Motorcycles and the Law

This blog post discusses some of the legal concerns specific to motorcycles, in California. Laws are similar in Oregon, but lane splitting isn't legal there, so not all of this applies. 

As the sun comes out in the Bay, more and more people are recovering their motorcycle from a dusty garage and hitting the pavement again. I personally ride my bike just about everywhere, and thought it might be handy to go over some of the legal concerns that are specific to bikes. This post covers what to do in an accident, how to deal with legally uninformed authority figures, and finishes with a discussion of some of the over-documentation that can help you in the event of a legal dispute. 

1. Accidents

This is probably the obvious one. The difference between car accidents and motorcycle accidents is that you're more likely to be injured on a bike, and the rules are thus harder to follow. In my legal opinion, it's a good idea to think it over now, that it might be easier to do in the moment. First, stabilize. Make sure you're not bleeding, and if you even kinda think it might be helpful, get medical help on the way. A lot of injuries form biking take a bit to show up, due to the adrenal dump of crashing. If you can't call for an ambulance yourself, point at someone nearby, and say in a clear voice, "You, call 911." Do not assume bystanders will call for emergency help. I'm not going to go over full triage here, but if there's any risk to your neck, shut up and wait until the EMTs show up. 

Second, of course, don't admit blame or talk about the accident much. This is harder when some jackass just rode you down and could have killed you. It's easy, as a lawyer, to grab things said out of context and to use them to screw up someone's claim for damages later. Exchange insurance info if you're not too badly injured to do so, but don't let the other party goad you into discussion. If police show up, lawyer up. Talking to the cops when you're in an altered state, whether from injury or adrenaline, is a bad idea. There's no way for you to know whether the officer you're talking to hates motorcyclists, or hates people with your particular characteristics, or is actually the godfather of the cager's son. Say that you want to talk to your attorney before talking about the accident, and then give us a call. 

Last, if you're able, document. You almost certainly have a smartphone, so grab pictures and maybe a walk-around video of your vehicle and theirs. This prevents you having to rely on accident write-ups by busy and indifferent responders, and gives us something to work with. Don't send said documentation to the other party, obviously. 

2. The Man

The laws on motorcycles are actually surprisingly tricky. Generally, California law treats motorcycles as weird cars, but the state laws are often modified by local ordinance, and reviewing some basic rules for interacting with authorities is a good idea for bikers particularly, given the stigma that attaches to motorcycles in some people's minds. For example, if you get pulled over, don't argue, and don't volunteer information. This is important for everyone, but particularly bikers. Your time to argue with a cop's version of the facts is at court, not on the side of a freeway, and you don't want to talk yourself into more serious charges. I could give you a whole volume of stories on people who tried to get out of a speeding ticket and ended up in prison for other crimes that they essentially admitted to in the process. 

Second, for less dire authorities, particularly parking attendants of all sorts, remember that a bike parked is incredibly vulnerable, and that being technically in the right won't repair your handlebars. What I generally do when someone tells me I can't park there, and they're obviously wrong, is to request information from them, and then park somewhere else. So, if a bouncer or someone tells you to move your bike, try to get their name and position with the establishment, and complain that way. Don't piss someone off and then leave your expensive and fragile mode of transport alone and undefended. 

3. Over-Document

For a bike, the apparent value can fluctuate a lot of time, and making a civil claim after an accident can depend a lot on minor factors that aren't easy to document after the fact. You probably take a bunch of pictures of your bike anyway, because having and riding a motorcycle is cool. Include some photos of whatever minor damage you've got, as well as clear pictures of major areas that aren't damaged. Make a note of maintenance, particularly maintenance you do yourself. Last, just bear in mind where some of the more expensive gear or parts came from. This is actually fairly easy, since most people in my experience either buy from a local shop or Revzilla. It really streamlines insurance claims to have documentation of how much that helmet cost when you bought it, and it's nice to be able to show that the aftermarket parts made your bike worth more, not less, despite what an adjuster thinks. 

Last but not least, of course, if you're getting into a bike-related dispute that threatens to end up in court, fill out our instant quote form and get an opinion. Insurance companies are not always your friend, and it's hard to tell when the person who hit you is going to discover a serious medical problem mysteriously caused by the wreck. It's like the decision to wear your gloves; better safe than sorry.