California is about to become the first state to officially regulate lane splitting – the practice of riding a motorcycle between lines of stalled or slow moving cars, The law isn’t going to change how the state’s bikers ride but it may cut down on tickets intended to harass riders.
California has always tolerated “lane sharing” which allows two motorcycles to ride side by side and allows a motorcycle and automobile to be parallel in the same lane. In early 2013, the California Office of Traffic Safety found that most bikers in the state do split lanes and that the practice is generally safe. Soon thereafter the California Highway Patrol issued a document online titled “Lane Splitting General Guidelines,” that finally told motorcyclists what would and would not get them a ticket. Until the guidelines were issued, bikers who rode the white line between lanes could be erratically and unpredictably cited for “illegal lane change.”
The CHP 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. California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers regularly split lanes and the intention was to clear up the legal confusion that surrounded the practice.
Then a semi-professional busy body named Kenneth Mandler complained to the California Office of Administrative Law that the CHP had illegally created an “underground regulation.” A majority of non-riders believes that lane splitting is dangerous and that riders need to be protected from their own stupidity. The CHP took down their guidelines and the issue has been in legal limbo for almost two years.
The new law, AB51, was introduced last December, modified last month and approved by the California Assembly on May 28. The new law is now in California Senate where it is expected to pass this year.
Bill 51 amends two sections of the current California vehicle code. As currently amended it reads:
“Existing law requires, whenever a roadway has been divided into 2 or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction, that a vehicle be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and not be moved from the lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety. A violation of the Vehicle Code is a crime. This bill would authorize a motorcycle that has 2 wheels in contact with the ground to be driven between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane if the motorcycle is not driven at a speed of more than 50 miles per hour and the motorcycle is driven no more than 15 miles per hour faster than the speed of traffic.”
The new law would allow lane splitting on both “divided and undivided streets, roads or highways.”
In the last year Washington, Oregon, Texas, Nevada and Tennessee have all considered new laws that would allow motorcycles to split lanes.