by Richard Schroeder

Legal and Insurance Points You Should Know

For many riders, “hitting the road” this summer means traveling the pavement of another state or Canada. It also means that, during that time, rules of the road may be unfamiliar to the driver. Here are how some of the more common laws that affect motorcyclists vary among the states of the upper Midwest. 

Motoring in Montana

Montana’s “reasonable and prudent” speed policy may seem like an invitation to the nation’s speed demons, but the ground rules set by the Montana Department of Transportation and enforced by the Montana State patrol invoke common sense. In good weather, most residents find a comfortable “cruising speed” of 75 to 80 m.p.h.

Montana’s climate and terrain are far more diverse than Minnesota’s, requiring drivers to be on the alert for rapidly changing conditions. Montana officials urge you to consider these elements when driving their highways:

Go with the flow of traffic, observing the amount and type of vehicles you’re sharing the road with: motorhomes, trucks, cars, farm equipment and other motorcycles.

Monitor your braking ability given your speed and the weight of your bike.

Adjust your speed when encountering hills and winding roads.

Helmet Laws

To date, most states surrounding Minnesota have some form of mandatory helmet law depending on the rider’s age and type of license. In Iowa, South Dakota and Montana, riders under the age of 18 must wear helmets.

Some additional state laws to note:

North Dakota: Helmets must be worn by motorcycle drivers or passengers under 18.

Minnesota: Helmets must be worn by motorcycle drivers or passengers under 18 and drivers with instructional /learner’s permits.

Wisconsin: Helmets must be worn by drivers with instructional /learner’s permits, as well as by drivers under 18.

Driving While Intoxicated

Illegal blood alcohol content levels, which form the basis for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)-Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws, are relatively consistent among the states of the upper Midwest. In Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Montana, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle, including a motorcycle, with a blood alcohol content greater than .10 percent. That amounts to about 3 beers in less than two hours for a 175 lb. man or a 140 lb. woman.

These laws, however, do not apply to drivers under 21 years of age. Federal law requires that states enforce a blood alcohol content of .02 or lower for drivers under 21.

Penalties for DWI’s differ from state to state, but largely involve revocation or suspension of driving privileges. Likewise, consequences are significant and expensive for multiple DWI offenses. Depending upon the circumstances, you may be required to forfeit your bike or car, if you have 3 DWIs in a five year period. Other major traffic offenses can lead to the same result.

Safety this summer means knowing the specific driving laws of the state to which you’re traveling. Many state legislatures, including Minnesota’s, are giving strong consideration to lowering the legal blood alcohol content level. The passage of those laws and the dates on which they become effective could wreak havoc with your long awaited summer trip. The smart tip — DON’T DRINK & DRIVE!

 Oh, Canada!

Because it involves crossing an international boundary and therefore stopping at the Canadian and American Customs Offices, a trip into Canada involves a little extra planning.

Remember these tips to ease your passage across the border:

Everyone must have proof of citizenship. Usually, a driver’s license suffices. In the case of a minor, bring a birth certificate.

Drivers should also be prepared to show proof of insurance, and if you are planning to stay longer than 30 days, you will have to apply for a permit. Contact your insurance agent for a Canadian insurance card before you leave.

Ontario requires helmet use by drivers and passengers of all ages.

Persons with criminal records, including a DWI/DUI, must contact Canadian Immigration before their travel date. You will need to apply for a discretionary entry permit. Expect to pay a fee.

Adults can bring a case of beer or 40 oz. of wine or liquor. Taking a greater amount across the border requires payment of a duty tax or special permission from the province.

You are prohibited from taking the following into Canada: Handguns, non-sporting rifles and shotguns, mace, stun guns, billy clubs and switch blades.

Most state laws are based on common sense. Be sure to use plenty of it this summer if you’re heading into new territories on your motorcycle. Needing to know the state-to-state insurance laws becomes less of a concern if you FULLY INSURE YOURSELF AND YOUR BIKE. My next column will delve into faulty parts, recalls and the legal side of motorcycle purchases and maintenance. 


Richard Schroeder is an attorney with Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel. Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel handles cases involving motorcycle and auto accidents, personal injury, insurance disputes, product liability and small business law.

This column is intended to provide general information and is not to be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any certain facts or circumstances. Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly encourages readers to consult legal counsel on any specific legal questions or matters.

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