Lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist drives between two lanes of stopped or slowly moving cars, usually in traffic jams. If an accident occurs while a motorcyclist is lane splitting, whether the motorcycle or car is at fault depends on whether lane splitting is permissible in that state, the views of the police officer and judge on lane splitting, and the actions of both the motorist and motorcyclist prior to the accident.
Laws on lane splitting (also called lane sharing, lane filtering, shoulder surfing) vary from state to state. As of 2021, four states (California, Utah, Hawaii, and Montana) have legalized some form of lane sharing. A majority of states prohibit it in all situations. In the remaining states, lane splitting isn't recognized as a legal maneuver, but it's not explicitly banned either.
Lane splitting is prime fodder for accidents due to the close proximity of the cars to the motorcycle, the reduced space to maneuver, and the fact that the cars don't anticipate that a vehicle will be passing them in slowed or stopped traffic.
If an accident happens while a motorcycle is lane splitting, there's a good chance that fault for the accident will be attributed to the motorcycle rider. If the insurance adjuster or court finds that the motorcyclist's carelessness was a substantial cause of the accident, the rider is out of luck when it comes to recovering damages. (For information on filing insurance claims, see Nolo's Dealing With Insurance Companies area.)
However, if the motorcycle rider can show that the other driver (presumably of a car or truck) contributed to the accident, the rider may be partially or fully compensated for her injuries and property damage. This may occur if the car that hit them was changing lanes or weaving, or if the driver was talking on the phone or otherwise not paying attention. (To learn more about assigning liability in accidents, read Nolo's article Proving Fault in Personal Injury Accidents: General Rules.)
The following factors may help prove this claim:
If possible, support your version of the accident with a police report and witness statements. (To learn more about getting evidence to support your case, read Nolo's articles Take Notes After an Accident or Injury and Personal Injury Accidents: Preserve Evidence.)
If you are going to lane split, be sure it's not prohibited in your state and then make sure you do it in a safe manner. This is your best defense against accidents. And if you do get in an accident, evidence of your safe riding behavior will make it more likely that your insurance carrier, or a judge, will find that you were not at fault for the accident.
To increase your safety while lane splitting, do the following:
To learn more about motorcycle, bike, and car accidents, and how to recover for injuries and property damage resulting from these accidents, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).