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California is the first state to permit lane-splitting or the act of a motorcycle riding between two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction. As such, it has been a pioneer state in terms of what works and what does not with lane-splitting. Lane-splitting accidents have become an increasing issue since the legislative change in 2016. Since California does not have a formal lane-splitting law, many victims do not know who is at fault for these collisions.
Technically, California did not legalize lane-splitting. Although the media often portrays it this way, the CA Department of Motor Vehicles says the state does not allow or prohibit lane-splitting. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is neutral on the subject, neither enforcing guidelines nor objecting to the practice. Motorcyclists in California may lane-split or lane-share without fear of receiving traffic tickets, as long as they do so safely. Lack of legal guidelines, however, makes this area of traffic law fuzzy.
The CHP offers safety advice for motorcyclists who wish to lane-split in California but does not enforce any official rules. These safety tips include driving at a safe speed, riding defensively (assuming vehicle drivers do not see riders), and avoiding riding in blind spots. It is a motorcyclist’s duty to lane-split responsibly, and to use common-sense traffic safety. What qualifies as responsible, however, can vary according to the circumstances, since no official lane-splitting law exists.
Since California law does not prohibit lane-splitting, a motorcyclist will not automatically be at-fault for these accidents as he/she would after breaking the law. If a motorcyclist was riding under the influence of alcohol, for example, he or she could be negligent per se for a subsequent collision. In other words, the victim would not need any other evidence of negligence besides the broken law to hold the motorcyclist responsible. Lane-splitting is not illegal. This makes determining liability more difficult.
California is a pure comparative negligence state. This means the courts will examine the potential negligence of both parties involved in a car accident claim. Both parties can absorb percentages of fault, which can affect a plaintiff’s ability to recover damages. A plaintiff partially at-fault for a motorcycle accident (even 99% at-fault) could still qualify for partial compensation in California. Both sides must try to prove the other party’s majority fault for maximum financial recovery.
After a lane-splitting accident, police will examine the facts and evidence of the case like other car accident types. They may give an opinion of fault in the police report, such as reckless driving or a motorcycle riding in a truck’s blind spot. Insurance companies may conduct further investigations of their own to determine fault. The evidence available will help prove fault and/or negligence for the lane-splitting accident. From there, it is up to the plaintiff and defendant to argue liability in pursuit of financial compensation.
Lane-splitting safely can help prevent these types of collisions. Motorcyclists should watch their speeds, staying under 10 to 15 miles per hour above the speed of surrounding vehicles. Motorcyclists should be aware of accidentally startling drivers as they pass, preparing for a driver to jerk the wheel or otherwise react dangerously. Lane-splitting could improve the safety of a motorcyclist when done correctly.
Likewise, other drivers should respect motorcyclists’ ability to lane-split in California. Drivers should always check their mirrors and blind spots carefully for motorcyclists riding between lanes prior to merging. Drivers should never open their doors into oncoming motorcyclists. Distracted and reckless driving can cause lane-splitting accidents. It is every road user’s responsibility to reasonably prevent collisions. If you get into a lane-splitting wreck in California, discuss liability with a motorcycle accident attorney.