Q. I moved to California about a year ago from the Midwest, and I’ve noticed something that, to me, seems pretty dangerous. When I’m driving, whether in town or on the freeway, motorcyclists will often pass me by slipping between my car and the car traveling next to me! At first I thought I was witnessing a few random incidents, but it happens regularly. Is this legal?
A. According to page 16 of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Motorcycle Handbook, “the term lane splitting, sometimes known as lane sharing, filtering, or white-lining refers to the process of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of stopped or slower-moving traffic or moving between lanes to the front of traffic stopped at a traffic light.”
The topic of lane-splitting is interesting for a couple of reasons: 1) California has the distinction of being the only state in the country in which lane-sharing is permitted as long as it’s performed in a safe manner; and 2) there are no laws that specifically allow or prohibit lane-sharing in California.
Though in recent years other states have expressed interest in enacting laws that permit lane-sharing, California has been the only state to allow the practice thus far—not through the legislature but via the authority of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). In fact, there is no mention of lane-splitting in the California Vehicle Code, though a 2013 Senate Bill, SB-350, attempted to codify the practice; the bill died in committee. You can research bill information and the Vehicle Code on the California Legislature’s website http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/
On the CHP’s website, the FAQs section provides the following exchange and states that “lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.”
Both the CHP and the Office of Transportation Safety (OTS) have published lane-splitting guidelines that provide clear instructions on how and when to share lanes safely. Taking into account concerns like road conditions and visibility issues, the motorcyclist is only permitted to share lanes when traveling at speeds no greater than 10 miles above that of surrounding traffic, and traffic must be traveling below 30 miles per hour. Therefore, if you’re in the car traveling faster than 29 miles per hour and a motorcyclist “splits” your lane, he or she could be cited under a violation of the Vehicle Code. Keep in mind that motorists can be cited for attempting to block or otherwise discourage motorcyclists from sharing lanes, according to Vehicle Code Sections 22400 and 22517. If you’d like more information, I suggest reading both agencies’ guidelines mentioned above.
It’s important for both motorists and motorcyclists to recognize that lane-splitting is completely optional and should only be done by experienced riders under the safest conditions. If conducted in a responsible manner, lane-sharing can actually be much safer for a motorcyclist than being stuck in slow traffic between much larger vehicles and at slower speeds, which often make the bikes unstable.
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