For most, lane splitting is something of a gray area. Is it legal for motorcyclists to ride in between lanes in California? If so, when are they permitted to do so?
Yes, motorcyclists are generally permitted to ride between lanes. In fact, California has some of the clearest lane-splitting laws in the nation. Generally speaking, motorists have the onus to avoid striking lane-splitting motorcyclists.
California Vehicle Code § 21658.1(a) defines lane splitting as driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.
In other words, lane splitting involves a motorcyclist driving in the area between lanes rather than in a single lane. The motorcyclist may technically move between two lanes, but the intent is clear – to move between stopped or slow-moving vehicles without striking them.
Motorcyclists may split lanes because:
Splitting lanes may help traffic congestion, as it reduces the total number of motorists sitting in traffic.
California Vehicle Code § 21658.1(a) legalized lane splitting in California. Motorcyclists can drive in between other vehicles, so long as they do so in a safe manner.
To split lanes safely requires cooperation between motorcyclists and motorists. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) provides tips for safe lane splitting:
Motorcyclists must only split lanes if conditions are right. Lane splitting is generally only safe if:
Large trucks, vehicles without functioning side mirrors, motor homes, and certain other vehicles may have significant blindspots. If possible, motorcyclists should avoid splitting lanes between such vehicles.
Motorcyclists must also maintain control as they split vehicles. The margin for error when riding between two vehicles is slim.
Motorists pose the greatest risk to motorcyclists. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains that motorists cause most accidents. Motorists may cause most lane splitting accidents, too.
A motorist who wants to avoid causing a lane splitting accident will:
Motorists must also engage in best driving practices, irrespective of a motorcyclist’s lane splitting. Driving drunk, while on drugs, while distracted, or in any dangerous manner puts others at risk. If such dangerous behaviors led to a lane-splitting accident, the motorcyclist can hold the negligent motorist liable.
Motor vehicles far outweigh motorcycles. When the two collide, motorcyclists generally suffer serious injury or death. All drivers must keep this in mind, paying attention to motorcyclists and avoiding collisions.
This depends on the specifics of the accident. Details always matter. So long as the motorcyclist did not drive into a stopped vehicle, they can generally hold the driver of a motor vehicle liable.
Lane-splitting accidents happen in vastly different ways. Your attorney will speak with you to gather the details of your accident—these are the facts that matter most. Some common scenarios illustrate liability for lane splitting, though.
Some cases where a motorist may be liable include:
There are countless scenarios where a motorist can cause a lane-splitting accident. When these accidents occur, a central question arises: was the motorist negligent?
Negligence is a common liability standard in civil cases. Negligence occurs when someone engages in unreasonable behavior. Someone can also be negligent if they unreasonably fail to act. Any action that puts a lane-splitting motorcyclist at risk may qualify as negligence.
Your attorney may prove negligence by:
A motorist may not be the only party liable for your accident. Say lane-dividing lines were faded or not present at the time of your accident. The organization responsible for providing those lane dividers—a municipality, perhaps—may be liable for certain damages. If a vehicle defect led to your accident, then a manufacturer may be liable. Attorneys must assess liability on a case-by-case basis.
Hiring an attorney is in your best interests, as a motorcycle accident attorney will move your case forward as swiftly as possible and protect your rights. Most importantly, your attorney will seek the settlement or judgment you deserve.
Motorcycle accident cases can be complex. The issue of lane-splitting may introduce further complications, as it’s not always obvious who is at fault. An experienced attorney will present the strongest case that they possibly can.
Your attorney may assist you by:
An attorney will lead your case while you recover. You don’t have to seek justice on your own.
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