Lane Splitting: Proceed with Caution

Is lane splitting legal in California?

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 51 into law, effectively making lane splitting legal, a practice in which motorcyclists drive between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane.

While the California Vehicle Code has previously required vehicles to be driven within one lane and not be moved into another lane without reasonable safety, it was unclear whether or not lane splitting was legal. It has generally been an accepted practice by bikers and law officers alike, however.

By passing this law, the Code now has a specific definition of lane splitting: “driving a motorcycle. . . that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads or highways.”

The law also authorizes the California Highway Patrol to develop safe lane splitting guidelines in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Transportation and the Office of Traffic Safety. Proponents of the law believe that lane splitting is a right of way, and that insurance companies will no longer be able to consider collisions as a dual or no-fault accident.

Is lane splitting safe?

The law is grounded in certain studies that demonstrate lane splitting is safe. For example, the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at UC Berkeley conducted a study in 2014 that demonstrated lane splitting at moderate speeds was safer than riding behind a vehicle, and that lane splitting reduced the risk of rear-end collisions. That being said, lane splitting accidents can still occur, with devastating consequences.

This point was driven home about one month after Brown signed the law when a 53 year-old Dixon man riding a Harley-Davidson between a Nissan Titan and a commercial truck was killed on I-80 in Vallejo. The motorcycle collided with the Nissan, ejecting the biker, who then hit the truck. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The actual cause of the collision has yet to be determined.

The Takeaway

For all intents and purposes, lane splitting is legal in Northern and Southern California. Until the CHP establishes speed guidelines, however, bikers should exercise their best judgment. CHP officers will continue to enforce the law as they have, however, until the guidelines are in place. In the meantime, if you were injured in a motorcycle accident whether or not lane splitting was involved, the experienced personal injury attorneys at J&Y law firm can help you obtain meaningful compensation.