Understanding California's Lane-Splitting Laws for Motorcyclists

If you’ve ever seen a motorcyclist dip fearlessly in-between California freeway lanes and drive right on the yellow divider lines, you may have wondered if this behavior was even legal. As of 2016, the practice known among motorcyclists as “lane splitting” officially became legal in the state of California, where previously it had been considered a “grey area” under traffic laws.

While motorcyclists are fully entitled to use this technique, especially in heavy traffic, it’s important to understand the laws regulating this practice before you hit the road. Additionally, if you’re a motorcyclist, there are some safety concerns to keep in mind that might save your life one day.

A Brief History of California Lane-Splitting Laws

For decades, California was one of the only states in the entire country that did not explicitly ban the practice of lane splitting. Because there are so many registered motorcyclists in the Golden State, the practice had never been prohibited by law, and carried no penalties in court (much to the irritation of traditional vehicle drivers.)

However, in 2013, the California Highway Patrol faced considerable scrutiny when it issued formal lane-splitting guidelines for motorcyclists, as critics believed that this established a legal precedent in an unclear area of the law. It wasn’t until Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 51 into law and made lane splitting legal in 2016 that the CHP was enabled to create a new set of guidelines.

Here are some recommendations that the CHP included on this updated set of guidelines:

  • Only experienced motorcyclists should attempt this maneuver.
  • You shouldn’t split lanes while riding next to a large vehicle.
  • The risk of personal injury and accident increases as your speed increases.
  • Visibility is one of the biggest safety concerns with lane-splitting, so wear bright colors and stay out of blind spots.
  • Pay attention to the entire freeway environment as you split lanes.

Is It Safe to Split Lanes?

It may come as a surprise to most drivers, but splitting lanes is actually considered to be a safer maneuver than waiting in some instances. This is because motorcycles have to continue moving at all times to remain upright, and coming to abrupt stops – or standing still for long periods of time – can put motorcyclists at much greater risk of a fatal motorcycle accident.

In fact, a 2015 study performed at the University of California – Berkeley found that motorcyclists who engage in lane splitting are far less likely to suffer a rear-end accident or sustain head and torso injuries. This is especially important for motorcyclists, who are more prone to sustaining traumatic brain injuries on the road. Brain injuries can lead to lasting repercussions, and change the course of a motorcyclist’s entire life in an instant – so any practice that mitigates the risk should be considered a welcome addition to our laws.

Stay Safe While Splitting Lanes

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we’re committed to protecting the rights of motorcyclists who are involved in serious accidents. Whether you were splitting lanes or not, you have the right to hire legal representation and to pursue a personal injury claim against the at-fault party. With over 40 years of experience and vast knowledge about motor vehicle accident cases, our team can help you secure compensation after you sustain a major injury.

For more information, call (800) 462-7160 today.