California Lane Splitting

July 22, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

California Lane Splitting

Different states have different rules for motorcycle drivers. Riding a motorcycle comes with various responsibilities beyond driving a typical passenger vehicle. You assume the additional risk for yourself because you limit your protection and make it more difficult for other drivers to see you or be aware of your presence. 

The additional dangers of riding a motorcycle are also sometimes paired with added benefits. Beyond the freedom you feel with the wind hitting you, you can slip through traffic in California. More and more states are beginning to review the potential benefits of lane splitting. 

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is when an individual on a motorcycle drives between two lanes to pass through vehicle traffic. This practice can help motorcyclists move more efficiently through congested areas. Even though this can seem dangerous because of the difference in speeds, motorcyclists often go unnoticed in highway traffic, meaning they are in danger even when they are not lane-splitting. 

California Laws on Lane Splitting

While some states are considering new legislation, California is one of only three states in the U.S. that currently allow lane splitting. Arizona passed a law that goes into effect in September of 2022, and Montana enacted its lane-splitting law in 2021. California was the first state to allow it and passed a formal law at the beginning of 2017. 

Section 21658.1 of the California Vehicle Code has three parts:

  • Definition – “Lane splitting” is defined as driving a motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane on highways, roads, divided streets, or undivided streets. “Motorcycle” is defined in Section 400 of the California Vehicle Code.
  • Safety tips – The second part states that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) can develop educational guidelines which aim to help protect motorcyclists and drivers, and passengers in nearby vehicles.
  • Guideline regulations – The final piece states that CHP must include organizations interested in road safety when developing their safety tips. Some organizations include the Office of Traffic Safety, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and any motorcycle organization focused on motorcycle driver safety. 

Lane splitting has been around in California for a long time, as there was no written rule against it. Still, this legislation allowed the state to issue official recommendations to motorcyclists. 

It’s also important to understand that riding on the shoulder is not considered lane-splitting and is hazardous. 

Risks of Lane Splitting

Lane splitting accidents typically occur between motorcycles and cars. When these two vehicles collide, there is not much protection for the motorcycle driver. For this reason, lane splitting is significantly more dangerous for the individual on the motorcycle. 

Lane splitting is so risky because cars rarely stay in the same lane. Drivers will often switch or move over if they think they can get to their destination faster. Motorcycle drivers may not have time to adjust for a driver crossing in front of them. There is no space for them to swerve left or right, so they cannot avoid an accident. 

Lane Splitting Tips

In 2018, the CHP released a list of lane splitting tips to keep motorists safe. However, it is the responsibility of drivers and motorcyclists alike to adhere to these tips.  Creating the safest highway environment possible is everyone’s responsibility. It is possible to achieve this by remaining vigilant at all times, wearing protective gear, and never driving under the influence.

Driving Safe Around Motorcycles

If you often drive in California, you will likely see motorcycles splitting lanes if you haven’t already. Always remember you are sharing the road with motorcyclists. Check your mirrors and blind spots frequently before doing anything, stay alert while driving, and allow for extra space because motorcycles can perform maneuvers that cars cannot. Many motorcycle accidents occur simply because the driver did not see the motorcyclist. 

Safety for Lane Splitters

In a perfect world, California drivers would always take the proper precautions around motorcyclists. Unfortunately, there are an infinite number of other considerations when driving, and sometimes it can be difficult to think about all of them simultaneously. While it would be ideal if motorcyclists didn’t have to worry about confused drivers, they should keep in mind that they bear some of the responsibility for anything that happens when they choose to split lanes.

The CHP’s tips for motorcycle safety include the following:

  • Understand that riding gets more dangerous at higher speeds.
  • Attempt to avoid lane splitting by large vehicles such as semi-trucks, buses, or fifth-wheels.
  • Do not spend too much in the blind spots of other vehicles; try to be as visible as possible.
  • Use your high beams during daylight hours and wear bright or reflective clothes.
  • Switching is usually safest in the far-left lanes.
  • Pay attention to your surrounding environment when you attempt to lane split. Be aware of current weather conditions, the type of road you are on, and the width of the lanes.
  • Do not ride on the shoulder of the road; this is not lane splitting.
  • Lane splitting gets more dangerous with greater speed differentials.

The bigger the disparity between the motorcycle’s speed and the nearby cars’ speeds, the more risky lane splitting gets. One good rule of thumb is to avoid moving more than 10 miles per hour faster than surrounding traffic. If you are lane-splitting during a standstill, understand that running into another vehicle would likely bring you to a dead stop. 

Motorcycle Collision Lawsuits in California

Motorcycle accidents proceed similarly to other automobile accidents in California. Even if your accident occurs while lane splitting, there will be an investigation to determine who was at fault for the crash. If you were riding a motorcycle faster than the recommended speed between lanes, you could be held more liable in an accident. If you were driving a car and tried to switch lanes quickly without signaling or checking your blind spot, you might hold more of the liability if you end up colliding with a motorcyclist. 

There are various factors at play in a motorcycle crash. Whichever side you are on, you should consider reaching out to a motorcycle accident lawyer. The motorcycle attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark are specifically trained to look for the details that matter and earn you the compensation you are entitled to.