According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 9,130 motorcyclists were killed and 163,000 riders were injured due to vehicle accidents from 2010 through 2011. Given these numbers, it is important for motorcyclists and vehicle motorists to be aware of each other and share the roadway. During rush hour, our highways become clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic and it is common to see motorcyclists zigzagging between vehicles or “lane splitting” in an attempt to avoid the gridlock. This practice, along with vehicle driver inattention, has become a major cause of motorcycle accidents.
If you can’t fit, don’t split: Lane splitting refers to the practice of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of stopped or slower moving traffic on the highway; or riding between lanes to the front of traffic stopped at an intersection. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, lane splitting is not illegal when done in a manner which is not reckless or creates a hazard for other motorists.
Experienced motorcyclists who choose to lane split should do so responsibly. Riding between lanes is considerably more dangerous at high speeds. The greater the speed, the less time a rider has to identify and react to a potential risk, such as a vehicle turning into the path of the rider. The ability to brake and stop a motorcycle varies greatly based on factors such as riding skill and weather conditions. Keep in mind, that as speed increases, so too does the potential severity of a crash.
Rider liability: If an accident happens while a motorcyclist is lane splitting in a reckless or negligent manner, such as riding at speeds unsafe for the traffic or weather conditions, the rider is usually found to be at fault. Riders can reduce culpability by riding carefully. This includes no cutting off other vehicles or weaving from lane to lane. Riders must have a valid motorcycle operator’s license. Riders can increase their competency and awareness by completing a motorcycle safety course. Motorcyclists may be compensated for injuries and damages if it can be shown that the other party was at fault due to driver inattention, illegally changing lanes or other factors.
Driver liability: Some drivers, unfortunately, take it upon themselves to discourage the practice of lane splitting. California Vehicle Code §22400 prohibits a driver from blocking a motorcyclist from legally riding between lanes. This includes stopping the vehicle or driving in a manner which impedes or could harm the rider. A driver who intentionally opens a vehicle door or blocks the path of a passing rider and causes an accident could face significant criminal charges. Vehicle Code §22517 makes it illegal to open the driver’s side door in an attempt to block a passing motorcyclist.
What to do after a crash: Being involved in a motorcycle accident can be a devastating and life changing event. A rider who is injured due to driver negligence has the right to be compensated for medical bills, as well as damage to the motorcycle. Riders should also consider damage to personal items, such as expensive helmets and riding gear, loss of wages due to injuries or an inability to work; and other losses which can be determined by an experienced personal injury attorney. If you have suffered injuries due to someone’s negligence, contact us to discuss your legal rights.