Special Motorcycle Laws: Motorcycle Helmets and Lane Splitting

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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The motorcycling community across the United States is passionate and vocal regarding two major issues: helmets and lane splitting. These two issues evoke a wave of passion from bikers. Helmets and lane splitting are both covered by individual state laws, and as a result there is no uniformity in what is allowed and what isn’t from state to state. What is legal in Texas may not be legal in Michigan. A simple ride up the Pacific Coast could mean that what is legal for the first 500 miles is not legal for the next 250. Know where you’re riding and what laws apply. Violating helmet and lane splitting laws could cause a run-in with local authorities.

Helmet Laws

Very few states are without helmet laws on their books. Whether requiring helmets for all riders, instituting age-based helmet requirements or requirements based on insurance or riding experience, most states have codified their official position on helmets. It is not uncommon to have state laws that allow riders over 18 or 21 to ride without a helmet. Some states require riders to wear helmets for the first couple years they carry a motorcycle license, regardless of age. Texas and Florida exempt riders from wearing helmets provided they prove they carry private medical insurance.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Not wearing a helmet could influence whether you can collect damages if you are injured and file a motorcycle accident claim. Regardless of state law, choosing to ride without a helmet will affect how both insurance companies and courts apportion fault and calculate the value of your case.

Lane Splitting and Sharing

While perfectly legal in many other areas of the world—including much of Europe and Japan—lane splitting is illegal (although not uncommon) in 49 of the 50 states. Only California has passed laws allowing motorcyclists to ride between lanes of stopped traffic. As stated by the California Highway Patrol, “Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.” There is no codified, specific definition of what constitutes a “safe and prudent manner,” but two factors commonly taken into consideration are the speed at which the motorcycle is traveling, as well as the speed of the surrounding traffic.

Lane-splitting accidents can present a major problem if they result in injury. Insurance adjusters do not look kindly on parties that were injured in the course of riding illegally. Persuading an adjuster to pay a claim if you were lane splitting could be an uphill battle. Even if you are in California and have not acted illegally by lane splitting, adjusters may view your actions as negligent because you may have created a dangerous situation for other motorists—particularly considering how difficult it may be to see a lane splitting rider. Regardless, most motorcycle personal injury laws tend to favor the injured party and you may be able to recover damages unless you were acting illegally or contributed to your own injuries. You may wish to speak to a motorcycle accident attorney about the rights and obligations associated with your potential claim.

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