Earlier this year a motorcyclist was involved in a fatal crash while navigating through stop and go traffic in San Diego. The motorcyclist was reportedly speeding past cars while splitting lanes of traffic. When the motorcycle brakes locked the motorcyclist crashed into a stopped car. He then bounced into another vehicle in an adjacent lane. The motorcyclist’s speed and lane splitting behavior are under investigation.
Most states in the country have rules expressly prohibiting lane splitting. California is an exception to the rule. In 2016, the California state legislature tried to adopt rules and regulations about lane splitting. However, the state remains relatively lax on lane splitting behavior. This is probably because of the significant resistance from the state’s motorcyclists. New regulations would impact their ability to enjoy California’s beautiful thoroughfares. Since California has more registered motorcyclists than any other state in the nation, the blowback was intense. Lane splitting is a gray area in the state. It is neither legal nor illegal. The California Highway Patrol has the discretion to determine whether a motorcyclist’s driving is safe.
Not adopting these formal regulations means that the uncertainty of liability after a crash remains. Since the behavior is not technically illegal, motorcyclists are not automatically negligent per se if they are lane splitting at the time of a crash. However, if a motorcyclist is lane splitting at the time of a crash he or she appears to have a greater burden to prove that the lane splitting was conducted purposefully and carefully. Failure to abide by some unwritten rules of the road may mean that liability – at least in part – is attributed to the motorcycle rider.
Lane Splitting and Negligence in California
Compensation for damages after a motorcycle crash are generally pursued in a claim based on negligence. In California, the rules of pure comparative negligence are followed. Under the theory of pure comparative negligence, each party can be held liable for the portion of the accident that is their fault. For example, let’s say you are involved in an accident with a motorcyclist who is lane splitting. The court may determine that the motorcyclist was 80% at fault because he or she was swerving between lanes or speeding. They may also find that you were 20% at fault because you were distracted by your phone. The motorcyclist, if seriously injured, could potentially recover up to 20% of their damages from you. Similarly, you could recover 80% of the damages sustained to your person or property from the motorcyclists if you decided to pursue a claim.
Motorcyclist’s Burden of Proof
If you are involved in an accident with a motorcycle rider it is important to contact an attorney. Your attorney will build a case that highlights the reasons why the motorcyclist should be held responsible. Even though California does not have formal lane splitting rules, they do have recommendations for engaging in safe lane splitting conduct. Indications of safe lane splitting include:
- navigating the motorcycle in a straight line;
- not weaving through lanes;
- shifting between lanes one at a time;
- following the speed limit;
- not exceeding the speed of other vehicles on the road by more than 15 MPH when passing; and
- using lights and horns to alert other vehicles to their presence.
Your attorney will also highlight other behaviors that indicate unsafe distracted driving practices. These may include talking on the phone or other mobile device, eating, or drinking. Motorcycle riders must prove that they exercised extreme caution and care while changing lanes of traffic.
Experienced Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys
At Citywide Law Group, we understand the headache and heartbreak a motorcycle accident can cause. We offer our services on a contingency fee basis. This means that we do not get paid unless you recover compensation for your injuries. You can focus on your recovery and let us do the heavy legal lifting. If you have been involved in an accident with a lane-splitting motorcyclist, contact us today for a free consultation. During this consultation, can learn about your legal rights and options.