We have all seen motorcycles moving between stationary or slow-moving vehicles, sharing the lane. This is called lane splitting, and there is no denying that it can seem handy at times. Some motorcyclists feel that it helps them to avoid accidents, make progress, and reduce bottlenecks. However, it can also be dangerous, leading many to wonder whether it is legal or not.
The answer is interesting. Currently, the only state to declare lane splitting legal is California. Some other states have introduced legislation that regulates lane splitting, such as Arizona, where it is allowed under certain conditions, such as when traffic is moving below 15 mph. However, at this time, New Jersey state law remains silent on the specific issue of lane splitting.
So in New Jersey, lane splitting is not expressly against the law. Yet, that does not make it legal. For example, you can still receive a citation from a police officer if you move dangerously through traffic or fail to keep right.
Why Lane Splitting Happens
Motorcycles are at a higher risk of accidents than other road users. Over 82,000 motorcyclists were injured in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). One reason for this could be that motorcycles are harder to spot than other vehicles and are less stable at low speeds. Therefore, motorcyclists may feel that lane splitting is necessary for their own safety at times and can help them to avoid collisions.
For example, imagine you are on a motorcycle in stationary traffic, and you see a vehicle approaching from behind that is traveling way too fast. Your gut tells you the driver hasn’t seen you and will never stop in time. In this situation, you may choose to move out of the way to avoid being rear-ended. You may also encounter hazards on the road, such as roadkill, potholes, or manhole covers. You may feel that lane splitting is a safer option than hitting these obstacles.
Of course, motorcyclists may also practice lane splitting simply to get ahead in slow-moving traffic. While safety is often the motivation for lane splitting, the statistics show that it can be a risky practice. In 2016, improper passing was one of the top three contributing factors to motorcycle crashes in New Jersey.
How Safe Is Lane Splitting?
The University of California Berkeley’s Safe Transportation and Research Center (SafeTREC) produced a report on lane splitting in 2015. Their overall conclusion was that lane splitting could be relatively safe under certain conditions:
- The traffic is moving at 50 mph or less
- The motorcycle does not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 mph
Fewer than 1 in 6 of the accidents analyzed in the SafeTREC report involved lane splitting at the time of the collision. The report indicated that rather than speed alone, the difference in speed between the vehicles was the biggest predictor of injury.
The study found that lane-splitting riders are less likely to suffer:
- Head injuries
- Torso injuries
- Fatal injuries
While this study is certainly interesting, it does not mean that lane splitting is legal or recommended in New Jersey. If lane splitting was involved in a motorcycle accident, it can make proving liability a lot more complicated.
Every Road User’s Responsibility
Every road user needs to be motorcycle aware and take precautions while driving. The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General reports that in more than two-thirds of motorcycle crashes, the driver of the other vehicle did not see the motorcycle. The reasons for this include heavy traffic, lack of attention, and not checking blind spots regularly. Therefore, whenever we take to the road, we should always be bike aware and recognize that motorcyclists may practice lane splitting, especially in slow-moving traffic.
Motorcyclists need to work on the assumption that other drivers have not seen them and drive accordingly. One strategy is to avoid lingering in vehicles’ blind spots, as drivers may forget to check them regularly. In addition, wearing brightly colored and reflective clothing can make a motorcycle more visible, especially at night.
If you are a rider and you do decide to overtake other vehicles, there are a few pointers to keep in mind:
- Return to your lane as soon as it is safe to do so
- Travel at a speed that is no more than 15 mph faster than other traffic
- Be aware of road conditions, such as inclement weather, visibility, and lighting
- Be extremely aware of other road users and how visible you are to them
What to Do After a Motorcycle Accident
If you get into a motorcycle crash, first take care of your medical needs and call the police. Then, gather as much information as you can at the scene. This should include the following:
- Names, addresses, and insurance details of the other drivers involved in the accident
- Photographs and videos of the accident scene
- Names and contact details of eyewitnesses
The information you gather at the scene can help you if you file a personal injury claim in the future. However, if you have to leave in an ambulance, don’t panic. If a motorcycle accident lawyer takes on your case, he or she can conduct a full investigation on your behalf.
After an accident, the insurance company will investigate the crash and look to allocate blame. Therefore, it’s important to deal very cautiously with insurance companies, including your own. They want to pay out as little as possible. It pays to hire an experienced motorcycle accident attorney to represent you as soon as possible after your accident.
How a Motorcycle Accident Attorney Can Help You
If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a motorcycle crash, contact the motorcycle accident attorneys at Judd Shaw Injury Law. Our experienced and compassionate legal team understands New Jersey law and how it relates to motorcycle accidents. If we take on your case, we will use all the resources at our disposal to fight for the best settlement for you.