Motorcycle Rights: Who’s at Fault After an Accident

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Motorcycle riders are often injured because their rights are ignored by other motorists.  This article addresses motorcycle rights for traffic collisions.

Motorcycle Accidents

The majority of motorcycle accidents are front impacts. The most common collision occurs when cars are turning left. This type of accident usually happens because the driver doesn’t see the biker. Usually, a motorist who makes an unsafe left turn is at fault. Under the Vehicle Code, a must yield to oncoming traffic and cannot turn left until it is completely safe to do so.  As examples, John is driving a large SUV at night. He enters the intersection and stops, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear. He fails to see Bob, who is approaching on his motorcycle. John turns and the collision occurs. John is at fault, even though the motorcycle was not clearly visible. Visibility is not a defense.

Another example involves John driving his large SUV during the daytime. He enters the intersection and waits for oncoming traffic to clear.  He sees Bob approaching on his motorcycle. The traffic signal turns yellow and John assumes Bob will stop at the light, and starts to make a left turn. Instead, Bob accelerates to make it through the yellow light and the collision occurs. John is at fault for failing to yield, in violation of the Vehicle Code. His assumption that Bob would stop is no defense.

Lane-splitting accidents are also common. Lane-splitting is when a motorcycle drives between two lanes of stopped or moving cars. California law does not prohibit motorcycles from lane-splitting. The law prohibits unsafe lane changes and provides that a driver can only change lanes when it is safe and only after signaling.  Determining who is at fault depends on the specific facts. As an example, John is driving on the freeway in his SUV.  Bob is on his motorcycle traveling at a safe speed and is approaching from behind. As Bob begins to lane split between John’s SUV and another vehicle, John starts to change lanes and an accident happens. John is at fault for making an unsafe lane change even though Bob was lane-splitting.

Common Defenses

The most common defenses raised by insurance companies (and their attorneys) in left turn cases are:

  • The motorcycle was speeding or traveling at an unsafe speed
  • The motorcycle attempted to beat the traffic signal
  • The lane-splitting was unsafe

California Vehicle Code, Section 22350 provides that everyone must drive at a safe speed for traffic conditions. A violation of this statute is negligence if the violation contributed to the collision. For example, John is in his SUV and waits for traffic to clear so he can make a left turn. The signal changes to yellow and John begins his turn. At the same time, Bob quickly accelerates in excess of the speed limit in an effort to beat the light. In this scenario, Bob is at fault for driving at an unsafe speed. 

Although lane-splitting is allowed, it cannot be done carelessly. California law provides that every driver must exercise reasonable care in the operation of a motor vehicle. The failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances is negligent. As an example, John is driving on the freeway in stop and go traffic.  Bob is lane-splitting at a speed of about 50 mph.  John makes a lane change, and an accident happens. Bob is at fault for traveling at an unsafe speed under the circumstances. He should not have been driving at 50 mph in stop and go traffic. John may also be negligent for an unsafe lane change.

What happens when both drivers are at fault? California is a comparative fault state, which means that fault can be apportioned between negligent drivers. As an example, Bob is injured in a motorcycle. Bob and John are equally at fault. Bob’s damages will be reduced by 50% based on his negligence. 


If you have been injured while riding your motorcycle, you have rights against the driver who caused your injuries. Schedule a free consultation about your case. No pressure, only advice.