Lane Splitting Is Legal in California

September 27th, 2016

On August 19th, 2016, the California Legislature passed AB 51, which formally defines lane splitting in the vehicle code, and explicitly authorizes the CHP develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles.

From the previous CHP Guidelines:

  1. Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in California when done in a safe and prudent manner.
  2. Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.
  3. Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal (CVC 22400).
  4. Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal (CVC 22517).
  5. Never drive while distracted.
  6. You can help keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by:
    1. Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning
    2. Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
    3. Allowing more following distance, three or four seconds, when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.

 

California is expected to become the first state in the nation to formalize the practice of lane splitting after state Assembly members on Thursday passed a bill authorizing the California Highway Patrol to establish guidelines for motorcyclists on how to do it safely.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), passed Thursday with a 69-0 vote. It now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. On the floor, Quirk said the proposed law had many positives, including reducing traffic congestion and promoting safety.

“No issue is more important to me than roadway safety,” he said

Lane splitting, in which a motorcyclist passes other vehicles by riding between them along the lane line, has long been a hot issue in the state.

Technically, it has not been legal or illegal, falling in a gray area where it was treated as acceptable by law enforcement agencies. But when the CHP published safe strategies on the practice in 2015, a citizen complained that the agency should not be allowed to create public policy. In came in AB 51.

 

Quirk’s original bill proposed that lane splitting could occur legally only when a motorcycle was moving no more than 15 miles per hour faster than the traffic around it, and it prohibited the practice at speeds above 50 mph.

Several motorcyclists’ groups objected to that language, finding the speed limit too low. Other groups and individuals, who believe that lane splitting is dangerous regardless of the speed, objected to the proposal on principle.

The revised bill, which has sailed through the legislative process, provides a basic definition of “lane” and leaves the rest to the CHP.

“We think it’s a great idea,” said Nicholas Harris of the Western States Representative of the American Motorcyclist Assn. “It will give the CHP the authority it needs to educate the drivers and riders of California on the safe guidelines.”

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