California Lane Splitting

November 29, 2016

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California Lane Splitting

Lane splitting becomes legal in California on New Year’s Day. It has been tolerated as “lane sharing” since the first Los Angeles freeway opened in 1940 but it has never been explicitly legal before. California is the first and only state to sanction the common sense practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes of stalled or stopped automobiles and trucks.

Outside California, at least in America, most politicians and most non-riding motorists still think lane splitting is more dangerous than sitting in traffic. The rest of the country is wrong.

In 2014 a two year study of motorcycle accidents on both freeways and surface streets commissioned by the California Office of Traffic Safety and the University of California at Berkeley found that every California rider who rides a lot splits lanes and that lane splitting does not increase the likelihood of a motorcycle accident but actually lowers the chance that a motorcyclist in traffic will be struck from behind.


The California Highway Patrol, which now has about 450 motorcycle officers – 120 of them ride Harleys – has always understood what was and wasn’t safe on a motorcycle and tried to legalize lane splitting in 2012. The CHP issued a set of “Lane Splitting General Guidelines.” The guidelines assured bikers they would not be ticketed if they did not split at more than 10 miles an hour faster than other traffic, did not split going faster than 40 miles per hour, only split in the far left lanes and used “reasonable care.”

That would have settled the issue except that a busybody named Kenneth Mandler objected that the CHP had published an “underground regulation.” So, the state police took down its list of “guidelines for safe lane splitting” and the task of defining legal versus illegal lane splitting went back to the California legislature.

The original bill authorizing lane splitting in California forbid the practice when going more than 50 miles per hour or more than 15 mph faster than traffic. Some motorcyclists objected so the bill was reworked . Both houses of the California legislature passed the bill written by Assemblymen Bill Quirk last August 4 and Governor Jerry Brown signed it two weeks later.

The bill got around the specifics of exactly what would and would not be tolerated by inserting language that would require interested parties including the CHP to work out the details. Those details will probably look a lot like the 2012 CHP guidelines.

New Law

The new law reads:

“Existing law requires, whenever a roadway has been divided into two 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.”

“This bill would define ‘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, as specified. The bill would authorize the Department of the California Highway Patrol to develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist, drivers, and passengers, as specified. The bill would require the department, in developing these guidelines, to consult with specified agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior.”

“The Department of the California Highway Patrol may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles. In developing guidelines pursuant to this section, the department shall consult with agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior, including, but not limited to, all of the following: The Department of Motor Vehicles; The Department of Transportation; The Office of Traffic Safety;” and “A motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.”

Nope. The CHP has not yet issued its new set of guidelines.


7 Responses to “California Lane Splitting”

  1. Kwma Says:

    When I lived there in the early 80’s the unwritten rule was as long as you were doing no more than 15 mph over the speed of traffic they wouldn’t stop you. So when they are doing 20 I could go 35 or 80 I could do 95, it was a lot of fun when your young and crazy, people don’t even see you coming when your passing them.

  2. Long Rider Says:

    The only concern I have with lane-splitting legal recognition is that cagers will think they can lane split on us. Several times a year I already have then trying to pass me on the right, or pass without even changing lanes.

    The least that can happen is sooner or later someone will video me breaking off a mirror of an SUV when someone does it, and I will pay fines, lose my CHL, and maybe even my job. The worst is that the idiot may kill me or total the Road Kill.

    Here in Tajas, they think they are racing NASCAR and drive very offensively, sometimes to the point of vehicular assault. I’m getting too old for this shit.

  3. Base Says:

    You got that right Dan-O, they are all knowing. Even if it’s something they have never done.

    Have had variant levels of interactions with cages & cops, some allow room for a rider to slip easily through others, not so much.


  4. Lou Sassel Says:

    Oregon tried to pass something similar last year. My understanding was the trucking companies put up cash to defeat it, stating they didn’t want anyone on a motorcycle to be “sucked underneath them”. Sounds to me like they didn’t want their drivers to have to watch when they are changing lanes.

  5. Maven Says:

    Here in SC, I lane split and ride on the shoulder when traffic is stalled or stopped. Most times cops just flash their lights at me to tell me to get back over and let me be. Most times…

  6. Mike 184 Says:

    I recently got pulled doing this… On the other coast. Traffic pretty much stopped and I was getting off the highway 2 exits up. I’m not riding like I did with the Bro’s on the West coast, im going about 20 mph. most either dont’t move or give me a little room. Suddnly a tan Kia SUV thing swerves toward me. I pinned the throttle and pulled in the clutch, but I was basically past the guy. well about a 30 seconds later I look back and cars are parting like the red sea and here comes this KIA lit up like Christmas all over. Dick that swerved at me was a cop….

    I am not sure exactly how the law defines it here, but what the fuck, let me take this guy out cause he is passing people in traffic?

  7. Dan-O Says:

    Good. Last I heard Arizona was working on similar legislation but up until now politicians and those who don’t ride motorcycles still know more than riders and are much better suited to make decisions for the rest of us.

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