Q: What are the rules for transporting children on the back of a motorcycle? – Erin H., Gig Harbor
A: Frequent readers of this column (Thanks, Mom!) know that we here at Traffic Q&A headquarters have a mortal fear of riding on motorcycles, so the thought of a kid being transported on the back of one makes us feel a little faint.
Erin has similar feelings, apparently. Let us let her explain:
“I saw a very young child recently on the back of a motorcycle. He would have been required to be in a car seat if he were in a car,” she wrote. “Is that legal? It seems incredibly unsafe for the child.”
We know, we know: Seeming unsafe and being unsafe are two totally different things.
And we concede that we could find no data showing that having a kid ride on the back of motorcycle is more dangerous than having one ride in a car, although we have our suspicions.
Regardless, Erin’s question was about the law, not our trepidations, so to the RCWs we went.
What we found is RCW 46.37.530, which rocks the svelte title, “Motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, mopeds, electric-assisted bicycle — Helmets, other equipment — Children — Rules.”
Subsection (d) states it is unlawful “for any person to transport a child under the age of five on a motorcycle or motor-driven cycle.”
There also is this from the Motorcycle Operator Manual published by the state Department of Licensing:
“Any passenger carried on a two- or three-wheel motorcycle in Washington state must be at least five years old. Passengers must have a seat and footboards or pegs, and are required to wear a DOT compliant helmet.”
To sum up: Five, helmet, footboards or pegs.
And that appears to be that in Washington.
Maryland also sets no minimum age for motorcycle passengers, but its Motor Vehicle Administration publishes a list of things to ask oneself before transporting a kid on a motorcycle.
We include some here verbatim:
▪ Is the child old enough to maintain body control and support while on the motorcycle?
▪ Do the child’s feet comfortably reach the passenger pegs or floorboards?
▪ Is the child large enough to wear all of the required protective gear, including a U.S. Department of Transportation-compliant motorcycle helmet? Motorcycle helmets weigh as much as three pounds or more. The passenger must be able to hold his or her head steady with the additional weight of a helmet, especially during turns.
▪ Is the child able to understand the basic concepts required when riding as a passenger, such as mounting, dismounting and leaning?
▪ Is the child mature enough to respond appropriately to commands from the operator?
▪ Is the operator an experienced, licensed motorcyclist?
▪ Does the operator have experience carrying passengers?
Those seem like reasonable questions to us.