California is the only state in the country where lane splitting is explicitly legal. Thirty-seven states prohibit the practice, while 12 others don’t have any formal laws on the books. Why is lane splitting legal? Lawmakers believe that allowing motorcyclists to ride between lanes reduces traffic and congestion. There are also studies that suggest lane-splitting motorcyclists are half as likely as others to die or suffer a catastrophic injury in a crash.
Have motorcycle accidents declined since lane splitting was formally legalized in 2014? According to statistics, no. The rate of motorcycle crashes and motorcycle fatalities has actually increased. In 2016, an average of 39 motorcyclists were injured in accidents across the state. That same year, there was an 11 percent spike in the number of fatal motorcycle crashes from the year before.
Lane splitting was legalized to reduce congestion on California’s roads and keep motorcyclists safe. However, motorcycle accidents continue to be problematic. Los Angeles and Southern Calfornia, in particular, appear to be particularly dangerous for motorcyclists and other drivers.
So, who is at fault for an accident involving a lane-splitting motorcyclist? Are riders always to blame, or can other drivers be at fault? There is no one right answer. Motorcyclists, drivers of passenger vehicles, vehicle manufacturers, or even local government agencies could be responsible for causing a lane splitting accident.
Lane splitting is legal on any road that has “been divided into 2 or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction.” Under California’s law, as defined in Vehicle Code 21658.1 VC, motorcyclists can ride a two-wheeled vehicle “between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane.” In other words, motorcyclists can legally ride between lanes of traffic when it is safe to do so.
There are no formal regulations about how fast a motorcyclist can ride between lanes or when it may be unsafe to lane split. However, in 2018, the California Highway Patrol did release safety tips to make the practice of lane splitting safer for everyone on the road.
Lane-splitting motorcyclists are encouraged to:
Riders who don’t follow these safety tips can put themselves and others in danger. Choosing to ignore these tips can be considered negligent. If an accident happens, the rider may be at least partially to blame.
Thanks to California rider safety education programs, many motorcyclists do practice safe lane-splitting techniques. Just because a rider is lane-splitting at the time of an accident doesn’t automatically mean that the rider is to blame. Other drivers can also cause or contribute to a motorcycle lane splitting accident.
A driver may be responsible for a lane splitting accident if they:
It’s actually illegal in the state of California to intentionally block or impede a lane-splitting rider. If a driver is cited for this particular violation, it could help a motorcyclist’s claim for damages.
Sometimes the reason an accident happens is outside of the control of the parties involved. Two prime examples include defective equipment and unreasonably unsafe road conditions.
Manufacturers: Accidents can happen when vehicles or safety equipment are defective or fail unexpectedly. Companies that manufacture and market products in Los Angeles have an obligation to make sure those products are safe. If a defect in a product – such as faulty brakes or bad wiring – causes an accident, the company may be liable for damages suffered by accident victims.
Government Agencies: California knows that lane splitting is legal. Government agencies in charge of road design, construction, and maintenance have a responsibility to make sure that motorcyclists can lane split safety. If hazards or dangerous road conditions exist – such as uneven lanes or huge potholes – accidents may be more likely to occur. The government agencies can be liable for injuries that are caused by hazards that the agency knew or should have known about.
Lane splitting accidents aren’t always caused by one individual motorcyclist or driver. Many times, several factors contribute to a crash. In California, more than one person can be at fault. Fault is simply split between everyone who shares some of the blame for the crash. The more you contribute to an accident, the more liability you share.
Sharing fault doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t recover compensation. However, the amount of money you can receive will be reduced by your own degree of fault. It’s important to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer if you’ve been involved in a lane splitting accident. This is particularly true if you are partly responsible for the lane splitting crash. Contact the legal team at Glotzer & Leib, LLP to learn more.
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