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The Legal Difference Between Mopeds and Motorcycles

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on September 21, 2020

Anyone who passes a moped or motorcycle on the road may lump them in the same categories. They both use two wheels, they are both fuel-efficient, and they both get lost in blind spots. The differences between mopeds and motorcycles may seem minute to the driver of a passenger vehicle, but to riders, the difference could mean the world. In fact, in the state of Washington, how your vehicle is categorized under state law can determine the rules of the road you must follow, the equipment you have to use, and your abilities to file a claim.

What the Law Says

Under the state of Washington’s legal statutes, mopeds and motorcycles, while very similar, can fall under different legal definitions and thus can have different rules. For motorcycles, the specific statute is RCW 46.04.330, which defines a motorcycle as a:

“motor vehicle designed to travel on not more than three wheels, not including any stabilizing conversion kits, on which the driver:

(1) Rides on a seat or saddle and the motor vehicle is designed to be steered with a handlebar; or

(2) Rides on a seat in a partially or completely enclosed seating area that is equipped with safety belts and the motor vehicle is designed to be steered with a steering wheel.

“Motorcycle” excludes a farm tractor, a power wheelchair, an electric personal assistive mobility device, a motorized foot scooter, an electric-assisted bicycle, and a moped.”

As noted in the statute, a motorcycle is distinct from a moped, which can be classified under RCW 46.04.304 as a:

“motorized device designed to travel with not more than three wheels in contact with the ground and having an electric or a liquid fuel motor with a cylinder displacement not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters which produces no more than two gross brake horsepower (developed by a prime mover, as measured by a brake applied to the driving shaft) that is capable of propelling the device at not more than thirty miles per hour on level ground.”

Between these two definitions, an important distinction is that motorcyclists are allowed to ride in tandem with each other, unlike mopeds, which cannot, and motorcycles do not have the speed limitations of mopeds. A deeper look at RCW 46.61.710 also notes that mopeds are not allowed to travel on highways unless they have specific vehicle registration numbers and permits.

In addition, moped riders must have a driver’s license and vehicle registration, but unlike motorcyclists, they do not have to have auto insurance or an endorsement to ride in the state of Washington. However, we always advise riders to take proper classes and get a relevant auto insurance policy that will cover the costs of your injuries if you are in a collision and protect you from liability if you cause a crash.

Differences in Equipment

Because of how unprotected motorcycle and moped riders are on their vehicles, safety equipment is key to preventing serious injuries. Most people only assume this means wearing a helmet, but it also includes gloves, jackets, pants, and goggles. Oftentimes, the types of clothes are wearing can prevent you from suffering from catastrophic road rash or even a degloving. Some designers have also added padding to motorcycle jackets to prevent traumatic back and shoulder injuries.

With regards to helmets, not just any helmet will do. Washington state law requires motorcycle and moped riders to wear US-DOT certified helmets, which are designed to specifically protect riders from catastrophic head injuries after a high-speed motorcycle accident. You can easily check to see if a helmet is certified by checking for a US-DOT certification on the back of it.

In light of their speed requirements, moped riders may assume they only have to wear a helmet in Washington, but they are also required to wear protective eye gear. This equipment can help protect your eyes from rain, hail, and even bugs, decreasing the chances you are caught in a low-visibility moped accident.

The Claims Process

The distinctions between mopeds and motorcycles are important because of the state of Washington’s comparative negligence laws. Following a collision with a moped or motorcycle, riders may attempt to hold the at-fault party liable in an auto accident claim in order to recover compensation. However, if the rider violated a specific Washington state law, such as riding a moped on a highway, or was not wearing a US-DOT-certified helmet, then they may be limited in how much compensation they can receive.

Washington negligence laws state that all parties in an auto accident can share partial fault for an accident, meaning both riders and drivers can be found at-fault for each other’s and their own injuries. If a moped rider is found partially at fault for their injuries, they may lose a portion of their compensation based on the percentage of fault they are assigned. In addition, if they are found at least 50 at fault, then they can be barred from receiving compensation. The same can be said for motorcyclists.

While these laws only apply when a claim becomes a lawsuit, insurance adjusters will often hold any traffic violations over a rider’s head during settlement negotiations. They may attempt to sway a rider from filing a lawsuit and accepting a low settlement offer, arguing that a trial could ruin their chance at receiving any compensation.

However, this varies on a case by case basis, and anyone injured in an auto accident, whether they were riding a motorcycle, a moped, or car, should reach out to an attorney to discuss their claim. With over 40 years of experience, the Seattle car accident attorneys at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., can thoroughly review your claim in a free consultation and determine if you are eligible for compensation. If we take you on as a client, we can then thoroughly investigate your accident, collect evidence, and advocate for your right to compensation in settlement negotiations or a jury trial, if necessary. Do not let your vehicle of choice keep you from filing a claim. Contact us at (425) 228-3860 or toll-free at (888) 228-3860 to learn about your rights after a collision.

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