Motorcycle riding is one of the most dangerous ways to get around on the highways. Everyone is bigger than you, has better built-in protection, and can’t always see you well. However, you do have what many see as an advantage: You can quickly slip from lane to lane in traffic.
But that small size and maneuverability can get you in trouble, too. Because of their size, motorcycles not only slip quickly from one lane to another; they also often ride in between the lanes. This practice, in effect, creates a new lane just for the motorcycles and allows them to keep moving when traffic is at a standstill. The procedure is convenient and one of the attractions of a bike for many.
Lane Splitting Is Illegal in New York State
Yes, under New York State law, motorcycles can’t pass a car in the same lane, ride side by side with more than two vehicles in the same lane, or go between lanes of traffic. The penalties for lane splitting start at a $150.00 fine, 15 days in jail, a surcharge of $88.00, and 2 points on your license. By the third offense, within 18 months, the maximum fine goes up to $450.00, with the other items remaining the same.
Lane splitting is pretty much illegal everywhere but California which expressly permits it. About a half dozen states are considering following California, but as of 2021, it is only legal in California, Utah, and Montana.
Lane Splitting is Dangerous Everywhere
Lane splitting is dangerous. As mentioned above, motorcycles come onto the road with distinct disadvantages in size and safety. Lane splitting attacks at precisely those points of vulnerability.
The risk of an accident, according to a Berkeley study, increases significantly if the motorcycle travels even ten miles per hour faster than the traffic stream. In fact, one of every five motorcycle accidents involves lane splitting.
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Getting Pinned Between Two Vehicles
If traffic is congested and a driver changes lanes without seeing you, you may suddenly be pinned or crushed between those two vehicles. Your injuries in such an accident can be fatal or even catastrophic.
Annoying Other Drivers
Lane splitting may annoy other drivers and can lead to road rage. A driver watching you move on by using illegal maneuvers may develop road rage and try to take revenge. A little time on the highway isn’t worth those possible consequences.
Lane Splitting Causes Accidents
When you move your bike into a lane or between lanes, you assume that the drivers around you are aware of your presence. All it takes is for one driver to be adjusting a mirror or changing the channel on the radio, or even reading a text for you to become the latest victim of distracted driving.
Sometimes, the other driver unexpectedly changes lanes without using a signal and hits you. If that driver does notice, the danger then becomes the driver’s urge to suddenly slam on the breaks.
Lane splitting often leads to motorcycles rear-ending another vehicle. In addition, about a third of lane-splitters end up hitting truck side mirrors, while one in five suffer injuries. Lane splitting during rush hour increases all these risks.
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Reducing the Danger
- Wear a helmet and other safety gear
- Pay attention to the other drivers
- Be even more cautious if lanes are moving at different speeds; sudden lane changes are likely
- Keep an eye out for lane changing drivers ahead of you
- Be very careful if you’re in a blind spot; try not to be
- Use your signals and mirrors
Who Is Liable in a Lane Splitting Accident?
Liability for any motor vehicle accident is virtually always a matter of the facts and circumstances of the case. However, because lane splitting is illegal and well known to be dangerous, courts and insurance companies will tend to view the biker as responsible for the accident.
Nonetheless, if the other driver also did something illegal or dangerous, like texting or using a hand-held digital device, you probably weren’t entirely at fault. If the other driver changed lanes without checking the mirrors or using a signal, you might recover compensation. Learn and understand the impact of the facts of your case by working with a lawyer.
The crucial point is that you, the biker, must demonstrate that whatever anyone else was doing, you were operating your vehicle safely and carefully. In other words, you were changing lanes carefully and prudently and using your signals and mirrors.
You have to demonstrate that the other driver was somehow negligent to win and recover. The less careless you were, the more likely it is that the other driver’s carelessness caused the accident.
Can I Recover if I Was Lane Splitting?
Yes, it is possible to recover damages for a lane-splitting accident, even if it is illegal. Violating a traffic law is some evidence of negligence. However, it is not dispositive of the case, especially in a state that allows the court to apportion the recovery among the parties based on their respective shares of the blame for the accident.
Thus, if the court decides that your lane splitting was ten percent responsible for the accident, in comparison, if the other driver’s sending and receiving texts while driving was 90 percent responsible, you might receive as much as 90 percent of the damages you can prove.
Common Injuries in Lane Splitting Accidents
Motorcycle riders, as we said, are at a severe disadvantage in any traffic accidents. Their lack of protection and smaller size makes them highly vulnerable to other drivers.
