Opinions and Legal Insights

Freeway Motorcycle Accidents: Riding The Lines

freeway motorcycle accident

In 2017, there were 16,505 freeway motorcycle accidents reported in California. It resulted in 541 deaths and 15,527 injuries. Due to their low profile and small size, motorcycles are more controllable than many passenger vehicles. California’s laws recognize this difference. It allows motorcyclists to drive in specific ways that are not allowable for other drivers, such as:

· Lane Sharing- Two motorcycles or a passenger vehicle and a motorcycle can share a lane together.

· Lane Splitting A motorcyclist is able to ride between two of traffic at a speed that is higher than surrounding vehicles.

Lane Sharing

As implied by the name, lane sharing occurs when two vehicles travel in the same lane and direction simultaneously, side-by-side. This can involve a passenger vehicle and a motorcycle or two motorcycles. Lane sharing was originally introduced to prevent motorcyclists from getting trapped between two vehicles. This often occurs in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lane sharing enables motorcyclists to maneuver between vehicles and escape from exposure to vehicle exhaust.

It’s important to note that lane sharing is not permitted on every highway in California. It is applicable to big roads where there are two lanes or more heading in the same direction.

Technically, it is legal for a motorcyclist to share a lane with another passenger vehicle or motorcyclist. However, experts deem this practice as unsafe. In fact, it is discouraged by the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ Motorcycle Handbook. It states that riding between moving or stopped cars can lead to freeway motorcycle accidents. Even though the DMV is averse to lane sharing, the act itself is not illegal in California law. 

Lane Splitting

This is another traffic rule that is specific to motorcyclists. In lane splitting, the motorcyclist is allowed to ride the barrier between both lanes, cut amid stopped vehicles, or ride at a slow rate between lanes.

Although most drivers regard lane splitting as unsafe, a 2015 study conducted at the University of Southern California proved that lane splitting made roadways safer for motorcyclists. In fact, the practice prevented them from getting squeezed between vehicles. It also helped them avoid breathing in large amounts of exhaust fumes.

Lane splitting is also a handy, time-saving measure. It enables motorcyclists to reduce their time spent on the road. The ability to save time is useful for law enforcement personnel on motorcycles. Nevertheless, many drivers strongly object to the practice because of the number of freeway motorcycle accidents that occur in California every year.

Lane sharing and lane splitting benefits the California Highway Patrol team as well. Officers are able to drive in and out of congestion to reach emergency sites and crime scenes faster.

California Laws on Motorcycle Lane Splits

Did you know motorcycle lane splitting accidents are more frequent in California than in any other state? Lane splitting is illegal in every state, except for California. Many urban areas in this state like Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego have some of the busiest highways in America. Main thoroughfares like Interstate 5 or Interstate 10 have up to eight lanes in certain areas. However, at certain times of the day such as office hours, you can still experience bumper-to-bumper congestion. Many bikers try to get ahead and skip through this traffic by riding between the lanes. The problem arises in a split second when a passenger vehicle decides to change lanes without seeing the approaching biker from the rearview mirror. This is a common occurrence and often triggers freeway motorcycle accidents. A biker can attain serious injuries and sometimes these are fatal.

As stated earlier, there is no specific California Vehicle Code which prohibits bikers from riding between lanes in the state. On the contrary, there are official publications which state that lane splitting is “not illegal if done in a prudent and safe manner”.

The California Vehicle Code Section 22400 forbids motorists from driving at deliberately slow speeds. This impedes traffic flow which will create an obstruction for motorcyclists from filtering ahead onto the unused part of the highway. In addition, CVC 22517 prevents any passenger or driver from leaving the car door open, or opening the car door on any side of the car that is available to moving traffic. This would prevent drivers from negligently or purposely ‘dooring’ a motorcyclist.

The California Vehicle Code

This doesn’t mean bikers don’t have to obey the rules of the road. In fact, they can be charged with lane delineation like other vehicle drivers. The following statutes make lane splitting illegal:

– CVC 21460- Bikers are not permitted to cross solid/dashed line configurations or double parallel yellow lines. They may do so to turn left to get into a private road or driveway, to turn left, or during a legal U-turn.

– CVC 214640.5– Bikers are prohibited from taking a two-way turn lane for anything except to prepare for a left-hand turn.

– CVC 21750- Requires bikers to maintain a safe distance while passing a vehicle on their left.

– CVC 21754– Riders are prohibited from passing in the far right lane, barring under certain circumstances.

What Will Happen If I’m In Freeway Motorcycle Accidents?

Driving down the freeway, you might be obeying the law, but it’s still possible for you to be injured in an accident while lane splitting, lane sharing, or even while riding. If the accident involves you (the rider), or a passenger at highway speeds, the injuries can be serious. In such cases, you can expect lost wages, increasing medical bills, therapy and rehabilitation expenses, and other costs.

California’s law is familiar with financial and non-financial damages related to freeway motorcycle accidents. Injured riders are permitted to bring their lawsuits to a personal injury lawyer and seek compensation.

California Civil Code Sections 1431-1431.5 states that comparative fault principles are applied to allocate liability for accidental injuries. The responsible party will be held accountable for paying the portion of the damages they caused.

