Motorcycle Lane Splitting in Washington State

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Motorcyclists are subjected to the same traffic laws as regular passenger cars, with very few exceptions. While some motorcyclists might drive between two separate lanes of traffic, known as motorcycle lane splitting, our Washington motorcycle accident lawyer explains this practice is illegal. Some hope to change the law to allow it, though others claim the practice can be very dangerous.

What is motorcycle lane splitting?

Lane splitting occurs when a single, two-wheeled vehicle such as a motorcycle drives between two lanes of traffic. In the United States, lane splitting has only been legalized in California for motorcyclists. In Washington, some have created petitions and advocated for allowing the practice throughout the state, arguing that it can help relieve traffic congestion. Others argue that it can be dangerous for the motorcyclist and may lead to motorcycle accidents.

Current Motorcycle Laws in Washington State

Specifically, Washington motorcycle law states that all motorcycles are entitled to the full use of a lane, a motorcyclist may not overtake and pass a vehicle in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken, and that motorcycles cannot be driven between lanes of traffic. While the state currently prohibits lane splitting, it does allow two motorcyclists to ride abreast in the same lane, according to RCW 46.61.608(4).

The Dangers for Motorcyclists

Perhaps the biggest reason for prohibiting lane splitting by motorcyclists is the risk to motorcyclists. In fact, there were already 74 fatal injury crashes involving motorcyclists in 2013, and motorcyclists were involved in an additional 340 serious injury collisions in that year, according to preliminary statistics from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Because the dangers to motorcyclists are already high, some are wary about implementing a law that may increase those risks. Specifically, if a driver were to open a car door or change lanes as the motorcyclist was passing, it could cause a serious wreck. Some motorists might become upset by the motorcyclists splitting the lane, which could increase risk of road rage.

Recovering Compensation after a Motorcycle Accident

Those who operate a motorcycle are required to follow the same traffic laws as other motorists. Any violation of a traffic law might affect compensation if the motorcyclist were to file an injury claim against another party following an accident.

While Washington is a comparative negligence state, allowing injured parties to recover damages even if they are partially at fault, the law allows for proportional reduction of damages. So if lane splitting was 40 percent to blame for an accident and a negligent motorist changing lanes without looking for other vehicles was 60 percent to blame, the injured motorcyclist may recover only 60 percent of the damages.

Further, Washington has set time limits for how long a person has to file a suit for damages after an accident. This time limit is legally referred to as a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations in Washington State is three years from the date of injury, according to RCW 4.16.080.

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Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.