When Lane-Splitting Is Still Illegal In California (Determining Fault When A Motorcyclist Was Riding Between Lanes)

November 24, 2018
On behalf of The Law Offices of Howard Craig Kornberg Posted in Motorcycle Accident

Lane-splitting… Who would have thought that just one word can trigger millions of car drivers in California? The practice of motorcyclists riding between lanes or rows of slow-moving or stopped traffic is annoying for car drivers and exciting for motorcycle riders. After all, they get to bypass stopped or slowed traffic, when car drivers have to chew impatiently on burgers and other snacks while waiting in traffic jams.

Lane-splitting is not allowed nor is it prohibited in California

In most states, lane-splitting, also known as “lane sharing” and “filtering,” is prohibited by law, but this is not the case here in California. Our Los Angeles motorcycle accident attorney at Law Offices of Howard Craig Kornberg explains that a few years ago, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) even issued and enforced lane-splitting guidelines in an attempt to make the practice of motorcyclists riding between lanes of traffic more regulated and normalized.

However, after the lane-splitting guidelines have been criticized by California motorcyclists and car drivers alike, the CHP decided to drop these guidelines and removed them from its website altogether. As of November 2018, the CHP does not issue nor does it enforce lane-splitting guidelines in California.

After the lane-splitting guidelines were removed from the CHP’s website, the Department of Motor Vehicles adjusted its wording as well. As of today, the DMV’s website says that California law “does not allow or prohibit” lane-splitting.

Lane-splitting and comparative negligence

This kind of neutral position raises many questions regarding liability in the event of motorcycle accidents caused by lane-splitting. How will liability be established if a car accident into a motorcyclist who was lane-splitting at the time of the accident? Since the practice of splitting lanes is no longer prohibited by California, does it mean there is no way the motorcyclist can be held liable even if he or she acted negligently?

This is the question we asked our experienced motorcycle accident attorney. First and foremost, let’s not forget that when it comes to establishing fault in motor vehicle accidents, California law looks at the comparative negligence of each party.

How fault is determined if a motorcyclist was splitting lanes

California follows a system of pure comparative negligence to award damages to parties involved in car, truck, and motorcycle accidents in Los Angeles and all across the state. What the system does is limit each party’s compensation by the percentage of his or her own fault in the accident. Therefore, if a motorcyclist acted negligently, recklessly, or carelessly when lane-splitting, he or she may be deemed at fault in the crash even though the practice of splitting lanes is not illegal in California.

Whether or not a motorcyclist was at fault for an accident in which he or she was lane-splitting depends on his/her actions and the actions of the other party involved. For example, if a car driver changed lanes without checking his/her rear-view or side-view mirrors, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or did not look at the road because he/she was sending a text, the fault will most likely be allocated to the car driver.

When lane-splitting is still illegal in California

However, if the motorcyclist who was lane-splitting acted negligently as well, he or she may be held liable, too. In order to determine what constitutes “acting negligent” when a motorcyclist is splitting lanes, it might be a good idea to review the guidelines regarding lane-splitting previously issued and enforced by the CHP:

  • The motorcycle was traveling at a speed more than 10 mph faster than other vehicles in traffic;
  • The motorcyclist chose to ride between lanes or rows of traffic when traffic was moving at 30 mph or faster;
  • The motorcyclist did not split between the far left lanes (which is safer than splitting between other lanes of traffic); and
  • The motorcyclist failed to exercise due care and be alert to other drivers and sudden changes in traffic.

With California law’s neutral position regarding lane-splitting, establishing fault after a motorcycle accident that involved lane-splitting is not as simple as it seems. That is why it is highly advised to seek legal help from an attorney at 310-997-0904 to get a free consultation today.


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