New California Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Rules

March 8, 2013

1016169_speed_of_motorcycle.jpgMotorcycle accident lawyers announce that the practice of lane-splitting, where motorcyclists ride between car lanes on crowded roads of stopped or slowed traffic, is now officially recognized as an acceptable practice by the California Highway Patrol. Every other state in the nation has outlawed lane-splitting.

The new rules were introduced in January 2013 and apply to all streets, highways and freeways throughout the state. The guidelines are intended to bring clarity and increased safety to the practice, which was previously tolerated but not officially regulated. Traffic in California is notoriously congested, and many motorcycle riders own bikes solely so they can lane-split on their way to work, often shaving 30 minutes to an hour off their commute.

The California Highway Patrol outlined five basic rules, along with four "R's" and additional disclaimers, in the new guidelines, which can be found here. The four R's, or "Be-Attitudes" for lane splitting are: be reasonable, be respectful, be responsible, and be aware of all roadway and traffic conditions. This last R is particularly important for motorcyclists, especially those traveling on unfamiliar roads.

While other vehicles are not required to actively make space for motorcyclists to lane-split, it is illegal for drivers to intentionally block a motorcyclist or open a vehicle door to impede the rider. These actions can cause great harm and even death in riders. Motorcyclists are not permitted to lane split at toll booths, if traffic is moving fast or unpredictably, during dangerous road conditions, around curves, between wide vehicles, and if it is unclear if the bike will fit.

Only those who are competent and experienced enough to lane split should partake in the practice. Motorcyclists who do lane split have the responsibility to obey all traffic laws, including these new guidelines. The first guideline is that riders may not travel at speeds more than ten miles per hour faster than surrounding traffic. This allows a competent rider enough time to react to dangerous situations.

It is also not permissible to lane split when traffic is already moving faster than 30 miles per hour. The Highway Patrol elaborated on this rule, stating that, at just 20 miles per hour, a rider will travel about 30 to 60 feet before they can even start to take action to avoid a hazard, and actual reactions will take additional time and distance.

California Highway Patrol stated that it is safer to lane split between the first and second lanes, meaning the two lanes furthest to the left. It also stated that motorcyclists should avoid lane splitting on exits and freeway on-ramps, and when another rider is splitting between other nearby lanes.

The fourth guideline can be summarized with an "if you can't fit, don't split" rule. Riders are urged to consider the overall environment when lane splitting, including factors like the width of lanes, sizes of surrounding vehicles, and the road, weather, and lighting conditions. Seams and potholes in roads between lanes can be extremely hazardous, especially if they are wide or uneven. The Highway Patrol encourages riders to wear brightly colored protective gear and use high beams to help drivers be aware of their presence.

The fifth and final guideline urges riders to be alert and to anticipate possible movements by other vehicles. Motorcyclists should always be prepared to take evasive action if drivers change lanes or are distracted, and should constantly be scanning the road for changing conditions. Motorcyclists should also avoid weaving between lanes and riding directly on top of the painted lines.

Some California drivers may be angry that lane splitting is now an officially accepted practice. On any given highway during rush hour, drivers can be seen cutting motorcyclists off or honking their horns at them. Motorcycles have loud pipes and engines, and often startle drivers when they wiz by their windows in traffic. Many argue, however, that lane splitting is actually safer than waiting in line with traffic, because drivers often are not able to see bikers in the side mirrors. Motorcycles don't have airbags or crash cages, so accidents are more dangerous.

Motorcycle accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins hope these new guidelines lead to decreased roadway injuries and fatalities in California. In the overwhelming majority of motorcycle accidents, the biker is not at fault. If you were seriously injured in a motorcycle crash, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses and medical bills.