Lane Splitting in California – Is It Legal?

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For many people, riding a motorcycle is preferable to driving a vehicle because of how much faster a trip can be. Motorcycle riders can maneuver their way through traffic better, and they can also use techniques such as lane splitting to get to their destination faster.

Still, many motorcycle riders harbor concerns because they aren’t always sure of what they can and cannot do while on the road. You can count lane splitting among those things that riders are not completely sure if they can practice without worry.

Confusion is your enemy out on the road, and as we all know, ignorance of the law does not exempt you from being held accountable for potential violations. With that in mind, we hope that you can use this article to learn more about lane splitting, its legality, and how to practice it safely.

confused man

What Is Lane Splitting?

Let’s start by first defining what lane splitting is.

Notably, it’s a practice known by many other names. You may have heard other riders refer to it as lane filtering or lane sharing. In some parts of the world, they call it stripe-riding or white-lining.

The different names may have already tipped you off to what the practice of lane splitting is.

Lane splitting involves riding your motorcycle between two lanes of cars. The cars occupying the two lanes can either be in motion or stopped.

With the two vehicles occupying their designated lanes, that means you sandwich your motorcycle between them with its two wheels planted on the painted dividing stripe. Also, the road does not have to be clearly separated by a divider. As long as your motorcycle is between two lanes of cars, what you’re doing is considered lane splitting.

It’s important not to confuse lane sharing with other motorcycle riding techniques. For example, the practice of swerving in and out of traffic at high speeds is risky, and that is not the same thing.

Now that we’ve defined lane splitting, and even highlighted the other names it goes by, let’s try to answer a question that many put forth with regards to this practice.

Is Lane Splitting Legal?

Many drivers have concerns about lane splitting, fearing that they and the riders who practice this particular technique may get involved in some motorcycle accidents. You can quickly find drivers who are opposed to it and would like the practice to be outlawed.

But is there even a need to outlaw lane filtering? Can you, as a motorcycle rider, practice this technique without running afoul of the law?

Well, the answers to those questions depend on where you live.

Motorcycle enthusiasts across many parts of Asia and Europe have practiced lane splitting for as long as they’ve owned their two-wheelers, and they’ve never had problems with the law. In those parts of the world, lane splitting is a common enough practice that they expect it to take place on city streets.

Things are different in the United States because the practice is not widely accepted. In fact, only two states in the country have forms of legislation that have formally addressed it.

The state of Utah officially legalized lane sharing in 2019. California went about things a bit differently.

Back in 2016,  California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill No. 51 into law. The bill does a few things.

First, it officially defines lane splitting, thus creating a clearer reference for both motorists and law enforcement. The bill also asked the Department of the California Highway Patrol to craft guidelines to educate motorists and passengers about the practice of lane splitting. It also called on the Department of the California Highway Patrol to consult with other agencies as it goes about drafting those lane splitting guidelines.

You may have noticed that Assembly Bill No. 51 does not state that lane splitting is legal, but at the same time, it does not say anything about the technique being illegal either.

So, what does Assembly Bill No. 51 mean for you if you’re a motorcycle rider based in California? It doesn’t do much to change anything since lane splitting was not considered illegal in the Golden State, to begin with.

Those interested can get in touch with the California Highway Patrol and sign up for their California Motorcyclist Safety Program. There’s a lot the program can offer to both new and veteran motorcycle riders alike, so feel free to sign up if you have the chance and would like to be even safer on the road.

By the way, twelve other states have the same attitude toward lane splitting as California does. They do not explicitly state that motorcycle riders are allowed to engage in lane filtering, but at the same time, they have not set any restrictions in place, which would prevent them from doing so.

Why Do Motorcycle Riders Engage Lane Splitting?

People purchase motorcycles for all sorts of reasons.

Some do because they’ve wanted a motorcycle their entire life, and they can think of few things as enjoyable as taking to the open road while on their trusty metal steed.

Others like motorcycles for more practical reasons. California residents know all too well about how bad traffic can get in many parts of the state. Catching a game at Dodger Stadium is a ton of fun but getting home from there is not always the most pleasant experience.

Motorcycles can help people get around many of the traffic-related problems they must deal with regularly. Since motorcycles are smaller, they can maneuver them better. You can get to the front of the line faster with a motorcycle instead of a car.

