Can Motorcyclists Legally and Safely Split Traffic Lanes?

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If you’ve ever sat through California traffic, you may have looked on in frustration with a tinge of jealousy as a motorcyclist bypassed traffic by riding between columns of automobiles. Many people recognize this act as “lane-splitting.” Some people argue that lane-splitting is safer for motorcycle riders because it reduces the risk that a larger automobile will rear-end them.

Most people were not clear on the legal status of lane-splitting. According to a 2012 survey, 53% of non-motorcycle riders believed lane-splitting was legal. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that the California legislature passed a bill legalizing lane-splitting.

California Law on Lane-Splitting

On January 1, 2017, section 216583.1 was added to the California Vehicle Code, marking the first time the term “lane splitting” was legally defined. Under that section “lane splitting” is defined as “driving a motorcycle…between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.”

Although California law does not prohibit lane splitting, the new law gives the California Highway Patrol (CHP) the authority to develop guidelines related to promoting safe lane splitting methods. However, the CHP released a notice to motorcyclists and drivers that “lane splitting can be dangerous and extreme caution should be exercised. It should not be performed by inexperienced riders.”

Safe Lane-Splitting Tips for Motorcyclists

According to the CHP’s guidelines on safe lane splitting procedures, motorcyclists should recognize the following safety tips:

  • Stay aware of the total environment, including lane-width, the size of nearby vehicles, and roadway, weather, or lighting conditions;
  • Lane splitting is safer between the far-left lanes than any other lanes;
  • Avoid lane-splitting near large vehicles such as truck and busses;
  • Avoiding staying in the blind spots of nearby vehicles or lingering between cars;
  • Wear conspicuously bright colored or reflective gear.

Lane-Splitting Tips for Car Drivers

Other cars are obligated to avoid harming motorcyclists while lane-splitting. The CHP’s safety tips on lane-splitting for car drivers involve:

  • It is illegal to purposely obstruct a motorcyclist in a manner that could harm a rider;
  • Opening a car door to block a lane-splitting motorcyclist is illegal;
  • Drivers in the far left lane should crowd toward the left to give lane-splitting motorcyclists plenty of room for passing;
  • User indicator signals before changing lanes;
  • Check all mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes.

Learn More About Lane-Splitting from a San Jose Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

If you or one of your loved ones have been injured in a motorcycle accident due to another person’s negligence, you should consult a skilled San Jose motorcycle accident attorney to evaluate the extent of your legal rights and options. At the Mitchell & Danoff Law Firm, our legal team, led by Attorney Tab Mitchell, offers free and completely confidential case evaluations. We are committed to making sure your right to recover compensation for injuries caused by another party’s negligence.

Call us at (831) 219-2110 to schedule a free initial consultation with Attorney Mitchell about your case.