Lane Change Motorcycle Accidents

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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“Share the road” is a good concept for the safety of motorists, motorcycle riders and cyclists alike. Unfortunately, lane change accidents still account for a large swath of motorcycle accidents. Excessive speed, negligence, slow reaction time and lack of visibility can all play a factor when it comes to lane change incidents.

Lane Sharing vs Lane Splitting

First, it’s helpful to know what the difference is between lane sharing and lane splitting.

Lane sharing is the act of a motorcycle sharing a lane side by side with another vehicle. On the other hand, lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between traffic streams, by straddling lanes.

While the terms are used interchangeably in some sites, in legal terms the two are considered different. In fact, some states consider lane sharing to be a viable safety technique that places motorcycle riders in a “safety envelope” between two larger vehicles, and reduces the likelihood of rear end collisions in stopped traffic. 

In contrast, lane splitting reduces the reaction of both the rider and other motorists, and is not allowed in some states.

Common Causes of Lane Change Accidents

A lane change accident can either be the fault of the motorcyclist or the other vehicle. Common causes include:

  • The motorcyclist weaving in and out of traffic
  • Staying in the other vehicle’s blind spot
  • A distracted or impaired driver
  • Failure to check before switching lanes
  • Failure to use turn signals
  • Aggressive driving or road rage

In nearly all cases of lane change accidents, the motorcycle rider is worse off due to the bike’s lower mass, open design, and lack of safety mechanisms such as a reinforced compartment and airbags.

At a minimum the bike or rider may suffer scratches, however in most cases a lane change accident results in a side swipe and extensive damage to both the rider and motorcycle.

Possible Injuries from Lane Change Accidents

Head: Concussion, open head wound, closed head injury, or brain trauma

Neck and spine: Broken neck, spinal cord injury, partial or full body paralysis

Skin: Road rash, burns, or disfigurement

Limbs: Fractures, broken bones, or severed limbs

Torso: Broken ribs, internal organ damage, hemorrhage

Note that these are only physical injuries, and do not include the possible emotional or psychological trauma that may result from the accident.

How to Avoid Lane Change Accidents

Unlike other motorcycle accidents that are caused by the other driver, lane change incidents can be avoided on the part of the motorcycle rider. All it takes is a little safety precaution and sensible riding.

  1. Be aware of blind spots
    • A-pillars have grown thicker in recent years, so being in the front quarter of the vehicle doesn’t always mean you’re visible.
  2. Maintain safe distance
    • The larger the vehicle is, the wider the berth you need to give. A truck or SUV’s blind spots can be greater than a passenger car’s. Here’s a sample comparison of rear blind spots from Consumer Reports:
  3. Increase your visibility
    • Keep your DRLs on to make yourself more visible on the side and rearview mirrors
    • Make sure your riding gear is reflective and has luminous colors.
  4. Drive defensively
    • Avoid weaving in and out of traffic.
    • Look for signs of a lane change, such as the direction of the vehicle’s wheels or the direction of the driver’s head.
    • Slow down in heavy traffic, where most vehicles are likely to switch lanes.

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How to Avoid Lane Splitting Accidents

Lane splitting is a riskier maneuver that’s not allowed in some jurisdictions. In addition to the previous pointers:

  • Look for sufficient gaps between lanes before lane splitting. When in doubt of the space, slow down and wait for another gap.
  • In addition to the cars in front, observe the vehicles behind you before lane splitting. You don’t want to be surprised by a trailing vehicle that suddenly speeds up.
  • Honk if cars get too close together to alert them of your presence.
  • Flash headlights so the vehicle in front can see you on their side mirror.
  • Be alert for weaving, drifting, or inattentive drivers before splitting lanes.

Who is Liable in a Lane Splitting Accident?

While liability in a lane change accident tends to rest with the swerving driver, liabilities in a lane splitting accident may not be as clear-cut. This is particularly true in slow or stopped traffic, where vehicles are less likely to anticipate that someone will pass them.

For motorcycle riders who may be found at fault, some of the mitigating factors can be:

  • Proof of careful driving from dashcam or witnesses
  • Being an experienced rider with no previous offenses
  • Having completed a motorcycle riding safety course
  • Being able to prove the other driver was reckless, such as not signaling or lane drifting

In case of a lane change or lane splitting accident, it’s highly recommended to consult a lawyer that knows the intricacies of motorcycle safety law. A motorcycle accident lawyer can help you recover damages, adjust compensation, or mitigate fault in the event of an accident.

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Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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