Sometimes California gets it right. For example, for years only the Golden State has allowed lane sharing, which permits two motorcycles or a motorcycle and a car to ride or drive side by side in the same lane. And now, for the first time, California officially allows lane splitting.
White lining or lane splitting, which for anybody who has just surfed in here by mistake is the practice of riding on the white line that separates lanes, has always been either legal or a crime depending on the cop who sees you do it. California traffic regulations have specifically addressed only lane sharing.
So, a million tickets have been written because some police departments have insisted that splitting lanes is illegal and only sharing lanes is allowed. Lane sharing lets riders in a pack to ride side by side and lets bikers pass cars without changing lanes. But some local departments have routinely cited riders for an unsafe lane change for occupying two lanes at once – even if the rider is stopped at a red light with his tires in one lane and his left foot in another.
About half of all drivers in Los Angeles seem to feel personally insulted by bikers zipping between lines of cars in a traffic jam. Anybody who has ridden for any length of time has had drivers intentionally try to cut them off. And, a California biker will always get ticketed if they hit anything. But a press release issued by the California Office of Traffic Safety last May indicated that state officials might finally be giving the subject some thought. The release began:
“The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) today released results of the first-ever survey of California motorists and motorcycle riders on the subject of ‘lane splitting,’ where motorcycles travel between two lanes with other vehicles travelling the same direction…. “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.”
The New Guidelines
Last week the California Highway Patrol finally issued a document titled “Lane Splitting General Guidelines” that explains when you will and when you won’t get a ticket for splitting lanes. You can read the full set of guidelines here.
Briefly stated, you won’t get ticketed if you don’t split lanes going more than ten miles an hour faster than other traffic; if you are not going faster than 40; if you only split between the far left lanes and if you use reasonable care.
The new guidelines also provide a couple of references for motorcyclists who sometimes find themselves explaining traffic laws to traffic cops. “Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal (California Vehicle Code 22400)” and “opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal (CVC 22517).”
If you don’t live in the land of tangerine sunsets you’re out of luck with your local cops. Do what you feel.