed on or after that date.

(2)        Designate in advance the pattern both for stopping vehicles and for requesting drivers that are stopped to produce drivers license, registration, or insurance information.

(2a)      Operate under a written policy that provides guidelines for the pattern, which need not be in writing. The policy may be either the agency’s own policy, or if the agency does not have a written policy, it may be the policy of another law enforcement agency, and may include contingency provisions for altering either pattern if actual traffic conditions are different from those anticipated, but no individual officer may be given discretion as to which vehicle is stopped or, of the vehicles stopped, which driver is requested to produce drivers license, registration, or insurance information. If officers of a law enforcement agency are operating under another agency’s policy, it must be stated in writing.

(3)        Advise the public that an authorized checking station is being operated by having, at a minimum, one law enforcement vehicle with its blue light in operation during the conducting of the checking station.

(a1)      A pattern designated by a law enforcement agency pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall not be based on a particular vehicle type, except that the pattern may designate any type of commercial motor vehicle as defined in G.S. 20‑4.01(3d). The provisions of this subsection shall apply to this Chapter only and are not to be construed to restrict any other type of checkpoint or roadblock which is lawful and meets the requirements of subsection (c) of this section.

(b)        An officer who determines there is a reasonable suspicion that an occupant has violated a provision of this Chapter, or any other provision of law, may detain the driver to further investigate in accordance with law. The operator of any vehicle stopped at a checking station established under this subsection may be requested to submit to an alcohol screening test under G.S. 20‑16.3 if during the course of the stop the officer determines the driver had previously consumed alcohol or has an open container of alcoholic beverage in the vehicle. The officer so requesting shall consider the results of any alcohol screening test or the driver’s refusal in determining if there is reasonable suspicion to investigate further.

(c)        Law enforcement agencies may conduct any type of checking station or roadblock as long as it is established and operated in accordance with the provisions of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of North Carolina.

(d)       The placement of checkpoints should be random or statistically indicated, and agencies shall avoid placing checkpoints repeatedly in the same location or proximity. This subsection shall not be grounds for a motion to suppress or a defense to any offense arising out of the operation of a checking station.  (1983, c. 435, s. 22; 2006‑253, s. 4; 2011‑216, s. 1.)