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Motorcycle Lane Splitting: Is It Legal in North Carolina?

Sometimes when our personal injury lawyers are assisting the victim of a motorcycle accident, the injured rider will eventually tell us that he was lane-splitting at the time of the accident. We are always happy to tell the rider that lane-splitting is not illegal in North Carolina and should have no effect on a motorcycle accident injury claim.

Lane-splitting refers to riding a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic headed in the same direction. It is sometimes called “filtering,” “white-lining” or “stripe-riding.” Motorcyclists typically resort to lane-splitting in congested traffic to get past cars and trucks that are standing still.

Lane-splitting should not be confused with lane-sharing, which involves two motorcycles riding side-by-side in the same lane. Lane-sharing by two motorcycles is expressly legal in North Carolina.

While North Carolina law is silent on motorcycle lane-splitting, it is apparent how a motorcyclist who is lane-splitting can become involved in an accident. In many motorcycle accidents, a motorist claims he or she did not see the motorcycle. Drivers changing lanes in traffic can easily overlook a motorcycle running between lanes.

If our attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks believe that your injury in a motorcycle lane-splitting crash was caused by another driver’s error, our team will work diligently to help you seek full compensation for your injuries, damage to your bike and other losses.

How Safe is Lane Splitting?

At least 15 states have considered bills to legalize lane-splitting in the last six years, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. In North Carolina three years ago, 1,595 people signed an online petition asking N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to promote a statute defining legal lane-splitting.

Advocates of lane-splitting say that allowing motorcyclists to split lanes with cars and trucks is safer for motorcycle riders and reduces the chances that they will be hit from behind in stop-and-go traffic. Opponents say the practice is dangerous for bikers who may be struck by cars that change lanes.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), which is a part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Foundation (NHTSA), supports lane-splitting, saying, “A motorcycle’s narrow width can allow it to pass between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on roadways where the lanes are wide enough to offer an adequate gap. This option can provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be trapped or struck from behind.”

The MSF cites the Hurt Report of motorcycle accident causes and says there is evidence that traveling between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on multiple-lane roads such as interstate highways slightly reduces the frequency of crashes compared to staying within the lane and moving with other traffic.

Two studies in California, in 2014 and 2015, supported lane-splitting, as well.

The 2015 report by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center in a University found that lane-splitting motorcyclists were likely commuting, traveling at lower speeds than other motorcyclists and were using better helmets.

“Lane-splitting motorcyclists were much less often injured during their collisions,” says the study, which also discusses the fact that severity of injuries correlates with motorcycle speed. “They were considerably less likely to suffer head injury, torso injury, extremity injury, and fatal injury than riders who were not lane-splitting.”

The 2014 report by the same UC Berkeley group had similar findings, but also said lane-splitting motorcyclists “were less likely to be rear-ended but more likely to have rear-ended another vehicle than other motorcyclists.”

The AAA auto club opposes lane-splitting and its clubs have helped defeat proposals in some other states.

Richard Romer, AAA’s state relations manager, said that automobile and truck drivers who are not expecting to be passed by a vehicle traveling between lanes may sideswipe a motorcycle or turn into its path.

What Does N.C. Law Say About Motorcycles?

North Carolina law has addressed motorcycle use in the state, including requiring a motorcycle driver license endorsement and wearing a helmet.

Under the N.C. helmet law, all operators and passengers on motorcycles and mopeds must wear a motorcycle helmet that complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218.

To apply for a motorcycle endorsement, an individual must possess a full-provisional, regular or commercial N.C. driver license and pass both a motorcycle knowledge test and then an off-street motorcycle skills test.

To apply for a motorcycle learner permit, an individual must have a valid N.C. driver license and pass a motorcycle knowledge test, road sign identification and vision tests. Individuals ages 16-18 with a full provisional license must also have signed parental or guardian consent and successfully complete a motorcycle safety course offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Education Program.

Motorcycle road tests are by appointment only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as the weather permits, at select NCDMV driver license offices.

The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles’ Motorcyclists’ Handbook says, “‘Accident’” implies an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence. Most often in traffic, that is not the case. … There is rarely a single cause of any crash.”

What to Do After a Lane-Splitting Motorcycle Crash

If you have been injured in a motorcycle lane-splitting accident in North Carolina involving another driver, you may expect that the other driver’s insurance company will try to blame you for the accident and deny liability. Don’t let an adversarial insurance company shift the blame. You should contact a Raleigh motorcycle accident attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. to advocate on your behalf. Lane-splitting is not illegal in North Carolina. The driver whose negligence caused the accident – whether excessive speed, not looking adequately or another error – should compensate you for your injuries and other losses.

Our dedicated lane-splitting injury attorneys can review the facts of your case and provide you with free legal advice about your options. Just fill out our simple online contact form or give us a call today.

About the Author

Joseph R. Baznik
Attorney Joseph Baznik is an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks P.A. who specializes in workers' compensation and personal injury. Joseph speak fluent both English and Spanish. He is licensed to practice law in the State of North Carolina and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

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