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Who Is Liable For a Motorcycle Lane Splitting Accident?

While lane splitting is widely accepted technique around the world, in the United States it is illegal (with the exception of California). The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety states that although lane splitting is allowed mainly in California, it seems to be worthy of further study because it offers a means of reducing congestion in addition to possible safety benefits that have been overlooked. All motorcyclists should be aware of the value of lane positioning to maximize their visibility to other motorists and to better manage traffic situations. Effectively, a motorcycle’s narrow width can allow it to pass between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cares on roadways where the lanes are wide enough to offer a sufficient gap. This option can provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be trapped or struck from behind. The Hurt Report (1981) stated evidence that showed how traveling between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars (i.e., lane splitting) on multiple-lane roads (such as interstate highways) slightly reduces crash frequency compared with staying within the lane and moving with other traffic [1].

Is It Really Safe?

According to a recent study by UC Berkeley researchers analyzed nearly 6,000 California motorcycle accidents whereas only 997 involved lane-splitters. Epidemiologist Thomas Rice and his colleagues found that compared to other riders who crash, lane-splitters wear better helmets, travel at lower speeds, and are far less likely to have alcohol in their systems or to be carrying passengers. Continually, lane-splitting motorcyclists were also injured much less frequently during their collisions. These lane-splitting riders were less likely to suffer head injury (9% vs 17%), torso injury (19% vs 29%), extremity injury (60% vs 66%), and fatal injury (1.2% vs 3.0%) when compared to other accidents. Lane-splitting motorcyclists were equally likely to suffer neck injury compared with non-lane-splitting motorcyclists.

Furthermore, the study found that motorcycle speed differential was a stronger predictor of injury outcomes. Speed differentials of up to 15 mph were not associated with changes in injury occurrence; above that point, increases in speed differential were associated with increases in the likelihood of injury of each type. Thus, lane-splitting appears to be a relatively safe motorcycle riding practice if done in traffic moving at 50 mph or less and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 mph. In cases were riders lane-split in fast-moving traffic of at excessive speed differentials, these riders could lower their risk of injury by restricting the environments in which they lane-split and by reducing their speed differential when they do choose to lane-split [2].

A Motorcyclist’s Perspective

In an article written for the LA Times, Susanna Schick, 45, describes her experience with motorcycles and why lane-splitting is safer than sitting behind a car–waiting to get rear ended.

When she was 15 ½, Schick immediately got her leaner’s permit in San Mateo and bought her first scooter. Along with trial and error, she learned how to ride the scooter excellently. However, some years later, she was seriously injured when a driver turned left in front of her (which is not an uncommon way to die on a bike). Traumatized from that experience, she stopped riding and went off to school. Once back in a city scene, she started riding again and was extra-conscious about her surroundings, about protective gear and about other motorists. Once she got over her fears, she turned to racing Yamaha R-1s and suffered multiple injuries. Still, the worst injury she eventually would have was when she was riding a bicycle. It happened in downtown Los Angeles in 2012, when she was riding down Spring Street. She lost control when a car was coming, barreling down the street behind her. The car hit her and unfortunately, she broke her pelvis in three places, five of her ribs as well as her collarbone. She stated, “I broke more bones in that bicycle crash than in all of my motorcycle crashes combined.”

While it may be unnerving to some motorists, lane-splitting actually saves lives. Schick said, “I think it’s ridiculous that it’s illegal anywhere. It’s just this culture of fear that dominates America. We’re being fed this message: It’s not safe. You have to stay inside, watch TV, don’t travel, don’t ride a motorcycle. I feel sorry for people who let fear rule their lives.” [3]

Fear Ruling the Public

Even with the best intentions and organization, inappropriate behavior by motorcyclists can quickly reap a massive negative response from the motoring public. With the easy availability of video systems and the internet, a few postings of public roadway stunting, such as speeding past motorists stuck in traffic, could sour a legitimate campaign to approve lane splitting in a state. While the American Motorcycle Association has long advocated responsible riding practices and does not condone any behavior that violates the rules of the road, they caution that the future of lane splitting in any state could be derailed by the actions of a few irresponsible motorcyclists [4].

In the state of Florida, the “operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken. No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles… A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.”

Dolman Law Group

Just like most of the U.S., lane splitting in Florida–and evidently the Tampa Bay area–is illegal. Therefore, if there is an accident where a motorcyclist is lane-splitting on a Florida highway, the motorcyclist will be found liable for the accident in more cases than not, thus restricting them to unfair compensation for the damages caused by the accident. Nonetheless, if a motorcyclist can prove that the other vehicle was at fault by contributing to the accident whereas the motorist made an inherently dangerous maneuver that was more unsafe than the assumed precarious act of lane splitting, the motorcyclist may be able to receive partial or even full compensation for the damages suffered. Some of the following factors can help prove that a motorcyclist was not fully responsible for the incident:

  • The motorcyclist was traveling at a safe speed, as previously discussed above, and was being cautious
  • The motorcyclist is a very capable rider and has the experience to know what is dangerous
  • The motorcyclist has completed a motorcycle safety course
  • The other driver made a hazardous maneuver

CONTACT A TAMPA BAY & CLEARWATER EXPERIENCED MOTORCYCLE ATTORNEY AT DOLMAN LAW

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries due to a motorcycle accident, you may be entitled to compensation for the damages that you suffered. While lane-splitting is illegal in Florida, the evidence supporting its safety over the assumption of risk can aid in a case where the motorcyclist made a safe maneuver when compared to a motorist. Contact the experienced motorcycle accident attorneys at Dolman Law Group today at (727) 451-6900.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900

https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/motorcycle-accident-attorneys/

References:

[1] http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/00-NHT-212-motorcycle/motorcycle51.html
[2] http://www.ots.ca.gov/pdf/Publications/Motorcycle-Lane-Splitting-and-Safety-2015.pdf
[3] http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-lane-splitting-20150703-column.html
[4] http://americanmotorcyclist.com/rights/positionstatements/
lanesplitting.aspx