Does A Motorcycle Need Front Turn Signals?

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Sharing can be difficult especially when it comes to sharing the road. When sharing the road, it is important to let other drivers know what you are trying to do. Using signals when turning helps the flow of traffic as well as prevents accidents. As such, modern motorcycles have been equipped with turn signals in order to achieve this purpose.

Turn signals are used in order to increase visibility and indicate your intention to turn to other drivers. This is especially useful at intersections as well as during lane merging. Having forward and rear-facing signals allow drivers from all directions to see which way you are heading.

So, does a motorcycle need front turn signals? Not all motorcycles need to have front turn signals though there are several states that require them. Though some states don’t require them, it is best practice to always have front turn signals to ensure the flow of traffic as well as the safety of the motorcyclist on the road.

While cars have had turn signal lights since the 1940s, motorcycle blinkers have only been required as standard required equipment since 1973. Blinkers have developed to use LED lights and other modern amenities as of this date. Turn signals are common and often under-used but are still important in order to keep roads safe.

Are Front Turn Signals Required?

The requirement for turn signals is regulated by state motor vehicle laws and varies from state to state. Requirements for forward-facing blinkers are also dependent on the country’s local laws. Below are states with specific laws requiring forward-facing turn signals:

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Wisconsin

Each state has small variances in the wording of the laws, but generally, they are all the same. These can be typically be found under the sections describing standard equipment required for street legality. 

While cars preceded motorcycles in having blinkers as standard equipment, it didn’t take long for the rear-facing automotive blinkers to be translated to forward facing. Since motorcycle regulations regarding such things seem to progress slower as compared to cars, not all models have had forward-facing blinkers.

However, most current model year motorcycles will likely be built with forward-facing blinkers. This allows bikes to be sold in any state. Where problems start to arise is when owners modify their bikes to achieve a certain look by removing lights. 

If you are in doubt or cannot find the regulations for wherever you are going, it is safest to assume you’ll need to have a bike with forward-facing blinkers. Erring on the side of caution is a safe bet when it comes to lighting. Worst case scenario is you never use the blinkers.

Another aspect to consider would be instances where jurisdiction changes. If you cross from a state that does not require flashers into a state that does, you will still be required to have them. For example, if you cross from Idaho, which does not require flashers, into Oregon, which does require them, you will not necessarily be exempted.

Do All Motorcycles Require Signals?

If you don’t have front signals and are required to have them, there are options. There are plenty of aftermarket light kits that are available online. These wire into the battery power and have a switch that will mount on the handlebars. The lights are mounted by either bolting or using an adhesive.

In some states, older motorcycles are not required to have signals where newer models are. Older bikes are usually defined as bikes built before the 1970s. These older bikes’ designs are grandfathered in, likely in order to preserve the historical nature of the old bikes. These antiques can be collector items and altering the original condition can degrade their value.

Since then, motorcycle manufacturers have designed bikes to fit the requirements of having turn signals. Modern bike manufacturers have incorporated turn signals into almost all models. However, the requirement for turn signals is also dependent on the type of bike. Touring, adventure, cruiser, sport, and other bikes that ride on the street are more likely to require turn signals. However, off-road bikes and even track bikes that aren’t usually registered for street use don’t require turn signals.

For example, if you have a cruiser bike that is used for interstate road trips, you will probably want forward-facing blinkers for higher visibility since you will be around a lot of traffic. Similarly, if you commute to work on a street bike, it is a good idea to have working blinkers for in-town driving. In contrast, if you ride a dirt bike in the hills, having blinkers is not necessary.

The turn signal circuit is fairly simple. Using battery power, the lights are turned on via a switch designed to indicate right and left. The blinking effect is achieved in a couple of different ways. Traditional systems used a flasher relay that was designed with a bi-metallic wire that would heat and change shape. This change in shape is what makes the audible clicking noise. As the wire changes shape, it clicks back and forth between the light circuit and a heater circuit. 

Modern systems use a solid-state relay to detect current flow. An electronic timer turns the relay on and off creating the same blinking effect. Some systems use speakers to generate an audible clicking sound.

Can Hand Signals Be Used In Place Of Turn Signals?

State law will regulate the use of hand signals. Generally speaking, they will not substitute for broken blinkers but may substitute for lack of blinkers. Hand signaling adds another layer of visibility to other drivers in addition to light turn signals, so it may be a good idea to use them regardless.

Hand signals are pretty simple. Signals are typically performed with the left hand since that is traditionally the driver’s side in the United States. To signal a left turn, hold your arm straight out parallel with the ground. To signal a right turn, hold your arm up vertically with your elbow bent at a 90 degree angle. To signal slowing down or stopping, hold your arm vertically down.

Despite this added layer of safety, not all drivers are familiar with hand signals. They are not used commonly enough anymore to be easily recognized. This is due to the fact that modern systems are reliable. While other drivers might be able to understand the hand signals from context, it is not as reliable as it perhaps once was.

A feature that a turn signal system offers over hand signals is the hazard light function. Sometimes referred to as 4-way blinkers, this feature allows all blinkers to flash simultaneously. This is used to indicate to others that there is an issue and extra caution should be taken when driving past the vehicle.

Can You Be Pulled Over Or Get A Ticket For No Turn Signals?

If you live in a state where signals are required, riding without them equipped is technically breaking the law. State-specific laws will regulate penalties for such violations, including the issuance of tickets and the imposition of fees.

If you are pulled over for not having the required signals, you will likely be issued a “fix-it ticket.” This warning allows you to drive somewhere with the intention of fixing what is wrong. This can also apply to any faulty lighting or other issues as regulated by law and under the discretion of the enforcing officer.

A way to prevent bikes without the proper equipment from being on the road is by enforcing a vehicle inspection. During an inspection, an authorized inspector will check for the required equipment prior to vehicle registration being issued. This gives the owner a chance to be notified of any requirements and make necessary adjustments before a moving violation can be issued. 

In order to get your bike inspected, contact your local DMV. In some states, there are other ways to get a vehicle inspected, including sheriff’s offices. Depending on the circumstances, there can be a small fee attached to an inspection, but it is a small price to pay to ensure your bike will be road legal.


The legal requirement for forward-facing blinkers varies from state to state. Check your local regulations to make sure. If you don’t have them equipped, it is possible to use hand signals to help, but hand signals will probably not substitute for broken blinkers. These regulations are in place to help the flow of traffic as well as to keep motorists safe.

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