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California Makes Lane Splitting Officially Legal

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Governor Jerry Brown signed the recent bill passed by the State Assembly, representing the final step in formal, legal recognition of lane splitting by motorcyclists in the State of California. The law gives the California Highway Patrol the right to develop “guidelines” for lane splitting … potentially reducing the current, essentially unrestricted practice in California to a more regulated practice.  Nonetheless, most California motorcyclists, including the AMA, seem quite pleased.  Here is a press release from the AMA received today:

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — Gov. Jerry Brown signed A.B. 51 into law today, making California the first state to legally recognize lane splitting, the practice in which motorcyclists ride between lanes of traffic.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblymembers Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) and Tom Lackey (R- Palmdale), grants the California Highway Patrol the authority to develop and issue lane-splitting guidelines in consultation with motorcycle safety groups and riders.

“This is great news for motorcyclists in California and throughout the country,” said Rob Dingman, president and CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association. “The California Assembly and the governor have taken a huge step in formally recognizing a practice that has been in use for decades.

“Lane splitting keeps riders safer by eliminating their exposure to rear-end collisions, and it helps ease congestion by effectively removing motorcycles from the traffic lanes.”

Studies by the University of California at Berkeley show that splitting lanes is a relatively safe maneuver when both the motorcyclist and nearby drivers know the law and adhere to safe and prudent driving practices.

In 2012, the CHP developed guidelines for splitting lanes, posting them online in 2013 and including them in the Motorcycle Handbook distributed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, a citizen complained in 2014 that the guidelines were “underground regulations” put together by a state agency, rather than the legislature. So the CHP and DMV removed them.

A.B. 51 clarifies that the CHP does have authority to develop educational guidelines on lane splitting. The law also removes the practice from the legal gray area, where it was neither expressly prohibited nor approved.

Several other states, including Nevada, Georgia, Washington, Oregon and Texas, have considered legislation during the past two years that would have made lane splitting legal, with certain restrictions.

“We hope that other states will follow California’s lead on this issue,” Dingman said. “The AMA is here to support individuals, groups and legislators who want lane splitting made legal in their states, too.”

The American Motorcyclist Association’s complete position statement on lane splitting can be found here:  www.americanmotorcyclist.com/About-The-AMA/lane-splitting-1.

47 Comments

  1. Gritty says:

    California rider since the early 1980s. Lane-split every day I ride, which is about 300+ days a year. It’s one of the great reasons to live in California and ride a motorcycle. Lane-splitting requires patience, skill and awareness, but done right it’s a GREAT thing. Period.

  2. Kent says:

    THey were already doing this (a lot) 40 years ago.

  3. waitman says:

    As a concept I feel lane-splitting is totally reasonable. As a practice I think it’s a large can of worms. If you lane-split in Indiana, chances are Bubba will make a game of seeing how many of you he can pinball into the weeds or Ollie/Olivia Oblivious will never even notice they’ve cut you off or killed you until the cops arrive at their residences hours later and interrupt “Wheel of Fortune” to inform them. It just seems to me that if we make laws based on size and maneuverability, we, as mickey said earlier, put much more responsibility on the cage-operators. Those white lines gotta mean something. My thoughts (as others have already stated) lead me to this conclusion. “If it ain’t broke…”. Additional laws hardly ever clarify. They just clog our court system and generate personal income for litigators.

  4. VLJ says:

    I will echo what other long-time California riders are posting here; namely, that this is one big nonissue. I’ve lane-split my entire life at any speed I wanted, both on the freeway and on city streets, and I have never received so much as a second look from a cop. (Regarding lane-splitting, anyway. Speeding? Crossing double yellows to pass slow-moving RVs? That’s another story….)

    Bottom line, there is no way I will limit lane-splitting to 40 mph or less, or whatever this new law specifies. The idea is to get through traffic as quickly and cleanly as possible. The sooner I’m outta there, the sooner both Distracted Cager and I can relax.

