About 18 months ago the California Highway Patrol formally acknowledged that it is legal to split lanes in California by publishing a document online titled “Lane Splitting General Guidelines.” The document explained to California bikers when they would and wouldn’t get a ticket for splitting lanes. Earlier this month the CHP took that document down.
Two weeks ago the Los Angeles Times reported that the Highway Patrol “retreated from the subject and” took “down its guidelines” “under pressure from a citizen who is opposed to lane-splitting.” The Times declined to name the citizen.
The citizen who forced the CHP to remove its guidelines on lane splitting is, according to the American Motorcyclist Association, “Kenneth Mandler (photo above), a longtime state employee who now conducts training sessions on how to get a state job.” Mandler, “petitioned the California Office of Administrative Law in 2013, claiming the CHP created an ‘underground regulation’ by formulating and distributing guidelines for safe lane splitting.”
Mandler’s objection and the CHP’s acquiescence to it once more puts lane splitting in legal limbo.
What Was Legal
The CHP issued the guidelines after the California Office of Traffic Safety released results of a survey of motorists and riders on the subject of lane splitting. The report said, “Lane splitting has been a subject for controversy and confusion for years. The OTS survey showed that only 53 percent of vehicle drivers knew that lane splitting is legal in California. Eighty-seven percent of motorcycle riders say they lane split, while seven percent of vehicle drivers admit to having attempted to prevent it.”
Until a year and a half ago California bikers had no clear idea of what would get them a ticket and what wouldn’t. Lane sharing, which allows two motorcycles or a motorcycle and a car to ride or drive side by side in the same lane, has always been legal in California. The tricky legal issue for bikers has always been whether it is legal to ride on the white line. Depending on the traffic cop and the jurisdiction, you could get ticketed for occupying two lanes at once. Some police were adamant about it. Riders could be ticketed if they came to a stop at a red light with all of their motorcycle in one lane but with their left foot in another.
It is an important issue in places like Los Angeles which gets hot in the summer and has impossible traffic. The state always allowed lane sharing because air cooled engines tend to overheat in summertime traffic unless motorcycles are allowed to pass between cars.
The Highway Patrol guidelines told bikers to forget about the white line and just ride cautiously. The guidelines advised riders that they wouldn’t get ticketed if they did not split lanes going more than ten miles an hour faster than other traffic; or if they didn’t split lanes going faster than 40 miles per hour; and if they only split between the far left lanes and if they used reasonable care. The new guidelines also reminded drivers that “Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal” and that “opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal.”
Throughout the first half of July the Highway Patrol ran public service commercials reminding drivers that lane splitting is legal in California.
Now all that legal clarity and good will has come to a complete stop because of a guy named Kenneth Mandler. And some people still claim that one man can’t make a difference.