Motorcycle Laws FAQ

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 Do I Have to Wear a Helmet When I Ride?

Whether wearing a helmet is mandatory depends on state laws. At the present time, 19 states have laws that require all motorcyclists to wear motorcycle helmets when riding. Other states require only some motorcyclists to wear helmets, usually depending on the rider’s age. Some states require the motorcycle driver and their passenger to wear helmets. Only three states have no motorcycle helmet laws in place and they are Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

If a person’s state requires them to wear a helmet, they should follow the law at all costs, even for “weekend” or recreational rides. If they do not follow state laws, it could drastically reduce their ability to recover damages in the event of a motorcycle accident. Even if a person’s state does not require the use of helmets, it is a good idea to use one for safety.

How Do I Know If My Helmet Is Acceptable Under the Law of a Given State?

When shopping for a motorcycle helmet, a person should look for a label endorsed by the United States Department of Transportation, which reads “DOT”. This means that the helmet meets federal DOT standards for safety. A DOT-approved helmet should be acceptable in any state. The Snell Memorial Foundation also sets standards for motorcycle, or street-use, helmets. The Snell standard for motorcycle riding is M2015 rated.

What Is “Lane Splitting” and Is It Legal?

Lane splitting is the practice of riding between traffic lanes or vehicles which are going in the same direction. This usually happens on occasions when traffic is dense and the rider squeezes between lanes, effectively “splitting” the lane with a car or truck driver. Many motorists believe riding in between lanes while traffic is moving quickly can be dangerous, as it can involve riding in blind spots in which car drivers may not expect there to be other vehicles.

However, studies indicate that motorcycle accidents and fatalities involving lane splitting are significantly reduced when traffic is more dense and slow moving. Under these circumstances, the motorcyclist is more visible to motorists and is also able to see and react to oncoming traffic patterns and hazards.

State laws on lane splitting vary greatly in different states. Lane splitting has been legal in California since 2016, although there are qualifications. Motorcycles cannot exceed 10 miles per hour above the speed of the surrounding traffic when lane splitting in California. Lane splitting in California is forbidden near freeway exits or on-ramps.

In Delaware lane splitting is legal, because it is not explicitly forbidden in Delaware law.
In Florida lane splitting is illegal. Motorcyclists who are caught lane splitting could receive a citation or be held liable if they are involved in an accident while lane splitting. Lane filtering is also illegal in Florida. Lane splitting is illegal in New Mexico, and if a motorcyclist does it, they can be charged with reckless driving.

Other states do not mention lane splitting by name in their vehicle codes, but they may prohibit practices that are similar to lane splitting. Some of the similar practices are as follows:

  • Lane Filtering: Filtering is lane splitting when the surrounding vehicles on the road have either stopped moving completely or are moving slowly, i.e., at a red light or during a traffic jam;
  • Stripe Riding; Stripe riding is just another name for lane splitting;
  • Lane Sharing: Lane sharing is a related concept. Lane sharing is when two motorized vehicles, usually motorcycles or motorized bikes, agree to ride in the same lane, either side-by-side or in a staggered formation.

What If I’ve Been Involved in a Motorcycle Accident?

If a person is involved in a motorcycle accident or crash, they should report the incident to police, even if the accident happened as a result of their own trick riding or other negligent acts. The police would investigate the accident and then make a report. If a civil lawsuit results from the accident, a police report is available to be used in court as evidence at trial under certain circumstances and with certain limitations.

A person should also seek medical attention immediately, as any delays may complicate their injuries and could present problems for them in any resulting lawsuit. If a person fails to seek treatment for injuries promptly, it can lead to claims that the person did not mitigate their damages.

If a motorcycle rider has been injured in an accident that was the fault of another driver and not their own, they may have to file a civil lawsuit for negligence. The motorcyclist would have to prove that the other driver was negligent and that this negligence caused the accident and any injury or damage that the motorcyclist suffered. The motorcyclist would also have to prove that they suffered economic losses

On the other hand, if the negligence of the motorcyclist caused the accident, they can expect to be sued by the other driver who would want to recover damages for their injuries and property damage, which would probably be damage to their motorcycle.

Damages in a negligence lawsuit should compensate the non-negligent party for the following:

  • The costs of medical treatment for their injuries as follows;
  • The cost of repairing or replacing their motor vehicle;
  • Any wages or salary lost because of the accident.

If the non-negligent party’s injuries would require continuing care after a trial, then the negligent party would have to compensate the non-negligent party for future care and future lost wages. If the non-negligent party suffers a permanent loss of earning capacity or permanent disability, then the negligent party would have to compensate them for those losses.

If the negligent party causes the death of another driver or passengers, then their close relatives would file a wrongful death lawsuit seeking compensation for their losses.

What Does “Comparative Negligence” Mean?

Some states have comparative negligence laws, while others use a system known as contributory negligence. Comparative negligence laws have the effect of reducing the amount of damages that a person can recover from a motorcycle accident lawsuit. These laws state that if the motorcycle driver was also negligent in the accident, or somehow contributed to their own injuries, their damages award must be reduced proportionately to the degree of their fault.

Examples of when the motorcyclist may have contributed to their own injuries are where the motorcycle was speeding, disobeyed traffic laws, by, for example, “popping a wheelie” or showboating. Or, the motorcyclist may have failed to signal a lane change or a turn, or did not maintain working brake lights.

Contributory negligence is the law in some states and it provides that if a person who sues another for negligence was also at fault in causing the accident that injured them, then they cannot recover any damages at all.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Motorcycle Laws?

Motorcycle laws can be different from state to state. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you are involved in a legal dispute that concerns motorcycle laws, you should consult a lawyer immediately.

An experienced automobile lawyer can help explain how the laws in your area affect your driving privileges. Your lawyer will also be able to represent you in negotiations and at trial, if you need to file a lawsuit to recover compensation for your losses.

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