  5. Kent says:

    Needs a clarification that this does not give automobiles the right to invade a motorcycle’s lane and crowd the motorcycle. This is especially dangerous when the car is coming from behind or the side of the motorcycle.

  6. Tommy See says:

    Finally legal in Cali where I love to ride. Slower is safer it’s the squids that will ruin other states to legalize this practice of splitting or filtering. Lovetoridedottom.

  7. Marc says:

    I have been splitting lanes since 1972 without incident, been rear ended twice when stopped behind a car. Wouldn’t have happened if I would have split to the front of the intersection? I average around 15k miles on the SoCal Freeways a year and it saves me a minimum of 1 hour a day commuting currently.
    BTW some of fastest lane splitter’s are motor officers. I am not that brave a 15 mph differential gives you plenty of time to react to stupid car tricks.
    The CHP will now be able to develop training programs which should help new riders and those in a car. Maybe other states will follow.

    • Tim C says:

      “I am not that brave a 15 mph differential gives you plenty of time to react to stupid car tricks.” – exactly. Sensible splitters shouldn’t be too affected by any of this.

  8. dan says:

    I’ve been splitting lanes in CA since the mid 80s. Don’t see what the big deal this news is except that maybe other states will follow

  9. BIG BELLY says:

    How can you play the game without knowing the rules? I actually like knowing (legal laws) rules of the game. This is a huge VICTORY for us.Safety is the goal here! I personally saw a lifted four wheel drive vehicle hit a biker legally stopped in traffic and kill the young lady on the back of the motorcycle.
    Has anyone thought of the ramifications when involved in an lane splitting accident? The insurance companies can no longer say your lane splitting is illegal.

    • Bob K says:

      “How can you play the game without knowing the rules?”

      Never been married, have you?

      I, like you, have seen my share of rear end collisions at a traffic light. Broken backs and people run over in the intersection by cross traffic. I put some blame on the rider for poor lane positioning and not always looking in their mirrors. It’s how you survive for decades.

  10. spokes says:

    “Lane splitting keeps riders safer by eliminating their exposure to rear-end collisions,…”

    I didn’t know that rear end collisions were a big problem…

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I see about three a day where I live going to and from work, and that is just on my route. Traffic updates on the radio tell me there are possibly two dozen or so incidents like that during normal commute times each workday in the greater metro, and that is reporting on only the major arteries. I’d say that equates to a problem here. Small-town, America? Probably not a problem but still a possibility, so why not split the lane if the conditions call for it?

    • MGNorge says:

      “I didn’t know that rear end collisions were a big problem…”

      Statistically, for any one rider, probably not. It’s more that they don’t want to be and stress the extra danger in such a situation that a rider has over someone sitting in their car. Admittedly, I don’t ride big miles any more but I’ve been at it for almost 52 years. I’ve not been rear ended yet, could happen, but if I was so terribly concerned about such things I probably would have hung it up years ago.
      In heavy, bumper to bumper traffic, day in and day out I can see making a case for it. Now in the immediate Seattle area traffic can get quite messy, traffic in the burbs generally isn’t anything like that. We have relatively low motorcycle density, even on nice sunny days. I’d be surprised if on average that one could count more than 1 or two bikes for every mile of traffic. With that, allowing the very few to advance to the head of the pack would probably do little to bike statistics in accidents or relieve traffic in any noticeable way. That’s just the way I see it. As far as I understand it the #1 bike accident is having someone pull out in front of them at a right angle. Filtering does nothing to help the most common bike/other vehicle accident. Just thinking about it, I can see someone out to beat the crowd home on their bike, advancing to the head of their group of cars, between lanes and coming to a red light. Upon getting the green they tear off across the intersection only to be taken out by some all-to-common joker who is racing to beat the red light and misses it horribly. In our area yellows may as well not exist, red lights are only a suggestion to stop and medians and center turn lanes are for passing others. I think we have greater issues than allowing bikes to seep through traffic.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        “Filtering does nothing to help the most common bike/other vehicle accident.”

