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Can Motorcycles Split Lanes in California?

Posted by Siamak Vaziri | Jan 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

Riding a motorcycle in California is extremely popular and a great way to explore this beautiful, sprawling state. While there are no federal laws that allow or prohibit splitting lanes – riding on the dotted line between two lanes of traffic on a highway with two or more lanes in the same direction – California remains the only state in the country that allows lane splitting.

In August 2016, California became the first U.S. state to pass a law that legally defined lane splitting in its vehicle code. There are other states that are considering a motorcycle lane sharing law. However, lane splitting is still not legal in any other state.

motorbike accident

California Assembly Bill 51 (AB 51)

California Assembly Bill 51 or AB 51, which became law in August 2016, clears up the gray area surrounding the practice of lane splitting, which is controversial. AB 51 armed the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles with the proper authority to publish lane safety guidelines.

AB 51 states that:

  • The CHP may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting that would ensure the safety of motorcyclists as well as others on the road.
  • CHP shall consult with other organizations in developing these guidelines including the DMV, the Department of Transportation, the Office of Traffic Safety and motorcycle organizations focused on motorcyclist safety.

While the law legalizes lane splitting, it does impose a few restrictions. Riding on the shoulder, for instance, is illegal and is not considered lane splitting. 

While the law legalizes lane splitting, it does impose a few restrictions. Riding on the shoulder, for instance, is illegal and is not considered lane splitting. Here are some other guidelines for motorcyclists:

  • Ride at a speed no more than 10 mph faster than other traffic
  • Do not split lanes when traffic flow is 30 mph or faster because danger increases as speed increases
  • Do not split lanes near freeway exits or on-ramps

The guidelines state that motorists should not attempt to prevent motorcyclists from lane splitting. It is against the law for motorists to intentionally block or obstruct a motorcyclist in a dangerous manner. It is also unlawful, not to mention dangerous, to open a door to impede a motorcycle. It is very important to understand these and other Motorcycle laws in California.

Why Did California Legalize Lane Splitting?

California decided to remove language from its traffic laws barring motorcyclists from splitting lanes largely because of a UC Berkeley study, which concluded that lane splitting is reasonably safe when done at no more than 15 mph over the speeds of surrounding vehicles. The study examined almost 1,000 lane-splitting accidents before arriving at that determination. One year after that study came out, the state passed the law allowing motorcyclists to split lanes.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

Lane splitting is often a controversial issue. While the UC Berkeley study in 2015 concluded that lane splitting is safe when done at lower speeds and in a safe manner, legislators in other states have questioned its safety and have voted down laws allowing the practice. Opponents of lane splitting argue that it could potentially raise the risk of collisions as vehicles are merging or changing lanes. However, those in favor of lane splitting say it could help reduce traffic congestion and prevent lethal rear-end crashes involving motorcycles. If you decide to engage in lane splitting, it is best to exercise care and caution while doing so, and follow the guidelines set forth by the California Highway Patrol. Do not travel faster than 10 mph over the speed limits of surrounding traffic. The UC Berkeley study stated that speed was the main cause of serious accidents involving lane splitting.  Additional motorcycle safety tips for motorcyclist can be found here.

Can Lane Splitting Affect a Motorcycle Accident Claim?

Lane splitting could have an impact on how your motorcycle accident claim is handled in California. It is important to remember that California is a comparative negligence state. This means that the court or a jury might assign a percentage of fault to the motorist and the motorcyclist in a personal injury case depending on the degree of fault. So, the value of the plaintiff's claim could become lower if their percentage of fault is higher. If you are involved in a motorcycle crash while lane splitting safely, you may not bear any degree of fault for the crash. However, if a motorcyclist is determined to have been driving at a high rate of speed or operating recklessly, he or she may held partially at fault. In such cases, motorcyclists may receive less compensation than they otherwise would have. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident while splitting lanes, do contact an experienced California motorcycle accident lawyer who can help you secure maximum compensation for your losses.

Lane Splitting Safety

Lane splitting is legal under California law. While it means drivers have a responsibility to share the road with motorcycle riders, it does not mean that motorcyclists can throw caution to the wind and ride recklessly. All motorcyclists have a duty to exercise reasonable care when splitting lanes. Motorcyclists should split lanes only in traffic that is slow or stopped. Lane splitting should never be done when traffic is flowing at or near the speed limit. Motorcyclists should also limit their speeds when lane splitting. Motorcyclists should always make sure they are visible to drivers. They should ensure they are not in blind zones and should watch out for vehicles looking to make a lane change. It also helps if your motorcycle is louder so you are able to alert drivers that you are about to split lanes.

Getting Help After a Motorcycle Accident

There are a number of different injuries that a motorcyclists might suffer from after an accident. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident because of a negligent driver, you have a right to pursue compensation for your injuries, damages and losses including medical bills, lost income, cost of hospitalization, rehabilitation, permanent injuries, disabilities, pain and suffering and emotional distress.

After a motorcycle accident, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer in Los Angeles who understands the law and can help present your case in a clear and convincing manner. Call the Vaziri Law Group for a free consultation and evaluation of your motorcycle accident case

About the Author

Siamak Vaziri

Attorney Siamak Vaziri’s mission is to help make his clients whole by obtaining maximum physical, emotional, and financial recovery. Mr. Vaziri’s clients' needs come first, evidenced by his 98% success rate, more than $1 Billion in client settlements and verdicts, as well as 100+ 5-star reviews. Mr. Vaziri invests every resource to nurture his client and partner relationships and does so with integrity and a relentless work ethic.


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