California Lane-Splitting Laws Explained - Power Legal Group
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California Lane-Splitting Laws Explained

California’s lane-splitting laws have been a hot-button topic throughout the years, culminating with the 2016 bill that made lane splitting legal for motorcyclists. At that time, California was the only state with legal lane splitting, although some states have started to follow suit in recent years.

As a motorcyclist and California resident, your knowledge of the Golden State’s traffic laws regarding lane splitting is crucial to your safety when you’re doing the one thing you love most: riding your motorcycle.

Power Legal Group in Los Angeles, CA: Aggressive Representation with Personalized Service

As a motorcycle accident lawyer dedicated to helping the communities throughout Los Angeles and Southern California, Bobby Yaghoubian started Power Legal Group in 2013. Since then, our law firm has helped hundreds of clients with personal injury cases, from the simple to the complex.

If you or your loved one has suffered an injury due to a motorcycle collision, you’ll need legal advice from a qualified attorney. Our legal team is highly knowledgeable of California’s laws and how they pertain to personal injury cases, including motorcycle accidents. In addition, we work on a contingency basis, which means you don’t pay us a dime unless we win your case.

Don’t wait until it’s too late or settle for a lawyer that doesn’t have skill or experience. Instead, call us at Power Legal Group now at (800) 323-7693 to schedule your free consultation.

What Is Lane Splitting?

If you’re unfamiliar with the technical definition of lane splitting (also called lane sharing), we’ll break it down for you. California Vehicle Code 21658.1 defines lane splitting as “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.”

Simply put, lane splitting is when a motorcyclist uses the gap between cars traveling in the same direction to navigate through slowed or stopped traffic. For example, let’s say you were riding a motorcycle on the 405 and you encountered a traffic jam. In that case, you could legally travel between the lanes of slow-moving vehicles (or even stationary traffic) down the white line to navigate through the congestion more safely and with less difficulty.

One quick reminder: Lane splitting is not the same thing as shoulder surfing. Surfing the shoulder is when motorcyclists pass through moving traffic by riding on the far white line of the shoulder, and it’s illegal in California. 

What Is Lane Filtering?

Lane filtering is similar to lane splitting but slightly different. It’s a form of lane sharing but refers to the practice of motorcyclists riding between stopped or slow-moving vehicles at a traffic light to advance to the front. It’s not only faster and eases traffic, but it can also reduce the risk of rear-end collisions.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

Although lane splitting is a common practice in Europe and Asia, few states in the U.S. have begun the process to make lane splitting legal. California is currently the one state where motorcycle lane splitting is legal, although a few other states currently have open senate bills meant to legalize lane splitting or filtering.

Most states haven’t taken steps to legalize lane splitting due to traffic safety considerations. So let’s ask the real question here: Is lane splitting safe? A study from UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) shows that it is safe, but only when motorcyclists practice it correctly.

If traffic moves along at 50 mph or less and the motorcyclist doesn’t ride more than 15 mph faster than the surrounding vehicles, lane splitting is typically safer than staying in the same lane. When a motorcyclist is stuck in between fast-moving, stop-and-go, or even stopped cars, the risk for a rear-end collision is higher.

However, the improved safety that motorcyclists get by practicing lane splitting isn’t relative to the speed limit or how fast the other vehicles are moving. Instead, the issue is the speed differential. Higher speed differentials (over 15 mph) will raise the risk of injury to the rider considerably.

The study by UC Berkeley also found more interesting information. When compared to other motorcyclists, lane-splitting riders were more likely to:

  • Wear high-quality, full-face helmets
  • Ride at slower speeds
  • Travel during weekdays
  • Travel during commuting hours

Motorcyclists who practiced lane splitting compared to those who didn’t were also less likely to:

  • Be rear-ended by another vehicle
  • Carry a passenger while splitting lanes
  • Travel with alcohol in their system
  • Suffer a head injury
  • Suffer a torso injury
  • Suffer a fatal injury

In addition to UC Berkeley’s SafeTREC study, another 2013 study examined the overall safety for people riding a two-wheeled motorcycle who practice lane splitting. The study used exposure and speed data gathered from video cameras facing the traffic lanes on California’s major freeways. Ultimately, the data showed that motorcyclists who lane-split are safer than those who avoid lane splitting, and they are less likely to crash. However, the motorcyclists need to be traveling at a speed of up to 15 mph less than the surrounding motor vehicles; otherwise, the risk of injury increases significantly.

Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Safety Tips

Many riders avoid lane splitting because they know that most motorists don’t ride motorcycles. Therefore, they don’t have the same sense of awareness or biker-tuned reflexes as someone who rides regularly. To combat this, the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Motor Vehicles released motorcycle safety guidelines to educate the public and make lane sharing as safe as possible.

Even as you keep these safety tips in mind, please remember that you shouldn’t try to lane split unless you’re an experienced motorcyclist. Now, we’ll go over the motorcyclist safety tips you should follow if you want to practice safe lane splitting and maintain prudent motorcycle operation at all times.

Lane-Splitting Safety Tips from the California Highway Patrol

  • Riding on the shoulder (shoulder-surfing) is not legal, nor is it considered lane splitting
  • Consider every factor of your surrounding environment before you lane-share, including weather, the size of the other vehicles, lighting, lane width, traffic congestion, etc.
  • Remember that you should only split lanes during the day, but never at night
  • Danger increases as speed increases
  • Always split between the far left lanes and avoid the other lanes
  • Maintain high visibility at all times, such as wearing reflective or bright clothing (white is ideal) and keeping your headlights on 24/7 to prevent a motorcycle collision
  • Don’t split lanes next to large vehicles like tractor-trailers, RVs, buses, etc.
  • Avoid riding in blind spots longer than absolutely necessary
  • As speed differentials increase, danger increases
  • Stay alert for all potential road hazards, like inattentive drivers, texting, swerving, etc.
  • Don’t impede traffic flow when lane splitting

Additional Considerations Regarding Lane Sharing

Whether you ride motorcycles or not, it’s also important to consider traffic safety and other educational guidelines when driving a car or truck. Road safety should be the number one consideration for both bikers and motor vehicle drivers.

If you’re a California resident with a valid driver’s license, keep these safety guidelines in mind every time you get behind the wheel:

  • Motorcycle filtering and lane splitting is legal in California, while surfing the shoulder is not
  • If you’re in the far left lane, move over as far to the left as you safely can to give motorcyclists ample room to go by
  • Intentionally blocking or hindering a motorcyclist from lane splitting in a manner that could cause injury is illegal
  • Opening your vehicle door to prevent a motorcyclist from lane splitting is illegal
  • Always check blind spots and mirrors before you change lanes, and always use your blinkers
  • Be especially vigilant when traffic slows or stops, and always drive predictably

While the great majority of the U.S. isn’t close to legalizing lane splitting, it’s hopeful the evident success of this practice in California will be a motivator in the near future for other states to follow suit.

Have You or a Loved One Suffered an Injury in a Motorcycle Accident? Call Power Legal Group Today

Have you or a loved one suffered an injury in a motorcycle accident? Whether the cause was lane splitting or something else entirely, we can help. At Power Legal Group, we’re committed to giving every one of our clients aggressive yet personalized representation in their personal injury cases. No matter what kind of legal advice you need, our legal team is here to offer support and advocate for your rights. 

Because California’s lane-splitting laws are so unique, you’ll need a personal injury attorney with the skill and knowledge to handle your case. Our legal team has experience with motorcycle accident cases, and we’re waiting to answer your call. Contact us at Power Legal Group now at (800) 323-7693 to schedule your free consultation.

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