        True, but how does that diminish the value of reducing an accident type that happens less frequently yet still happens? Truth be told, the reduction in rear-end collision frequency is offset by side-to-side incidents, but the reduction in severity of injury is greatly reduced with side-to-side collisions. So still a win, no?

        “Upon getting the green they tear off across the intersection only to be taken out by some all-to-common joker who is racing to beat the red light and misses it horribly.”

        That happens without filtering, so I’m sure that can (and will) happen. Yet the studies on filtering do not show a statistically relevant increase in that type of accident.

        “I think we have greater issues than allowing bikes to seep through traffic.”

        That can be said about the vast majority of issues we face as a society, but this is still an issue and worth debate. Small as the issue is in the grand scheme of life and the world, it is an issue that can directly affect my small world as a motorcyclist with huge benefits: 1) I’ll spend much more time on my motorcycle (rather than in a car commuting) which improves my quality of life in my mind, and 2) It would significantly shorten my commute time which definitely improves my quality of life.

        “Safety!” is what is being announced through the bullhorn by both opponents and proponents of the practice because that is the component of the issue that carries the most weight in the gutter of politics. Opponents of filtering have always used safety as the reason for prohibiting it. Proponents are trying to use it to move the cause forward. Whether filtering is ultimately safer or not is debatable and at no firm conclusion yet. But there is enough evidence for us to at least suggest that filtering isn’t any less safe. Filtering does undeniably help with traffic congestion in areas where congestion is a problem.

        I’ll be honest and say that safety is not the reason I favor implementing the practice, and I’d wager that is true of most motorcyclist. My reasons are listed above. If most filtering opponents were to be honest, they’d probably say that filtering is an annoyance and unfair to car drivers and therefore should not be implemented.

        Why can’t we just all get along?!

  11. Jeremy in TX says:

    So really all this law does is say that it is okay for the CHP to create guidelines on laneplitting? Well, at least they can publish those again. Not sure this is the model we in other states were hoping for to start a chain reaction of lanesplitting adoption.

    • Tyg says:

      Actually, it expressly legalizes lane sharing. Previously, there was no mention of it on the books, and the big deal is that the DMV couldn’t educate drivers that it was ok if they found bikers sharing their lanes, because the lawsuit considered that to be effectively legalizing the practice.

      Most states have laws which specifically outlaw lanesplitting – they avoid the gray zone on this and just say no. The hope is that with it being legalized in CA, it’ll be easier to study the effects and maybe we can convince some other states to allow it.

      Also, I can imagine that an accident while lane splitting is more likely to be considered the motorcyclist’s fault if the practice is illegal (or as it was in CA, “not specifically allowed”).

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        All good points for express legality, though without clear legal definitions (to which this law offers none that I am aware of) at this point defining what is and isn’t “safe” lane splitting, I’m not sold that motorcyclist are off the hook with respect to your last point.

        It just seems a shame to me that lane splitting had to be expressly legalized in order for California to be able to create guidelines and education programs around a practice than has been in place since people started riding motorcycles there. It was not prohibited, therefore it was already legal and widely in use, no?. There was really no “gray area” was there?

  12. Grover says:

    Cops never gave bikers a hard time for lane-splitting in California before the law was passed so life goes on as always. No change really, just a lot of $$$ given to researchers and legislators to keep them busy at their phoney-bologna jobs.

  13. Ronbob says:

    Bring it on, Wa. state.

  14. mickey says:

    “Studies by the University of California at Berkeley show that splitting lanes is a relatively safe maneuver when both the motorcyclist and nearby drivers know the law and adhere to safe and prudent driving

    “relatively safe when both the motorcyclist and nearby drivers know the law and adhere to safe and prudent driving.” ? Uhhh isn’t that the truth no matter what part of the country you are in with all traffic situations?

    • waitman says:

      I think so, mickey, but we can’t be positive until the University of California at Berkeley does another study. Federal grant money forthcoming! 😕

    • Tyg says:

      Right, so now we can educate the rest of the motorists that it’s legal in CA.

