Since California doesn’t have a formal law regarding lane splitting, it can be difficult to determine who is at fault for a motorcycle lane splitting accident. Unfortunately, the answer to the question “Is it legal for motorcycles to split lanes?” is not quite clear-cut.
Motorcyclists considered the state a trailblazer when it announced its guidelines. The Office of Administrative Law opted to get rid of the guidelines after a petitioner raised objections to them, specifically noting that there was no formal rule-making process listed in the recommendations. Instead, California decided not to issue or enforce any law about lane sharing or filtering.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) states that it neither allows or prohibits motorcycles from lane splitting. Lane splitting involves passing other vehicles traveling within the same lane. Additionally, the California Highway Patrol, which monitors and enforces any laws related to any mode of transportation on the road, does not recommend or promote motorcycle lane splitting. Therefore, as long as motorcyclists share lanes legally; they do not have to worry about getting tickets for engaging in the practice.
The state DMV does encourage motorcyclists to:
It also suggests motorcyclists “to minimize safety risks by riding responsibly.” This statement is the part that leaves fault up to interpretation when an accident involving lane splitting occurs.
Just because an accident was caused by motorcycle lane spitting does not mean the motorcyclist is automatically responsible. If lane sharing was against the law, determining liability would be much simpler. Since it is not, those involved in a motorcycle lane splitting accident must rely on witnesses, police opinions, and other evidence to establish liability.
Therefore, it is imperative that police come to the scene if there were injuries or property damage following an accident. Police will determine whether any laws were broken, take pictures of the scene, and often issue statements about accident cause.
As a pure comparative negligence state, California permits the courts to assess the potential negligence of all parties involved in an accident claim. Therefore, if the motorcyclist is 25% at fault for an accident, the plaintiff could still get partial compensation for damages. Since both sides must prove the other party’s fault in order to get the best possible outcome in terms of compensation, this is where the assistance of a motorcycle accident attorney would be crucial.