When do Freeway Motorcycle Lane Splitting Accidents Occur?

A rider may acquire injuries from a lane splitting accident when:

– There is a close distance between their motorcycle and the other vehicle.

– The motorcyclist is a new rider and is attempting to lane split.

– The traffic is unpredictable.

– The weather is poor.

– The rider is trying to move between large vehicles or trucks with blind spots.

A case example- When a passenger vehicle crosses the center line and hits a motorcyclist who was riding under the influence of alcohol. In this case, both parties are at partial fault. In this example, the injured motorcyclist can seek compensation from the driver. The fact finder assigns a percentage of fault to the driver and motorcyclist. If after allocating the fault percentage the driver is 50% at fault, then the motorcyclist may recover compensation. The total amount of recovery will be reduced according to the percentage of fault given to the motorcyclist.

freeway motorcycle accident in California

How Do Freeway Motorcycle Accidents Caused by Biker Lane Splitting Affect Personal Injury Claims in California?

California’s law doesn’t prohibit motorcyclists from lane splitting or lane sharing with vehicles in the same direction. However, California Vehicle Codes does make illegal for passenger and motor vehicle drivers to purposely prevent motorcyclists from lane splitting.

A motorcyclist can still get a ticket for lane splitting if it was done in a hasty manner. This is at the discretion of the attending police officer. The varying rules of the road and decision of the police officer, can make it tricky to decide who should be held liable for an accident between a motorcyclist and a vehicle driver.

California is a comparative or proportional fault state. Here, civil liability is allocated between two involved parties. This does not mean that a vehicle driver can evade the responsibility of looking twice in the side and rearview mirrors before changing lanes. It does assert that impulsive lane splits can cause a significant reduction in the monetary compensation of bodily injury claims sought by the bike rider. If the motorcyclist is found partly at fault for the freeway motorcycle accidents, then their award amount will be adjusted/reduced by the jury or judge according to the percentage of fault.

The main concern is speed. Traveling at high speeds between lanes on a highway or surface roads can lead to an accident. Within the blink of an eye, another motorist might veer in front or swerve towards your motorcycle, leaving you with no solution. The personal injury lawyers at Kuzyk Law caution bikers to perform lane splits at low speeds and in compliance with CHP guidelines. This prevents serious injuries and even death, but also increases the likelihood of recovery in case an accident does happen.

In case the court finds lane splitting as the cause of the accident, it will be difficult for the motorcyclist to seek compensation for damages. However, if the motorcyclist can prove that the motor vehicle contributed to the accident, then the driver can be held partially or completely responsible for the damages.

The motorcyclist may use the following factors to help prove their claim:

– The driver of the vehicle did something abruptly while lane splitting and contributed to the crash. Examples include drifting from one lane to the next, changing lanes without signalling.

– The driver of the vehicle was impaired in some way. Examples include poor eyesight, sleep deprivation, alcohol or drug intoxication, distraction, etc.

– The driver of the vehicle received a traffic citation after the crash occurred. This will act as evidence to prove the driver’s negligence.

– The motorcyclist is experienced. The rider has completed a motorcycle safety course.

– The motorcyclist was riding carefully and safely. He or she was not speeding or weaving in between traffic.

Steps to Prevent Freeway Motorcycle Accidents While Lane Splitting

Motorcyclists should do the following while driving on a California highway or roadway:

– Always wear safety gear and a helmet. This is a mandatory requirement in most states.

– Exercise caution while riding in a passenger vehicle or large vehicle’s blind spot.

– Pay attention to your surroundings and be alert to other drivers at all times.

– Verify that all lanes are moving gradually. If one lane appears to move faster than other lanes, then the motorist is very likely to change their lane. This can potentially hit a lane splitting motorcyclist.

– Pay heed to sudden lane changes up ahead.

– Look out for signs that a vehicle up ahead is changing lanes, i.e. the driver keeps looking into their side view or rearview mirrors.

– Drive your bike at a slightly faster speed than the traffic flow. Do not zoom by a slow moving or stopped vehicle.

– If cars get too close to your motorcycle, honk! Wait until there is a safe distance to pass between them.

– When the traffic speeds up around 30 mph, return to the lane.

Find the Legal Support You Need with Kuzyk Law

Lane splitting is the prime cause of most freeway motorcycle accidents in California. These occur because of proximity between the motorcycle and vehicle. Other factors include a lack of space to move and the vehicle doesn’t anticipate that motorcycles or cars will pass by them in stopped or slowed traffic.

If an accident occurs because a motorcycle was lane splitting, then there is a significant chance that the motorcyclist will be held at fault. If the court or insurance adjuster finds that a motorcyclist’s negligence was a significant variable in the crash, the rider will be out of luck in terms of recovering damages.

Were you recently injured in a motorcycle accident while riding the lines on a California highway or roadway? If so, you need to speak to an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer. At Kuzyk Law, our legal experts will sort out your claim and advocate on your behalf to seek maximum monetary compensation.

The underlying bias towards motorcyclists makes it difficult to convince a judge or jury that you (the motorcyclist) didn’t cause the accident. Let our experienced team at Kuzyk Law seek justice for you! For free legal advice about your case or information about freeway motorcycle accidents, get in touch with us today.

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