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What Are the Risks and Potential for Liability When Motorcyclists Split Lanes?

Although the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes has been steadily decreasing over the years, the federal government has continued to record increases in fatalities among motorcyclists. In 2010, motorcyclist fatalities rose slightly, from 4,469 in 2009 to 4,502, accounting for 14 percent of total traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While the agency and traffic safety experts agree that speeding and impaired or distracted driving contribute significantly to the annual incidence of deaths, less of a consensus exists on the issue of lane splitting, the practice of riding in between lanes of traffic.

“Legal in California and an option riders frequently utilize, lane splitting can be risky and has contributed to accidents in the state,” explained a motorcycle accident lawyer in Orange County.

The NHTSA indicates that lane splitting may reduce congestion and, in some instances, increase the safety of riders; however, the practice does have the potential to be dangerous. Recent articles in the Orange County Register have discussed the possible safety risks, interviewing both a motorcycle rider who called lane splitting a "convenience" and a representative of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation who outlined some of the reasons why the Foundation did not recommend the practice. Robert Gladden, a Foundation rep, stated that lane splitting reduces the cushion of both time and space between the motorcycle and other vehicles, making riding more dangerous.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) weighed in on the issue as well, warning that lane splitting becomes very dangerous when the motorcycle is going at least 10 MPH above the speed of surrounding traffic. The CHP also indicated that while lane splitting is legal, it could be unsafe because drivers don't have time to notice or react to the motorcycle riders.

Of course, motorcycle riders may not be the sole cause of the dangers of lane splitting. Gladden also pointed to distracted driving as a problem and emphasized the risk that comes from drivers talking on the phone while operating a motor vehicle.

Because lane splitting is legal in California, it cannot be assumed that a motorcycle rider who is splitting lanes is automatically responsible when an accident occurs. Instead, the behavior of the motorcycle rider and other drivers involved in the crash will have to be considered in order to determine who was negligent and irresponsible in obeying the rules of the road.

Determining liability for an accident often requires a thorough investigation and extensive knowledge of the state’s traffic safety and tort laws. After a serious collision, it is advisable to discuss one’s rights and options with a reputable attorney.

Additional information on lane splitting, motorcycle accidents, and the personal injury claims process is available to the public free of charge through our office.

If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with an attorney in Orange County, feel free to call (888) 752-7474.

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