      I’m looking forward to there being a question on the DMV written test for cagers saying something like
      There’s a motorcyclist filtering up the right side of your lane behind you. You should:
      A: Move to the right to block him
      B: Check your mirrors and move to the left side of the lane if safe
      C: …etc.

      • mickey says:

        well from what I saw if there’s a motorcyclist filtering up the right side of your lane behind you, then he is filtering up on the left side of someone else’s lane.. correct? So a cager not only has to watch the guy in front of him to see if he is moving or slamming on the brakes, but also has to keep an eye out for splitters on his left and right at the same time, and hope there is no debris in the road he has to maneuver around to avoid like a dead animal or muffler or broken glass, or ladder that fell off a pick up truck? Seems a lot to ask to me.

  15. todd says:

    Big government always seems to need to be involved somehow. Doesn’t it?

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      As someone who lives outside of California, I like seeing this get attention and hope it encourages other states to seriously consider lanesplitting. (Texas is screwed though as they typically just dismiss anything coming out of California as a bad idea by default. Why couldn’t Arizona have spearheaded something like this?)

      However, if I lived in California, I’d say that if something isn’t prohibited then it is legal. There was no gray area to be addressed as far as I’m concerned. Governments spend a lot of time telling us what we cannot do. Now we need them to tell us what we can do as well? (Okay, rant done. Sorry.) I am glad that the CHP can republish their guidelines though.

      • mickey says:

        except from what I read from Cali riders talking about this, those recommendations will be largely ignored and it will be business as usual at whatever speed they like, regardless of how fast cars are going.

        • todd says:

          Correct. I will continue to ride along in whatever way feels most comfortable/safe for me.

          • Randy D. says:

            Having lived in Calif. off & On for decades but not now, if I get stuck in slow or stop & go traffic in any other western state I split lanes anyway rather than burn up my MC motor not doing it. Haven’t gotten a ticket yet. Of course some drivers get Po’ed but maybe if they understood my motor will burn up if I don’t do what I do things would be different.

            Some lawyer must have brought up this whole current legal question for it was acceptable(lane splitting) for decades in Calif..

          • mickey says:

            Randy just curious why doesn’t my air cooled 4 cyl Honda burn up in stop and go or bumper to bumper traffic? Or my 4 cyl air cooled Suzuki or 4 cyl air cooled Kawasaki or 2 cyl air cooled Triumph before the Honda? None of my air cooled bikes have ever burnt up.

            As a matter of fact I have never heard of ANYBODY’S air cooled bike burning up in bumper to bumper or stop and go traffic in 51 years of riding and 17 years employed in the motorcycle industry.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “As a matter of fact I have never heard of ANYBODY’S air cooled bike burning up in bumper to bumper or stop and go traffic”

            I had a Buell that would melt a hole straight down to the center of the Earth if I got stuck in stop-and-go traffic. No issues with other air-cooled bikes.

          • mickey says:

            Jeremy, so the engine blew up if you got stuck or it just put off a lot of heat?

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Putting out a lot of heat is an understatement. But to answer your question, it would go into skip-spark mode which is the ECM’s last attempt to save the engine from atomic fusion. Then of course the impending light of doom illuminates on the idiot light panel. Granted it gets really hot here, and it was more a summer problem than a winter issue. Unfortunately it its summer here for about 9 months out of the year.

          • mickey says:

            all I’m saying is in 47 other states riders on air cooled bikes including Harleys sit in traffic and have for half a century because it’s what they have to do and you don’t find them littering the side of the highways with burned up engines.

            if you feel like splitting just because you can, go ahead, but using “my motor will burn up” as an excuse is rather far fetched IMO.

        • Randy D. says:

          All my MCs, maxi-scooters run on dino oil and I’m not going to push them to find out what temp. it takes to burn them up from excessive heat when I don’t have to. If you want to, go ahead. MCs don’t have cooling systems like cars/trucks to sit for long times w/o getting air flow over their coils whether air or water cooled. Use some common sense.

