Drivers on California highways often find themselves momentarily sharing a lane with a motorcyclist who is “lane splitting”. California is the only state in the nation in which lane splitting, is legal. Other terms for the practice include white-lining, filtering, or lane sharing.
In simple terms, lane splitting is when a two-wheeled vehicle overtakes slow or stopped vehicles by traveling between the marked lanes. While lane splitting is an accepted practice in many parts of the world – particularly in developing nations – it remains a controversial legislative issue in the United States.
In fact, a number of states, particularly hot weather states such as Nevada and Texas, have tried unsuccessfully to introduce bills which would make the practice legal on their roads. Proponents claim that lane splitting relieves congestion, improves fuel efficiency, assists riders by helping them get to their destination during extreme weather, and ensures that air-cooled motorcycles don’t overheat in stop and go traffic.
Those opposing lane splitting legislation frequently refer to transportation engineers who note that “motorcycles are too few, and will remain too few, to justify any special accommodation or legislative consideration, such as lane splitting.” The issue in allowing this practice is other motorists understanding they have a responsibility to “share the road” — ensuring it is safe to change lanes–by activating their signal, checking mirrors, and looking over their shoulder.
It is equally imperative that the rider is also operating their motorcycle in a safe fashion, because motorcyclists can often be faulted for lane splitting accidents. “Even though lane splitting is permitted (in California), riders can be cited for other violations such as unsafe speed for conditions or an unsafe lane change,” says motorcycle lawyer, Chuck Koro of Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys®. With over 30 years riding experience and 15 years of practicing motorcycle accident law, Chuck advises that, “The most frequent cause of lane-splitting accidents in which the motorcyclist is found at fault is the motorcyclist’s excessive speed which dramatically cuts down on reaction time.”
While California drivers try to be aware of motorcyclists around them, lane splitting at excessive speeds places everyone in unnecessary danger. Chuck Koro, Russ Brown’s partner of 16 years has this advice, “In a lane splitting accident case, it is vital to the motorcyclist’s claim that they can prove they were riding in a safe and prudent manner,” says “All too often the rider is automatically blamed for the accident.”
While there are no specific laws on legally lane splitting… The California Highway Patrol has, in the past, offered this set of guidelines for riding safely:
1. Travel no more than 10 MPH faster than the other traffic – this is where a lot of motorcycle riders get in trouble. Speed is a huge factor in deciding if lane splitting was done safely and or legally. Traveling at a slower speed will give the rider time to react to a possible hazard.
2. It is not advisable to lane split when the general flow of traffic is at 30 mph or faster. Higher speeds equals less time to react and less time to break to prevent a motorcycle accident.
3. It’s generally safer to split between the #1 and #2 lanes (those closest to the center divider) than between other lanes and avoid lane splitting near freeway on-ramps and exits.
4. Take in road conditions, weather, congestion, size of other vehicles, etc and make sure you have room to pass safely. If you can’t fit, don’t split.
5. Drive like your life depends on it – because it does.
The California Highway Patrol also has, in the past, offered The The Four R’s or “Be-Attitudes” of Lane Splitting
- Be Reasonable means you should not be traveling more than ten miles per hour faster than the flow of traffic and not over 39 miles per hour.
- Be Responsible for your life, your safety and your decisions. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous position – If you can’t fit, don’t split.
- Be Respectful of other vehicles on the road and realize they need time to see and react.
- Be aware of the Roadways including conditions, weather etc, general flow of traffic, size of vehicles you want to pass, blind spots, etc.
For riders that are new to motorcycling, it is highly advised that lane splitting not be attempted until more experience is gained. Lane splitting should only be done with extreme caution and by keeping speed in check. It is also important to remember the width of the bike as engine guards and saddlebags may make it impossible to fit between cars when lane splitting.
Should an accident occur while lane splitting, and if police and witnesses determine that a rider was lane splitting at a high rate of speed, the rider may be issued a ticket and found at fault. Riders that encounter one of these situations are encouraged to contact a lawyer that is experienced in motorcycle law about their legal options.