Coming to an Arizona Road Near You: Motorcyclists Can Soon Legally Filter Lanes
Arizona has always had motorcycle-friendly laws on the books. The state is naturally a great place to ride a bike, especially as you get outside the Phoenix Metro area. The long straightaway desert roads are welcoming for motorcyclists who want to enjoy a nice ride. The state already does not require motorcyclists to wear helmets (although they certainly should, to protect their heads from impact with the pavement. Now, the state has changed its motorcycle laws to improve biker safety and allow bikers to move forward in stopped traffic.
Motorcyclists May Filter Lanes
Recently signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey, a new law allows motorcyclists to filter lanes under certain circumstances. While lawmakers intend for the law to make it even easier for motorcyclists, it does not do what people might think at first glance.
Many people have the image of bikers splitting lanes on highways when traffic flows freely. Unfortunately, this happens on occasion, and it is extremely dangerous. That is not what the new law does. It is more limited than that, and it improves biker safety.
SB 1273 does allow for some types of lane splitting. The legislature first introduced the bill in January 2022, and it was immediately on the fast track to passage. The bill's final version overwhelmingly passed the Arizona Senate and House with bipartisan support. The bill was signed into law by Governor Ducey right after the House passed it, and it will become effective 90 days after the current legislative session concludes.
The New Law Does Not Permit All Types of Lane Splitting
Keep in mind that lane filtering is not the same thing as lane splitting. The latter is when motorcyclists travel between two lanes at high speed. That was and is illegal, even after lawmakers passed the new bill. The new law makes this abundantly clear. The only time that any motorcyclist is allowed to split lanes is when they are a peace officer performing their official duties.
Before the Arizona legislature passed SB 1273, the law governing how motorcyclists used lanes was Arizona Revised Statutes 28-903. That law remains in effect with the new amendments. SB 1273 represented the latest step in a process to change the law that spanned more than a decade. The motorcycle safety lobby has been hard at work, and its efforts finally paid off for bikers.
Arizona is the latest state to pass a law allowing for lane filtering. Montana and Utah have also passed a similar statute. Other Eastern states have considered the same type of law, but they have not passed the legislation. However, Arizona laws are far less permissive than those in California. The neighboring state allows full lane splitting, even in moving traffic. In practice, lane splitting has proven dangerous and can lead to serious motorcycle accidents.
The Law Follows a Decade-Long Push and Improves Motorcycle Safety
A motorcycle safety group pushed for this new law. Their main concern was bikers’ visibility. The law will technically allow motorcyclists to inch between vehicles when traffic is waiting at a traffic light. The intent is that bikers not get sandwiched between cars at a stoplight and get run over from behind when they cannot accelerate because of the car in front of them.
Nonetheless, bikers will still face some dangers if they filter lanes when the light turns green and other drivers behind them accelerate. As you will see below, motorcyclists cannot filter lanes at more than 15 miles per hour, so other drivers can accelerate far faster.
The Law Before the New Change for Lane Filtering
The prior law stated:
Motorcyclists are allowed the full use of a lane, and nobody can operate a vehicle in a manner that deprives a motorcyclist of that right (prohibiting illegal lane changes and crowding a biker out of their lane)
Motorcyclists cannot overtake and pass a vehicle in the same lane - they must make lane changes as any other driver does
Bikers were forbidden to operate their motorcycles between the lanes of traffic or adjacent rows of vehicles. (This is the section that was amended by the new law, as explained below.)
Two motorcyclists may not operate two abreast in the same lane at the same time.
Motorcycles Can Get Trapped Between Cars in Slower Traffic
The bill's sponsors worried about the vulnerability of motorcyclists in slower traffic. Drivers have a natural difficulty seeing motorcyclists, as they are not on the same eye level as the driver. This trouble leads to instances when bikers are in rear-end accidents, forcing motorcyclists from their bikes and throwing them to the road.
Motorcyclists can also get trapped and sandwiched between cars when the rear driver does not see them. Accordingly, the Legislature passed this bill to improve biker safety.
The new law applies when there are two or more lanes of traffic on a roadway going in the same direction. If there is one lane, there are not two lanes for a biker to filter. In general, the bill clarifies that the general prohibitions of 28-903 remain unless the circumstances of the new law apply.
The Limits on When SB 1273 Applies
To be clear, SB 1273 applies only when a driver stops their vehicle in traffic.
The law allows motorcyclists to pass a car by going in between the lanes when the following circumstances apply:
The speed limit of the roadway is 45 miles per hour or less
The motorcyclist is not traveling more than 15 miles per hour
The speed limit provisions of the bill mean that lane filtering will occur mostly on city streets and other thoroughfares. Since the speed limit on the highway is greater than 45 miles per hour, motorcyclists will not be allowed to use this maneuver on highways such as I-10.