Lane splitting gives motorcycle riders another technique to make their commutes shorter. If you find a long lineup of vehicles at a stoplight, you can ride down the middle of the two lanes to get to the front.

Other motorists can also benefit from motorcycle riders lane splitting. With the motorcycles taking up space that the cars couldn’t use anyway, more vehicles can pass through once the light turns from red to green.

Using this riding technique could be helpful from the standpoint of safety. A motorcycle driver could be seriously hurt if they are between a car that suddenly stops and one that continues to move. You can avoid that kind of accident if you line up the motorcycle alongside the cars instead of behind or in front of them.

Of course, being positioned between two cars while on the road is still not the safest place to be. There are benefits to be gained from splitting lanes, but there are certain risks associated with it as well.

What Are the Risks of Lane Splitting?

You cannot overlook the fact that there are also risks you need to take on if you decide to practice lane splitting.

First and foremost, you, as a motorcycle rider, must acknowledge the fact that a lot of drivers aren’t too keen about seeing you emerge alongside their vehicle. Some drivers feel a bit uneasy when they see a motorcycle so close to their side door and understandably so.

As a motorcycle driver, you need to be cognizant of that and prepare yourself for any sudden moves that the vehicle may make.

You also must be aware that drivers have blind spots. If you position your motorcycle in a certain way, they may not see you. That can be a real problem if they open their door suddenly and hit you.

It’s on you as the rider to alert the driver to your presence so that you aren’t mistakenly hit by a car door swinging open.

The motorcycle riders are not the only ones at risk. Other drivers must worry about motorcycles squeezing in too tight and potentially causing damage to their vehicle. A motorcycle could easily damage a paint job, scratch a window, or even take off a side mirror.

Motorcycles must exercise caution whenever they split lanes in order to prevent something like that from happening.

Always remember that we share our roads. As long as you watch out for others, you can engage in lane splitting without causing any problems.

motorcyclist lane splitting

How Do You Practice Lane Splitting Safely?

Now that we know more about the risks of lane sharing, let’s talk more about how you can use this technique safely whenever you are on the road.

For starters, you should still follow all the same precautionary measures they recommend whenever you hop on your motorcycle. That means covering your body up well, and you can’t forget about your helmet.

It’s also a good idea to check on the condition of your motorcycle before you start your trip.

Once all the precautionary steps are out of the way, you can now focus on how to protect yourself while on the road.

We talked earlier about how drivers can become uneasy if there are motorcycles that get too close to them and how blind spots are also a thing. With all that in mind, you need to be more careful when navigating the narrow space as the motorcycle rider.

Try to make yourselves visible to the driver without getting too close. Drawing their attention in some way is also a good move so that they don’t open their doors carelessly.

You should also keep your speed low since you are in the middle of lane splitting. Chances are you are not the only rider splitting the middle of the lane, so keep your speed down and approach the narrow space carefully.

Motorcycle riders should also avoid lane splitting when the vehicles around them are moving rather quickly. Stay behind a vehicle for a while and wait until the traffic slows down before you go into the middle of the lanes.

What Should Vehicle Owners Do if They See Lane Splitters?

Thus far, we’ve focused on the motorcycle riders and how they should approach lane splitting. They are not the only ones on the road, though.

Vehicle owners must also learn how to react properly once they see riders about to split lanes nearby.

If you live in a state where lane splitting is not outlawed, you should not discourage the motorcycle riders from using that space.  You could find yourself in trouble if you do something like that.

It’s also worth pointing out that owners of vehicles who purposely block the space for lane splitting can be cited. The same is true for whoever opens their doors to keep a motorcycle from advancing past them.

Vehicle owners who are in the far-left lane must also move further left to give motorcycles the space they need to go forward.

Before turning one way, you should use your turn signal. A motorcycle driver may be trying to advance right as you’re about to turn. The signal will be useful in that scenario.

Generally speaking, it’s always best to be kind on the road, and all you need to do is to maintain that kind of attitude with motorcycle riders nearby. Just like you, they are only looking to reach their destination. Don’t make that task any harder on them than it needs to be.

The roads are for everyone. They are for car owners, truck enthusiasts, different forms of public transportation, and of course, motorcycle riders.

Lane splitting is something motorcycle owners in California can legally engage in, so they should be allowed to do so. If you are a motorcycle rider who was intentionally blocked from lane splitting, you can take legal action. Contact Batta Fulkerson as soon as possible and work with them to figure out your next course of action.