Yes, You Can Lane-Split (on Your Motorcycle)
As a late summer heat wave flattens the Southland, we at Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie are still thankful for California. Why? Because California is the only state in the U.S. that ever encouraged motorcyclists to lane-split!
Lane-splitting or filtering, when a motorcycle passes other cars by moving between lanes of traffic going in the same direction, is common in the rest of the world. You can barely maneuver a four-wheeled motor vehicle in some parts of Asia and Europe, as you may have noticed while on a vacation or watching a travel show!
Filtering through traffic allows a motorcycle to keep moving in standstill traffic, which can help a biker who is wearing heavy gear stay cooler in the blazing sun. This is a big deal in 90+ degree heat. It also prevents the motorcycle from overheating (most of them are air-cooled), and alleviates the congestion clogging our Southern California streets. Plus, being able to dodge traffic actually makes bikers feel safer: worry about being rear-ended is a big concern on a motorcycle!
Is it a dangerous thing to do? Well, of course, everything you do on the road can be risky—but that’s mostly due to other vehicles. A 2015 study by UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center found that lane-splitting is relatively safe in traffic moving 50 mph or less, when the motorcyclist does not exceed 15 mph above the surrounding traffic. In fact, researchers found that lane-splitting motorcyclists were “more likely to ride on weekdays and during commute hours, use better helmets, and travel at lower speeds.” They were also less likely to drink alcohol and drive or carry passengers. In short—they were more likely to be safe and conscientious riders.
We encourage lane-splitting on the right roads and at the right times. But how do you know when to do so?
Just the Facts, Ma’am
Now, we have to be clear on California law – it does not explicitly allow lane-splitting. It would be more accurate to say that California Vehicle Code does not prohibit lane-splitting. In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 51 into law, which gave a legal definition for lane-splitting and allowed California Highway Patrol and other stakeholders to develop guidelines around the practice.
And in September 2018, CHP finally released its “Lane Splitting Safety Tips.” They include advice such as “Avoid lane-splitting beside larger vehicles, like motor-homes and big rigs,” and “It is typically safer to split between the far left lanes of traffic.” They also recommend that bikers wear brightly colored and reflective clothing to increase their chances of being seen by other motorists.
The Plot Thickens
The Office of Administrative Law had received a complaint that there was no “formal rule-making process,” and the California Department of Motor Vehicles has removed lane-splitting guidelines from its website. Our firm would hope that this topic is addressed by the legislature sooner rather than later!
However, the DMV still has some general tips for motorcyclists:
- Watch your speed
- Don’t assume people in cars can see you
- Avoid the blind spots of other vehicles
- Use a helmet and wear protective gear
- Ride responsibly – don’t drive drowsy, or drunk, or distracted
- Take the California Motorcyclist Safety Program
Remember to always obey speed limits and the rules of the road – you can still be ticketed for lane-splitting, if an officer finds your behavior irresponsible and likely to cause harm. We also encourage you to stay between lanes 1 and 2 of traffic—cars will rarely expect you to lane-split in the fast lanes. Never travel 15 mph faster than vehicles surrounding you, and avoid the oil slick in the center of each lane when you travel—it can make it much harder for you to come to a stop!
Sadly, we know that some cars try to edge over to cut you off, if they see a motorcycle coming. In fact, a survey showed that drivers generally view the practice as “unsafe,” and many fail to look for motorcyclists before changing lanes at all.
Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie has handled many motorcycle accident claims in Orange County on behalf of injured bikers. Call (949) 752-7474 to talk to a skilled attorney about your accident. We charge no upfront fees and only take payment if we get you fair compensation!
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