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Human Factors: Licensing Table of Contentsnhtsa

Motorcyclist Attitudes

Rider Education & Training


Crash Avoidance Skills

Motorcyclist Alcohol & Other Impairment

Personal Protective Equipment


Comprehensive, fair, and effective motorcycle operator testing and licensing systems are necessary to measure the readiness of riders to ride safely.

The training and experience required to earn a motorcycle operator’s license equips motorcyclists to perform better on the road. In 1998, 32 percent of motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes were unlicensed or improperly licensed compared to 10.8 percent of car drivers (FARS data, 1998).

Special motorcycle operator license classifications and requirements for testing exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The licensing components commonly in use are:

• Motorcycle operator manual

• Motorcycle license knowledge test

• Motorcycle license skill tests (on-street or off-street)

• Motorcycle learner’s permit

• Intermediate motorcycle license or endorsement

• Full motorcycle license or endorsement

• Waiver of examination, or portions thereof, for completion of state-approved motorcycle rider training course

• Mandatory rider training for certain ages

• Motorcycle license renewal requirements

• Counseling and violator training

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), accepted for autos in many jurisdictions, appears unsuitable for motorcycles given that at least two important elements, supervised operation and parental involvement, are problematic in a motorcycle GDL scheme (see Appendix H).

Although used in other countries, tiered licensing has not been widely accepted in the United States. Studies have not shown a crash countermeasure benefit (Mayhew, 1989).

Forty-four state jurisdictions have adopted and/or modified the MSF Motorcycle Operator Manual. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), NHTSA, and MSF cooperatively developed many of the motorcycle licensing schemes in use in the United States. Sixteen jurisdictions use locally designed off-street tests. Motorcycle-specific products in use include a motorcycle knowledge test, the Alternate Motorcycle Operator Skills Test (Alternate MOST), the Motorcycle Licensing Skills Test (MLST), and the Motorcyclist in Traffic Test (MIT).

All jurisdictions waive knowledge and/or skill tests for eligible applicants who hold licenses from another jurisdiction that maintains licensing standards acceptable to the current jurisdiction.

Most jurisdictions waive licensing examinations for graduates of state-approved rider training programs. Reports indicate that this practice is successful in drawing students to training.

See Appendix G for a complete state-by-state breakdown of testing procedures and waivers.


All motorcyclists should take the necessary steps to earn a motorcycle license or endorsement.

We want to better understand the characteristics of unlicensed riders, and find ways to ensure they obtain proper licensure.


Methods of obtaining a motorcycle operator’s license should be heavily promoted. Barriers to obtaining a license should be identified and methods sought to remove them.

• State licensing and rider education and training agencies should partner to create one-stop training and licensing programs, where riders who successfully complete the training course are immediately awarded their motorcycle operator license.

• Motorcycle dealers and other motorcycle community sources should promote proper licensing. Dealers should inform customers that a special endorsement is required and that rider education and training is a good route to this endorsement.

• Testing agencies should increase testing locations and hours to facilitate the licensing process.

• Licensing procedures should include current, sound, and effective materials and testing for skills and knowledge.

• All licensing agencies should provide training for their licensing employees to ensure that tests provide for applicant and examiner safety, are administered objectively, and are scored accurately and impartially. Licensing agencies should also consider participating in recognition programs such as the AAMVA Certified Driver Examiner and Certified Motorcycle Examiner programs.

• The penalties for operating a motorcycle without proper license should be well publicized.

• Studies should be commissioned to ensure that licensing tests measure skills and behaviors absent in crash-involved riders.

• To evaluate motorcycle GDL schemes, a model should be developed using the current best thinking and deployed in a few key jurisdictions. An evaluation protocol should be created to evaluate the system's effectiveness, and policy should be developed based on the outcomes.


• Commission studies to ensure that licensing tests measure skills and behaviors required for crash avoidance.

• Identify and remove barriers to obtaining a motorcycle endorsement.

• Develop and implement programs to allow all state motorcycle safety programs to issue motorcycle endorsements immediately upon successful completion of rider training courses.

• Enforce penalties for operating a motorcycle without a proper endorsement.

• Encourage states and jurisdictions to provide motorcycle specific training to license examiners administering testing for motorcyclists.

• Develop an enhanced motorcycle licensing model using appropriate GDL concepts and evaluate its effectiveness.

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