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Fatal Motorcycle Lane Splitting Accident Brings New Focus to New Law

by John Gomez | Last Updated: April 11, 2017
Lane Splitting

Many of us can remember that first time we got stuck in traffic on the freeways of Southern California.  Our minds may have drifted for a few seconds as we sat stopped, waiting for things to start moving.  Suddenly, we heard the noise of an engine coming up from behind us only to be startled at the sight of an oncoming motorcycle that was moving between lanes.  Was this legal?  Regardless of whether or not it was then, it is now, and the motorcycle lane splitting law remains controversial across California.  Tragically, a fatal motorcycle accident in North County San Diego recently has rekindled the debate as to whether or not this practice should be allowed on the state’s roads.  As is often the case with these crashes, it seems unclear as to which party or parties may have been at fault for the crash.

About the Fatal Lane Splitting Accident

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the story.  Those who would like to review it can find it here.  According to the report, a 24-year-old resident of San Diego was riding a motorcycle in a southbound direction on Interstate 5 in Encinitas at approximately 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon.  As the motorcycle driver passed the Encinitas Boulevard exit, the unidentified person was splitting lanes, riding between lanes 1 and 2.

At that point, the driver of a Toyota changed lanes and the two vehicles collided.  The motorcyclist then slid into the Number 3 lane and into the path of an oncoming big rig truck.  The truck ran the rider over and the person was killed at the scene.  Police did not release the motorcyclist’s name or gender.  Unfortunately, the driver of the Toyota did not remain at the scene and police are asking anyone with information regarding the crash to call 858.637.3800.

California Motorcycle Accident Statistics

First and foremost, we’d like to offer our thoughts to the person who was killed in this San Diego motorcycle accident.  We hope that the family of the motorcyclist is able to come together and somehow work through this very difficult situation.  We also hope that police are able to identify the driver of the Toyota soon so that they can complete their investigation and everyone can achieve some level of closure.

Unfortunately, this crash will now become part of the overall statistics regarding California motorcycle accidents.  Thousands of motorcycle accidents occur across the state every year.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, 449 people were killed in these crashes in 2015 alone.  In addition, 95 percent of the people killed in these accidents were wearing helmets at the time.

California Motorcycle Accidents and Lane Splitting

As mentioned above, lane splitting is legal in California, and this is the only state in the country in which this practice is explicitly allowed.  For years, lane splitting was not illegal per se, and therefore riders would not be pulled over for it.  In recent years, the California Highway Patrol has published recommendations for lane splitting in hopes of establishing riding norms that would be known and followed by motorcyclists and other motorists.  These recommendations, published in 2013, were as follows:

  1. Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 miles per hour faster than other traffic.
  2. It is not advisable to split lanes when traffic is moving at 30 miles per hour or faster.
  3. It is safer to split lanes between lane numbers 1 and 2.
  4. Consider your environment before lane splitting.
  5. Be alert and anticipate maneuvers from other motorists.

These guidelines were subsequently deemphasized because too many people thought of them as laws instead of mere guidelines.  In 2016, California officially passed a law that recognized the practice of lane splitting as legal.  The law did not go much further than that and tasked the California Highway Patrol to work with other agencies and officials to craft more specific guidelines for lane splitting.  To date, no specifics have been published.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

Despite the fact that lane splitting is legal in California, the debate continues as to whether or not it should be.  That’s because many people feel that it is not a safe practice and that it creates the opportunity for more traffic accidents.  Unfortunately, California does not track the number of lane splitting accidents that take place, even after it legalized the act.  However, there was a window of time when authorities did keep track of these types of crashes.

The California Office of Traffic Safety, or OTS, commissioned a study on lane splitting that recorded the number of lane splitting accidents between June of 2012 and August of 2013.  Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, completed the study.  They found the following:

  • 5,969 California motorcycle accidents occurred during this 14-month period.
  • 997 of these crashes involved lane splitting.
  • That equates to 17 percent of all of the accidents included in this study.

Overall, the researchers felt that lane splitting could be a safe practice under the right circumstances.  However, the obvious concern remains in that traveling closer to vehicles while driving a motorcycle reduces the amount of reaction time available to avoid a crash.  Those interested in reviewing the entire study can find it here.

Lane Splitting Accidents and Potential Liability

Given that lane splitting is legal in California, the question of liability when a lane splitting accident occurs is far from automatic.  Each situation will come down to the facts of the crash in order to determine if one motorist or the other was at fault or if all parties involved with an accident share fault to some degree.  As such, motorcyclists and drivers of other vehicles need to act in what the law would define as a reasonable manner when on the roads, including when lane splitting.

For instance, if a motorcyclist was legally lane splitting at the time, was not weaving in and out of traffic and was not driving at an excessive speed, that motorcyclist could have a strong claim if the driver of a different vehicle suddenly changed lanes into that motorcyclist’s path, causing a collision.  However, if the motorcyclist was driving erratically, aggressively or at a high rate of speed that motorcyclist could be at fault for what occurred.

How San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help

All that we know about the crash in Encinitas late last week was that someone tragically lost a life at a young age.  If you or someone you love has been injured in this type of a crash, you need to seek the help of San Diego personal injury lawyers who have been successfully standing up for the rights of clients for more than a decade.  Contact Gomez Trial Attorneys as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.

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