Some of the more common injuries are:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) – The purpose of helmets is to prevent skull fractures and other external injuries. They can’t prevent the traumatic brain injuries caused by the sudden violent bodily movement experienced in a motorcycle accident. TBI comes, in these cases, from the brain being bounced against the walls of the skull, twisting, tearing, and bruising brain tissues. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially fatal complications. What your doctor calls a “mild” TBI relates only to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to your overall prognosis. Even TBIs that medical professionals initially consider mild can still be severe injuries resulting in lasting effects and complications. If doctors diagnose you with any TBI, remain on watch for any complications or lingering effects.
- Spinal and neck injuries – The same violent motion when you get thrown from your bike in an accident that causes TBI can also damage the bones in your neck and spine and the spinal cord inside those bones. Bruising and tearing of the spinal cord can cause temporary or permanent paralysis, whose extent depends on the location of the injury. The higher on the spinal cord your injury occurs, the more severe your paralysis.
- Whiplash – Whiplash is another injury resulting from the violent jerking and twisting you experienced in the accident. It may not be immediately apparent after your accident. Still, as the symptoms develop, you may experience a severe loss of mobility in your neck and shoulders and severe, chronic pain.
- Lacerations – There is a name for how badly you can get torn up by the pavement in a motorcycle accident. Road rash can rip off layers of skin, or even muscle, as the motorcycle and the force of the accident drags your body across the rough pavement. Permanent and disabling loss of tissue and scarring can result.
- Broken ribs – The impact of the car against your relatively unprotected body, especially if you are between two vehicles, can cause many torso injuries. The first torso injury is broken ribs. Dangerous in themselves because of the loss of protection to your internal organs, broken ribs can also cause damage such as punctured lungs.
- Organ damage – Again, the unequal impact between your motorcycle and a car can lead to severe organ damage for you. Torso injuries, especially those caused by crushing, can also crush your internal organs. You can lose some and survive, but these are generally catastrophic injuries.
- Internal bleeding – Internal bleeding usually results from organ damage. It is subtle and may not get diagnosed right away. Unfortunately, it is also perilous and can lead to shock or death astonishingly fast.
- Broken or amputated limbs – Once again, your relatively unprotected status as a biker means that when hit by one or even two larger vehicles, you are likely to experience significant fractures. Moreover, if pinned between two vehicles, the fractures may become crush injuries. In a crush injury, the heavy mass of the other vehicles compresses the muscles and bones. Crush injuries not only severely damage muscle and bone, but they cause systemic metabolic changes resulting in potential shock. If not treated well and promptly, crush injuries can require amputation of the affected limb.
- Facial disfigurement – Finally, between road rash, broken bones, facial injuries, and everything else that happened, your face isn’t necessarily going to look like it used to. Wounds from road rash and burns, if there was an explosion or fire, are slow-healing, prone to infection, and can leave severe scarring.
What Damages Can I Recover?
Many kinds of damages are available if you are not entirely at fault. You can recover economic damages, including hospital and medical expenses, lost wages, property damage to your vehicle, physical therapy, drugs, and future lost earnings.
Non-economic damages are the more subjective future damages for which you don’t have a receipt. These damages include pain and suffering, loss of companionship, emotional distress, diminished quality of life, loss of activities, loss of consortium, and emotional and mood disorders caused by any of these conditions.
In New York, you may only recover non-economic damages if your accident involved death, dismemberment, significant disfigurement, loss of a fetus, loss of any organ, a broken bone, significant limitation, impairment of a bodily function or system, or an injury that prevents you from engaging in your normal daily activities for at least 90 days. Meeting this requirement is usually not difficult in a motorcycle accident where a severe injury is a norm, not the exception.
To drive a motorcycle in New York, you must obtain a Class M or MJ operator’s license or learner’s permit. To get the learner’s permit, you must pass the written exam. When riding with a learner’s permit, the rider must receive supervision from a fully licensed motorcycle rider.
The state may waive the road test requirement if:
- You are 16 or older.
- You have a valid NY State license of Class A, B, C, D, DJ, or E
- You have a valid M or MJ motorcycle learner’s permit.
- You present a course completion card issued by the NY State Motorcycle Safety Foundation within two years of completing the course for either a Basic Rider Course (BRC) or a Basic Rider Course 2 License/Waiver (BRC2-LW) (Note that an out-of-state course will not support a waiver.)
Some waivers are also available for members of the United States armed forces.
Work With a Long Island Motorcycle Accident Accident Attorney
As you can see, recovering compensation for a lane-splitting accident is a subtle and challenging business. It’s all too easy for an insurance company to say, sorry, lane splitting is illegal, go away. However, the legality of lane splitting is only a factor and not the end of the story.
While you focus on your physical and emotional recovery from your traumatic experience, let a skilled motorcycle accident attorney advocate for your financial recovery.
An experienced motorcycle accident attorney will understand the tactics that insurance companies use to avoid paying on these claims and know how to get around them. You can put your time to use healing while an experienced attorney works to obtain the compensation you are due.