  16. Dino says:

    That’s one… 48 to go!

    (Hawaii doesn’t need the law… if you are stuck in traffic in Hawaii, just enjoy it, you’re in Hawaii)

  17. Sprint_JP says:

    Careful what you ask for…Now here com the reg’s (previously published) 1) No lane-splitting above 30mph. 2) No lane-splitting more than 10mph faster than prevailing traffic. So, with those rules, if traffic is stopped, i can go a whopping 10mph. We will have to see how CHP handles enforcement.

    • BP in AZ says:

      Totally agree. Last time I was in Cali, those guys were hauling ass splitting lanes on the freeway. Seems they were better off with no law.

      • Tim C says:

        The ones hauling ass may end up limited by the law, but the ones being sensible, not so much. My personal take on splitting is:

        a) Traffic needs to be stopped or almost stopped. If it’s moving much at all, there will always be the sap that thinks they can change lanes to gain one position, then back etc – that will be the guy that gets you.

        b) Keep the speed delta reasonable so that you’re not screwed when the inevitable random thing like this happens, or there’s something to avoid on the ground etc.

        c) If traffic is moving much at all, splitting isn’t really necessary/worth it. Mainly out of the risk factor detailed in (a) and (b).

        So basically I’d view these limitations about the same as a helmet law. Yes, I realize technically its my own right to risk my own hide, but in this case if these are even really enforced it won’t really change or limit the behavior of more sensible riders who were already basically doing this anyway.

        • mickey says:

          A guy on one of our forums says he starts looking to split when traffic slows down to 45 mph which to me means traffic is doing 45 and he is doing 60-65 in between the cars. Is he the exception? or the rule?

          One of the Aussies on the forum says they can split but traffic must be stopped and they can go no faster that 17 kms or something (like 10 mph?) That seems reasonable to me for this manuever

          • mickey says:

            To be accurate I went and looked up the conversation. In Australia cars have to be stopped or barely moving and motorcycles are limited to 30 kph or 18 mph.

          • Tim C says:

            I think that guy’s got a lot higher risk tolerance than me….

          • Tyg says:

            When I first started splitting in the SF bay area, I’d only split if traffic was stopped or truly stop-n-go (maybe averaging 5-10mph), and then I’d poke along.

            Now I’ll pretty much always split till traffic hits 40, and then a lot depends on how the traffic is flowing and how hot it is.

            This is all tempered by things like
            1. I don’t split when traffic is rapidly slowing down, until it’s reached a fairly consistent speed – because during slowdowns (and speedups really) there’s more often a lot of lane changes by cars
            2. I’m extremely cautious about splitting when the sun is low from behind – cars you’re approaching probably won’t see you so it’s better just not to
            3. Trust your instincts, if you find yourself not passing someone it’s probably because you noticed something and often I find myself behind someone who’ll suddenly change lanes and then I’m like “I must’ve seen something that indicated that coming”
            4. Scan all the time. More than the normal all the time, and be ready to smack the brakes HARD.
            5. Lane dots can mess with your steering a bit, and cracks between the lanes can really do a number at lower speeds; don’t split if the lane conditions aren’t good for it
            6. Splitting isn’t so much “between two lanes” as “sharing a lane”; there are laws against “unsafe lane changes” and jumping back and forth over the lines will still give police a ready excuse to pull you over if you’re splitting. Still, though it’s “sharing a lane”, it’s often tough to share a single lane area (eg one lane ramps or one lane each way) because cars don’t line up on one side or the other of the lane.
            7. Riding on the shoulder is unaffected by all of this and you’ll get busted for that eventually, it’s really obvious.

            I wrote something close to a dissertation about this for the motorcycles message board at work once…. I could go on for pages. Suffice it to say that

  18. Ellis says:

    Legality notwithstanding, it’s still up to you left coast yahoos to keep yourselves safe. Texters, drinkers, and Pokemon Go -ers are everywhere.