What You Need To Know About Motorcycle Lane-Splitting in California

May 24, 2019

According to a 2014 study, more than 80 percent of motorcyclists report occasionally or frequently “lane-splitting.” Also called white lining, lane sharing, or filtering, lane splitting is a controversial motorcyclist practice that involves cutting between lanes to bypass traffic. While motorcyclists claim the practice saves tremendous time and keeps them safer by minimizing the risk of being rear-ended in a traffic jam, motorists often vehemently disagree, feeling it is unsafe, anxiety-inducing, and can often lead to road rage.

Despite the controversy, lane splitting is legal in California. In fact, California is the only state that has legalized it. In 2016, Governor Brown signed legislation (effective as of January 1, 2017) that defined 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.”

The legislation did not actually change the State laws on lane splitting, but it did give the California Highway Patrol the authority to develop guidelines around lane splitting to make it safer. As a result, motorcyclists who lane-split are held to the same standards as other motorists: obeying the speed limits, observing regular traffic laws, and exercising reasonable care while on the road. These guidelines came in the form of “lane splitting safety tips,” which state that lane splitting can be dangerous and only “experienced riders” should practice it.

Further, the safety tips speak to both motorcyclists and other drivers on the road. For instance, motorcyclists are urged to be aware of their surroundings, avoid lane splitting between large vehicles, and keep speed within the limits, while other drivers are cautioned to avoid intentionally blocking lane splitters - which is illegal.

The Highway Patrol’s guidelines also include some of the following:

  • Travel at a speed no more than 10 mph more than the rest of the traffic flow, as it is more dangerous to travel at a higher speed differential.
  • Don’t split if traffic is moving at 30 mph or faster.
  • Try to split the furthest left lanes and avoid splitting near exits and off-ramps where motorists might make sudden lane changes.
  • Use lights and wear bright colors so motorists can see you.
  • Expect and anticipate sudden movements from other drivers.

Don’t split the lane if:

  • You can't fit;
  • You’ve reached a toll booth;
  • Traffic is moving too fast;
  • Hazardous road conditions exist;
  • You can’t see a way out;
  • You’re stuck between large vehicles like RVs;
  • You’re approaching a curve; and
  • You don’t feel alert or fully confident to tackle it.

Although there’s little data that exists to prove the relative safety of lane splitting compared to following the regular traffic flow, California law affords law enforcement officers the discretion to decide whether motorcyclists are lane splitting safely and prudently.

Staying Safe on the Roads

The law makes it clear that even though lane splitting is legal, all drivers are charged with protecting their own safety as well as the safety of others on the roads. It’s your responsibility as a driver to stay alert, to use common sense and courtesy, and to obey the regular traffic laws.

For Motorcyclists

Always, always assume that other drivers cannot see you, and if you feel uncomfortable making a move, the best option is to avoid it.

The State Highway Patrol encourages all motorcyclists to enroll in the California Motorcyclist Safety Program - the official motorcycle safety and training program in the State. Before you venture onto highways or attempt to split lanes, it is advisable to take this course so you can gain some basic safety tools before hitting the road.

For Motorists

Check your blind spots before you change lanes. Always assume that someone may be approaching you from the side.

Hiring A Motorcycle Accident Attorney

Whether you’re a motorcyclist or a motorist, lane splitting accidents can be jarring or even fatal. If you’ve been involved in an accident and you believe you took reasonable measures to stay safe, we can help. Our team of experienced injury attorneys can conduct a thorough investigation to discern the extent of your - and the other party’s - liability, and we can vigorously represent your interests in a court of law. Contact us today to learn how we can help you recover.

View all Posts

We are here to help.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

If you have questions, need the advice of a trusted counselor, or simply do not know where to turn, our team is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

If you are unable to visit us in our office downtown during the week, we are more than happy to meet you at your home or in our office over the weekend. Hablamos espanol.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form