Many new drivers are surprised to find out that lane splitting is legal in California. California is the only state where this practice (also known as lane sharing) by motorcyclists is legal, though several other states are considering legalizing it. It is not unsafe if performed correctly.
If you’re a driver or a motorcycle rider in California, you need to know the lane splitting laws. Motorcyclists especially must know how to do it safely. And car drivers must understand they could be at fault if they get into an accident with a motorcycle that’s performing a lane split.
What Is Lane Splitting?
California Vehicle Code section 21658.1 defines 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.”
Lane sharing is extremely common in Europe and Asia, but it is dangerous. Failure to follow lane splitting rules could increase your risk of fault in an accident.
Lane Splitting Safety Tips
In 2018, the California Highway Patrol put out a press release announcing lane splitting tips for riders and drivers to stay safe while splitting the lane. These include:
- Considering your environment
- Watching your top speed and the speed difference between you and other vehicles
- Never riding on the shoulder (this is not considered lane splitting and is illegal)
- Avoiding splitting lanes next to large vehicles, including buses, big rigs, and motorhomes
- Trying to split lanes on the far left rather than merge lanes
- Avoiding stopping your bike in the blind spots of other vehicles
- Not hesitating while splitting a lane and moving forward until you can merge back safely into traffic
- Wearing bright colors or reflective gear and using your high beams to increase visibility.
Recommended Speeds for Lane Splitting
Danger increases the faster you travel and the faster the difference in speed between you and other vehicles. Motorcyclist groups recommend you should not split lanes when traffic is going faster than 30 mph and to go no faster than 10 mph than the surrounding traffic.
Lane Splitting Safety as a Motorist
When a driver is stuck in traffic, it can make them angry to see a motorcycle splitting the lane and get ahead of them. There have been incidents where drivers block the split lane to get the rider to stop.
Lane splitting is legal in California. Do not intentionally block or impede a motorcyclist, especially if it would cause them harm. Some drivers have gone so far as to open their vehicle doors to block the split lane. This is clearly unsafe, negligent, and illegal.
Does Lane Splitting Cause More Motorcycle Accidents in CA?
Since lane sharing has been practiced in California for years, accident studies and crash data should show whether it is safe. A 2015 study from UC Berkeley found that “Lane-splitting appears to be a relatively safe motorcycle riding strategy if done in traffic moving at 50 mph or less and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 mph.”
The NHTSA, which collects crash data statistics, says that California doesn’t have an appreciable amount of extra crashes because of lane splitting. However, studying the practice would be hard because researchers would have to control for other variables.