Motorcycle Lane Splitting Attorneys

Motorcycle lane splitting is a topic fraught with controversy and confusion.

Some groups say motorcyclists who lane split place themselves in jeopardy, while others claim that lane splitting allows bike riders to avoid accidents under certain circumstances.

Who is at fault when a lane-splitting motorcyclist is involved in an accident? Where does the liability fall?

The motorcycle accident attorneys at the Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers are specially equipped to answer your questions on lane splitting, as well other issues that affect Boston’s motorcycle community. Our motorcycle attorneys are not only knowledgeable about Massachusetts motorcycle laws, but many are bikers who know what it is like to navigate the region’s highways and share the road with inattentive or aggressive motorists.

Lane Splitting Is Illegal in Massachusetts

What is lane splitting? Lane splitting, also referred to as “stripe riding” or “white lining,” occurs when a motorcyclist (or sometimes bicyclist) rides between two lanes of cars traveling in the same direction. A motorcyclist might lane split on a highway when traffic is slow or stopped. Think I-93 at rush hour. Sometimes bikers split lanes so that they can get to the front of traffic at a traffic stop.

Under MGL ch. 89 § 4A, lane splitting is illegal in Massachusetts. The statute states:

“When any way has been divided into lanes, the driver of a vehicle shall so drive that the vehicle shall be entirely within a single lane, and he shall not move from the lane in which he is driving until he has first ascertained if such movement can be made with safety. The operators of motorcycles shall not ride abreast of more than one other motorcycle, shall ride single file when passing, and shall not pass any other motor vehicle within the same lane, except another motorcycle.”

In 2017, a bill was introduced that would have allowed lane splitting in the state, but it did not pass.

It is important to stress that lane splitting is not the same as lane sharing. As detailed above, two motorcycles are permitted to ride side by side and share a lane under Massachusetts law.

Lane splitting is allowed in California, and some other states, including Utah, allow lane filtering. Lane filtering refers to a motorcycle riding between rows of cars that are either parked or stopped.

You can read about lane splitting and lane filtering laws in different states here.

Lane-Splitting Accidents and Liability in Massachusetts

Most motorcycle accidents are caused by negligent drivers who refuse to share the road. The driver may have a negative attitude toward a motorcyclist cruising along on a sleek Harley- Davidson Softail cruiser or be prejudiced toward the biker because of stereotypes perpetuated on television shows or in movies. Not only do these motorists fail to use caution when driving near motorcycles, but they may crowd them out or try to push them off the road.

Our attorneys want you to know that motorcyclists have an unequivocable right to share the road with motorists in a safe manner.

If an accident does occur while a motorcyclist is lane splitting, the motorcyclist is not necessarily barred from recovering damages for his or her injuries. More than one party can be at fault for an accident. Massachusetts follows a comparative fault rule, which means that the injured motorcyclist is only barred from recovery if he or she is 51% or more to blame for the accident.

If the motorcyclist is able to prove that a negligent driver was mostly responsible for the accident, the motorcyclist’s award would be reduced by his or her percentage of fault.

A motorcycle lawyer can help you collect evidence that can be used to prove that a negligent driver contributed to the crash and is responsible for all, or minimally, a portion of your damages. For example, the driver may have been on his cellphone, speeding, intoxicated or weaving in between traffic at the time of the crash. Or the driver may have had a fit of road rage that caused him to crash into the biker. Under these circumstances, fault for the accident may fall on the driver.

A police report and statements from any witnesses at the scene can help corroborate the motorcyclist’s version of events.

Is Lane Splitting Dangerous?

Different groups have weighed in on the safety of lane splitting. In 2015, researchers with the University of California at Berkeley analyzed traffic data to determine if lane splitting is safe. They determined lane splitting is safe if performed in traffic that is traveling at a speed of 50 miles per hour or less and the motorcyclist is traveling at a speed of 15 miles per hour or less above the speed of traffic. That study propelled California to legalize lane splitting.

Those in favor of lane splitting not only claim that the practice is safe but that it can help prevent rear-end collisions. When a car or other vehicle rams into a motorcycle from behind, the motorcyclist can be tossed from his or her bike and suffer serious and sometimes fatal injuries. About 25% of motorcycle accidents are rear-end collisions.

Given the success that California has had with its change in law, the American Motorcyclist Association has come out in favor of lane splitting. In its statement on lane splitting, the nonprofit group says motorcyclists face a variety of hazards when they are stuck in congested traffic or between stop-and-go vehicles, and states that even minor contact with a vehicle can cause serious injury to a motorcyclist.

The AMA cites a comprehensive motorcycle crash causation study performed in the 1980s, known as the Hurt Report. The report found that moderate or heavy traffic was involved in nearly 60% of all of the motorcycle accidents studied. The report also found that reducing a motorcyclist’s exposure to cars that are constantly accelerating and decelerating on busy roadways was one way to reduce rear-end collisions for vulnerable bikers.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation says there is evidence that lane splitting “slightly reduces crash frequency” and has called for more research into the practice. The group notes that lane splitting is commonly practiced in other countries.

On the other hand, lane-splitting critics claim that motorcyclists traveling between lanes of traffic are vulnerable to sideswipe collisions and collisions caused by drivers attempting to switch lanes. They maintain that the noise and movement from a motorcycle zipping between lanes has the potential to startle unsuspecting motorists and lead to an accident.

Another concern is that motorcyclists and bicyclists traveling in close proximity to stopped cars are vulnerable to dooring incidents. When a driver or passenger opens a door in front of a motorcyclist, the biker can suffer serious and catastrophic injuries, including head and brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, internal injuries and paralysis.

To learn more about how our attorneys can help you with a motorcycle accident claim, contact us today at (617) 777-7777 or use our online form.

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