Motorcycling has always been a popular way to travel around Northern California. With our amazing weather all year, and the not-so-amazing traffic congestion during rush-hour traffic, it's no wonder that around 800,000 Californians own motorcycles either for commuting or simply getting around our state.
One of the benefits of riding a smaller, two-wheeled vehicle is the ability to navigate between stopped lanes of cars in traffic jams. This practice, known as motorcycle lane splitting, was finally signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in California beginning on January 1, 2017.
Although lane splitting is a common practice around the world, including in Europe and Asia, California is the only state that specifically permits the practice. However, the practice is not mentioned in the lawbooks either to legalize or prohibit it, in twelve other states, including Texas, Missouri, and West Virginia, as well as in Washington, D.C. Several states have also considered legislation that would expressly permit lane splitting in recent years.
AB-51: Motorcycle Lane Splitting
The bill that legalized lane splitting is known as AB-51. This legislation allows “driving a motorcycle, that has 2 wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane.” In other words, motorcycle riders are now allowed to ‘cut the line' of stopped traffic in situations where they have room to safely navigate the traffic jam.
For a motorcycle rider to legally lane split, they must be driving on a road with two or more explicit lanes of traffic going in the same direction. While the practice is permitted on highways, it is illegal to lane split on small two-lane roads as well as on some city roads. The bill also requires drivers to remain within their own lane until they can safely move between the lanes.
This move has been celebrated by motorcyclist advocacy groups, and it potentially could save lives. A University of California-Berkley study showed that motorcyclists who were involved in accidents with lane splitting were half as likely to suffer either head or fatal injuries, although data regarding the safety of motorcycle lane splitting is otherwise relatively limited.
Motorcycle Lane Splitting Safety Tips
Under AB-51, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was given the authority to create educational guidelines regarding safe motorcycle lane splitting. These guidelines remind motorcycle riders that riding on the shoulder is illegal, and is not considered lane splitting.
Motorcycle riders are encouraged to avoid splitting lanes next to large vehicles, such as big rig trucks, buses, motorhomes, or cars with trailers. CHP notes that “it is typically safer to split between the far-left lanes than between other lanes of traffic,” and reminds riders that danger increases as overall speed increases.
In general, and not only when lane splitting, but motorcycle riders should also strive to be as visible as possible by wearing reflective clothing and avoiding blind spots of vehicles on the roads. Motorcycle riders should also make full use of their high beams, even during the day, to give drivers of other vehicles a greater chance to see them.
Riders and their passengers should also always wear helmets that are approved by the Federal Department of Transportation. Although this is a requirement of California state law for riders and drivers of all ages, it is an important way that motorcycle riders can protect themselves from serious brain or head injuries.
Drivers of other vehicles should remain mindful of the possibility of motorcycles on roads, and watch out for them when changing lanes. The CHP guidelines for motorcycle safety also note that it is illegal for vehicles to intentionally block or impede motorcycles who are lane splitting. This includes opening a car door in order to impede a motorcyclist, which can be extremely dangerous.
The full list of CHP guidelines regarding motorcycle safety is available on its website.
Our Personal Injury Attorneys are in Your Lane
While California motorcycle fatalities have declined 30% in recent years, motorcycle riders do face a significant risk of injury or death on the road, even if they are doing everything right.
If you or a loved one was in a motorcycle accident involving lane splitting, our experienced lawyers are here to help. The personal injury attorneys at The Law Offices of Freeman & Freeman have been serving families in the Santa Rosa area since 1957. Please contact us by calling 705-575-7141 today.