Bikers will not be allowed to slice through traffic at full speed. If they do so, they will still receive a ticket, as they have in the past, since the practice remains illegal. If bikers cross the state line from California to Arizona, the law will change for them.
It may take some time before motorists acclimate to the new law. At this point, most drivers do not know about the new statute. They may still think that it is illegal to go between traffic at all, and they may be surprised when bikers execute this newly-legal maneuver. In the meantime, motorcyclists should be sensible when lane filtering, especially knowing that drivers may not be expecting it.
Just because it is legal does not mean that lane filtering is the safest thing to do in every situation. Motorcyclists should continue to use their best judgment and do whatever is necessary to stay safe.
Liability May Be Unclear When a Motorcyclist Is Injured While Lane Filtering
The new law calls liability into question when a motorist hits a lane-filtering cyclist. One state representative expressed this concern at a hearing discussing the bill.
A lobbyist for the motorcycle safety group ABATE responded that it was still up to the motorcyclist to execute this maneuver safely. In other words, if the biker was not following the letter of the law when lane filtering, they will not be protected by personal injury law if a driver hits them.
For example, suppose a driver was inching up at an intersection when traffic stopped at a light. In that case, the driver may have an issue recovering financial compensation because they were acting unsafely.
The usual negligence rules will still apply to any lawsuit that a motorcyclist filed if they were struck by a driver when lane filtering. An injured biker will still need to prove that a driver acted unreasonably under the circumstances.
If the motorcyclist follows the law, they may still be entitled to financial compensation if a driver hits them after not seeing them. At the same time, a motorcyclist can still be legally responsible if they caused an accident when not following the law, including having to pay for the damage that other drivers suffered.
Motorcyclists Can Receive Money Even if They Partly Caused an Accident
Motorcyclists still cannot recover financial compensation if they were injured while lane splitting because that practice is still illegal. When an injured claimant is the full cause of their injuries, they do not have the legal ability to sue someone else. If they do, they will be unable to pursue financial compensation.
Arizona law also allows an injured motorcyclist to receive some money, even when they partially cause their injuries. Arizona's comparative negligence law is very favorable for personal injury victims. They can still get a check, so long as they are not 100 percent to blame for their injuries. However, the size of their settlement check or jury award will reduce the amount that they were at fault for their accident.
Insurance Companies Still Work Against Injured Motorcyclists
One particular problem that bikers face is that insurance companies hold a negative perception of them. These companies like to portray motorcyclists as risk-takers solely because they get on a bike, and the public thinks that motorcycles are dangerous.
Of course, this perception is in the insurance company's self-interest because they do not want to pay injured motorcyclists what they legally deserve. The insurance company will use any trick they can to save themselves money.
The determination of fault is crucial in any motorcycle accident. In situations such as the above the new law, the motorcyclist is still required to use due care when lane filtering.
You can expect that the insurance company will attempt to argue that the biker was partly or solely to blame for their accident to get out of paying for the damages that the policyholder caused. In some cases, we have known insurance companies to deny claims that are close calls, leaving you no other option but to sue.
An Experienced Motorcycle Accident Attorney Will Work for Your Financial Interests
Therefore, you need an experienced motorcycle accident attorney to fight for you when someone else is trying to point the finger at you. An insurance company is much more likely to take advantage of an injured biker who an attorney does not represent.
When they see a tough and determined lawyer at the other side of the table, they are less likely to try to take liberties with your legal rights. If the insurance company seems to be taking things too far, your attorney will take your case to court and let the jury decide who was at fault for the accident.
In addition, your attorney will also be instrumental in fighting for you to obtain top dollar for your motorcycle accident injuries. A typical motorcycle accident claim can be worth far more than other crashes. The rules for damages are still the same, but motorcycle accident injuries are far more severe because the biker has less to protect them in the event of a crash. Thus, you must receive a large enough settlement check to cover your damages.
The last thing that you want is to run out of money in the future when you are still dealing with the effects of the accident. Again, the insurance company will be difficult, even if they concede full liability for the accident. You will need to negotiate a suitable settlement with the help of an experienced attorney.
Motorcycle accident injuries are serious. Besides not being in a physical condition to handle your case, you will also lack the legal expertise to deal with an insurance company and handle matters on your own. If you try, you will cost yourself money that you will need in the future. Do not risk your future by failing to contact a motorcycle accident lawyer.
David Abels has carved a niche for himself in the personal injury law sector, dedicating a substantial part of his career since 1997 to representing victims of various accidents. With a law practice that spans over two decades, his expertise has been consistently recognized within the legal community.