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Motorcycle Laws & Liability in North Carolina

Dec. 22, 2020

According to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and its most recent year of statistics, 4,269 motorcyclists were involved in accidents, and 160 of them died as a result. More tellingly, the number of fatalities rose by 14.3 percent from the year previous.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are more than 8 million registered motorcycles in the U.S., 200,000 of them in North Carolina. NHTSA also calculates the fatality rate for motorcyclists as 27 times that of other motorists.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident in Raleigh, North Carolina, or anywhere throughout the state, contact the motorcycle accident and personal injury attorneys at Life Law. With our knowledge and experience in the nuances of personal injury laws in North Carolina, we will fight to protect your rights and help you obtain the just compensation you deserve.

Understanding North Carolina
Motorcycle Laws

North Carolina places several requirements on both motorcyclists and motorcycles. First, to be allowed to operate a motorcycle in the state, you must qualify for either a learner permit or a motorcycle endorsement to your provisional, commercial, or regular driver’s license.

For a learner permit, you must pass a motorcycle knowledge test, road sign identification test, and vision test. If you are 18 or younger, you must also have the written consent of your parent or guardian and complete a safety course. For a motorcycle endorsement to your license, you must pass the motorcycle knowledge test and off-street motorcycle skills test.

North Carolina also requires that both operator and passenger at all times wear a helmet that meets federal Department of Transportation (DOT) standards.

The motorcycle itself is also subject to several requirements, including specifications for horns, mirrors, exhaust system, and head, rear, and brake lamps. Each motorcycle must be equipped with at least one but not more than two headlamps capable of projecting 200 feet in normal weather conditions. The rear lamp must exhibit a red light plainly visible from the rear at a distance of 500 feet. Both the head and rear lamps must be lighted at all times.

As with other vehicles, motorcycles are entitled to full use of a single lane, but in no circumstance should more than two motorcycles be operated abreast in a single lane. Motorcycles are also allowed to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOVs), which are otherwise reserved for emergency vehicles, buses, and vehicles containing a required number of persons inside.

Lane splitting – driving between adjacent lanes to pass the other traffic – is not specifically prohibited in North Carolina with the exception of passing on the right. Still, lane splitting can be dangerous as the operators of vehicles in adjoining lanes may not anticipate the speeding motorcycle and attempt to change lanes.

Assessing Liability After
a Motorcycle Accident

North Carolina is an at-fault state, meaning that the driver found to be at fault must compensate the other driver, or motorcyclist, for damages and injuries. However, North Carolina also adheres to the contributory negligence standard of law. This means that if you’re found to be at least one percent at fault for the accident, the other driver and his insurance company are not legally obligated to pay for your damages or injuries. This standard also applies to wrongful death cases.

If you choose to go to court to recover damages, medical treatment costs, loss of income, or pain and suffering, then you must prove by a preponderance of evidence that the other driver caused the accident through negligence. North Carolina law places a “duty of care” obligation on all drivers, so if the other driver claims he “didn’t see you,” that could indicate a lack of care.

No matter how good your evidence, however, a widespread “motorcycle bias” exists among the general populace, including law enforcement personnel, judges and juries, and insurance adjusters. In short, a common perception exists that “bikers” are always at fault. This bias can work against you during settlement proceedings and in court, should it come to that.

Can a Spouse or Family Member File Suit?

What happens if the motorcyclist is so incapacitated as to be unable to pursue a lawsuit, or if in extreme circumstances, didn’t survive the accident? Can a spouse or family member file suit?

The first matter to consider is the statute of limitations. For personal injury claims, you have three years from the date of the accident to file. For wrongful death claims, you have two years from the date of the death to file.

Spouses and relatives cannot directly file wrongful death claims. Instead, if the deceased had a will, the personal representative named in the will must file the legal action, though compensation will accrue to the family members. If the deceased had no will, the court will name a personal representative during probate proceedings.

Whether you can file on behalf of a family member depends on the circumstances, so you need to contact a qualified personal injury attorney, such as those at Life Law here in North Carolina.

Your Best Recourse Is Hiring
a Personal Injury Attorney

Given the nature of the personal injury and wrongful death laws in North Carolina – and the contributory negligence standard that can deny you compensation – your first and best recourse is to hire an experienced personal injury attorney.

The attorneys at Life Law will provide you with the care and attention you need, from case review to investigation and negotiations to court, if necessary. Contact us today for a one-on-one assessment. We will fight for your rights to obtain the compensation you deserve. We proudly represent clients throughout North Carolina including Raleigh, Wake County, Johnston County, Franklin County, and Durham County.