Lane splitting has always been a bit of a grey area in California law. While not technically outlawed, it’s not strictly legal either. Now, a new piece of legislation seeks to clear up the confusion and might even result in explicitly condoning the practice.
California governor Jerry Brown signed the landmark law this month, which allows the California Highway Patrol to set explicit guidelines for the practice, but not to explicitly authorize it. Lane splitting, or when motorcycles drive between two vehicles, is a dangerous practice, but local law enforcement usually allows it. The California Highway Patrol published suggested guidelines in 2013, but regulators at the time said they did not have the authority to publish the guidelines.
Lane Splitting History
Lane splitting has a controversial history in the state. Proponents say that it cuts back on California’s legendary traffic problems, while critics says it can injure motorcyclists and cause accidents. People throughout the area are hardly neutral about the practice – they’re either stoutly in favor, or vehemently opposed. California is the only state in the union that allows lane-splitting in any form, and motorcyclists began to worry that local authorities would ticket riders without any guidelines.
The New Law
The assembly voted in May of 2016 for CHP to explicitly allow lane splitting with a 50 mile per hour speed limit. The Senate approved the bill unanimously, but not before watering it down significantly.
Now, the American Motorcyclist Administration is working with the CHP to establish safe guidelines for lane splitting that motorcyclists hope will help both riders and drivers. Previously, the guidelines advised them to travel no more than 10 miles per hour faster than the flow of traffic, and only to lane split when vehicles around were traveling 30 miles per hour or less.
The measure was a bipartisan effort between Bill Quirk, a Democratic Assemblyman from Hayward, and Palmdale Republican Tom Lackey
The CHP established tentative guidelines over the summer. It’s important to realize, however, that guidelines are not the same as laws. Police officers will not strictly be able to ticket those who violate the guidelines, but they will be able to use their discretion if they believe someone is driving recklessly. As of now, the guidelines state that:
- Motorcyclists should only lane split when traffic is moving less than 30 miles per hour
- Lane splitting between the #1 and #2 lanes (from the left)
- Drivers are ultimately responsible for their actions, and motorists are not obligated to make space for motorcyclists to split
- Motorcyclists should still be aware of their surroundings, especially in areas where drivers might not be accustomed to lane splitting (for example in lanes 3 and 4) to avoid a potential motorcycle accident
- The lane splitting guidelines require high experience and competency – they’re not intended for novice drivers
As of now, lane splitting is still a legal grey area. In the future, however, we might see more formal legislation establishing it as a legal maneuver. How these guidelines impact public health and safety remains to be seen.