California Lane Splitting Laws

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The term “lane splitting” refers to a type of driving behavior in which a motorcyclist passes other vehicles on the road by riding between the vehicles along the lane line. In the state of California, lane splitting has often held a complicated status. While there is nothing in California Vehicle Code making lane splitting illegal, lane splitting is not coded into California Vehicle Code as specifically legal to perform. Lane splitting is advantageous to motorcyclists because lane splitting allows motorcyclists to arrive at destinations more quickly.

The History of AB 51

Recently, the state of California took a substantial step towards incorporating lane-splitting into the California Vehicle Code. Last month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 51, concerning lane splitting. The bill is now headed to California State Assembly for approval. AB 51 then passed the State Assembly. Now headed to Governor Brown for approval, if AB 51 becomes a law, this law will finally resolve any confusion about the legal status of lane splitting. If AB 51 does become law, then California will be the first state to formalize the practice of lane splitting.

AB 51 has had a complicated history. Due to disagreement among many of the bill’s supporters concerning the top speeds for lane splitting, AB 51 was stalled for a substantial period of time.

The Contents of AB 51

AB 51 contains two major elements. First, AB 51 defines lane splitting as an individual driving a motorcycle on two wheels between vehicles in the same lane on divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways. Second, AB 51 contains elements regarding the development of educational guidelines about lane splitting.

Revisions To AB 51

In response to the history about the details of lane splitting, AB 51 is silent on the issue of how lane splitting should occur. In 2013, the California Highway Patrol published lane-splitting guidelines on its website. The 2013 California Highway Patrol guidelines contained several recommendations for motorcyclists:

  • Be Alert to the Driving Patterns of Others. Drivers are recommended to anticipate possible movements by other drivers and to be prepared in any shifts in driving. Among the types of driving patterns that motorcyclists are warned to be alert to are inattentive drivers who might potentially switch lanes without fully being aware of blind spots.
  • Be Alert to Roadside Conditions. Motorcyclists were recommended to be alert to the many variables that can impact an individual’s ability to safely split lanes including lane width, road conditions, the size of surrounding vehicles, and the weather.
  • Other Vehicles’ Speed. Motorcyclists are advised by the guidelines to refrain from lane splitting when traffic is moving at a speed of 30 miles per hour or faster.
  • Own Vehicle Speed. The guidelines advised that motorcyclists travel no faster than 10 miles per hour faster than other traffic.
  • Which Lane to Use. Lane splitters should use the left most lanes to lane split because motorists are most used to motorcyclists splitting between these lanes.
  • In addition to these general guidelines, the California Highway Patrol also recommended that motorists follow the four “Rs” of lane splitting. These four “Rs” consist of the following:
  • Be Reasonable. Reasonable in this situations means that motorists are not recommended to travel ten miles faster than the traffic flow and never above 39 miles per hour.
  • Be Responsible. Motorcyclists are advised to be responsible for their own safety and decisions, which means that motorcyclists are expected to be aware of road conditions in addition to the driving patterns of other drivers and not place themselves in dangerous situations where someone could be injured.
  • Be Respectful. This recommendation is intended to remind motorists to share the road with other motorists and not use loud noises in order to distract motorcyclists.
  • Be Aware of All Roadway and Traffic Conditions. Motorcyclists are advised to be aware of hazardous conditions on the road including curves, distracted drivers, uneven pavement, and weather conditions.

The California Highway Patrol, however, removed these guidelines when complaints were received that the California Highway Patrol was attempting to create public policy. As a result, AB 51 does not contain any details recommending the situations in which lane splitting should be performed. Instead, AB 51 allows the California Highway Patrol to develop educational guidelines about lane splitting. In accordance with the terms of AB 51, California Highway Patrol developed lane splitting guidelines with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Transportation, the Office of Traffic, and a motorcycle safety group.

Opponents and Supporters of AB 51

Most law enforcement is in support of AB 51 because these parties believe that the bill will cut down on traffic and produce less wear on motorcycles. Motorcyclists also tend to support AB 51 because lane splitting reduces the driving time for motorcyclists.

The Motorcycle Industry Council and other groups, however, are against the passage of AB 51 because these groups believe that lane splitting causes motorcycle accidents and places motorcyclists in greater danger. This claim about the increase in accidents is supported by a study conducted by the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California Berkeley. This study concluded that 17 percent of 5,969 motorcycle collisions involved lane splitting. Lane splitting motorcyclists tended to use alcohol less and were also less likely to have been carrying a passenger. Lane splitting motorcyclists were also injured much less frequently than other types of motorcycle collisions. This study also found that there were no significant increase in the rate of injuries until traffic speed exceeded 50 miles per hour. This study concluded that lane splitting is a relatively safe strategy for motorcyclists provided that the lane splitting is done while traffic is moving at a rate of fifty miles per hour or less.

The Future of AB 51

Time will tell how successful AB 51 is in execution. The stated goal of AB 51 is to decrease traffic congestion while simultaneously improving traffic safety. If you are involved in a vehicular accident in Temecula involving lane splitting, at The Sargent Firm Injury Lawyers, our personal injury lawyers are familiar with the law concerning these types of cases and have a long established history of helping motorists involved in similar accidents obtain the best possible outcome.

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