California has some of the most attractive roads to motorcyclists. In fact, California has more registered motorcycles than any other state in the country. Between both in-state and visiting riders, California’s roadways are often jam-packed. As the economy continues to grow California’s roads are seeing an increase in traffic of all kinds – including trucks, cars, and motorcycles.
Jam-packed roadways often lead to traffic jams. Motorcyclists may be inclined to ride between lanes of traffic to avoid sitting still. California is the only state where this dangerous practice – known as lane splitting – is not expressly prohibited. The lack of firm rules and regulations makes determining liability in the wake of a California motorcycle lane splitting accident a bit more difficult to determine.
In April, a motorcycle rider was killed after he was run over by a big rig truck on Interstate 5 in Encinitas. The rider was splitting two lanes of traffic when he crashed into another vehicle that began to change lanes. The crash caused the rider to slide underneath a tractor-trailer truck driving in an adjacent lane. Unfortunately, the vehicle that decided to change lanes did not see the motorcycle splitting lanes. An investigation will be required to determine which party(ies) may be liable.
Understanding Why California’s Lack of Lane Splitting Prohibitions Is Important To Your Personal Injury Claim
Why is it more difficult to pinpoint liability in California lane splitting accidents? Since the state does not formally prohibit lane splitting it may be more difficult to prove that a motorcyclist was negligent.
If lane splitting were prohibited – as it is in most states in the country – then a motorcyclist who was lane splitting at the time of a crash would be breaking the law. If a person is breaking the law at the time of an accident, and the law-breaking behavior caused the accident, a plaintiff in a personal injury claim for damages could say that the lane splitting rider was negligent per se. This makes the road to recovery a little bit easier. However, since lane splitting is not against the law, victims injured in a motorcycle accident caused by lane splitting must prove the rider’s negligence.
Proving negligence requires showing that (1) the rider had a duty to other vehicles on the road to operate the motorcycle safely; (2) the rider breached this duty by engaging in unsafe behavior; and (3) the unsafe behavior caused the plaintiff’s injury.
A successful personal injury claim for damages based on proving negligence can be significantly more burdensome than a claim based on negligence per se. In late 2016, California attempted to develop guidelines and regulations for lane splitting in the state but failed when faced with considerable opposition from the state’s significant motorcyclist population. It is plausible that one of the reasons for the pushback from the motorcycle community was due in part to liability after an accident.
Proving the Negligence of a Lane Splitting Motorcyclist
While lane splitting is not expressly prohibited, California Highway Patrol is empowered with discretion to determine if motorcyclists should be ticketed for practicing unsafe lane splitting behaviors. Additionally, California has listed certain general guidelines on its Department of Motor Vehicles website to reinforce safe lane splitting practices. Taken together, these guidelines and the conduct that California Highway Patrol may consider to be unsafe can be helpful in determining how to prove the negligence of a lane splitting rider.
Safe lane splitting practices – according to the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles – include:
- Operating a motorcycle at a low rate of speed;
- Assuming other vehicles cannot see a motorcycle navigating between lanes; and
- Avoiding blind spots, especially when sharing the road with large commercial trucks.
If motorcyclists – even if they are splitting lanes – abide by these guidelines, it may be difficult to prove negligence. However, the following behaviors may be helpful in proving the negligence of a lane splitting rider:
- Exceeding the traffic of other vehicles on the road by more than 15 MPH;
- Abruptly changing lanes;
- Failing to signal before changing lanes;
- Using a cell phone;
- Riding in blind spots of other vehicles;
- Distracted driving; and
- Operating a motorcycle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Each of these factors may be helpful in proving that a motorcyclist breached the duty of care owed to other drivers on the road.
Skilled Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help Build Your Case
If you or someone you know has been injured in a San Diego motorcycle accident you should contact an experienced San Diego personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the crash. California imposes a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims, so time is of the essence if you are interested in recovering compensation for your injuries.
Since lane splitting is not illegal in California proving the negligence of a motorcyclist can be difficult. Fortunately, the skilled motorcycle accident attorneys at Injury Trial Lawyers, APC have experience building successful personal injury claims and recovering compensation from negligent lane splitting riders. Our attorneys understand which details can make and break a case and use the information you provide as leverage against at-fault riders. Contact us today to learn about how we may be able to help you.