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Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Officially Legal in California

Tuesday, November 01, 2016By Richard Alexander

Californians have long been accustomed to motorcyclists riding between lanes of traffic, bobbing and weaving through lines of cars, whether stopped or moving. The term used to describe this practice is “lane-splitting.” But did you know that until recently, lane-splitting was not explicitly allowed under California law?

California is the only state that allows motorcycle riders to “surpass traffic by weaving in between lanes.” Is it safe? Some people feel that lane-splitting promotes traffic safety, as it keeps cyclists from being crushed between the back of one car and the front of the next. Advocates also argue that lane-splitting helps to alleviate some of California’s heavy traffic by allowing motorcyclists to pass through.

Opponents of lane-splitting assert that lane-splitting puts motorcycle riders in closer proximity to surrounding traffic and that the reduced distance does not allow the riders to “react to changes in the behaviors of other motorists.”

A study by the University of California at Berkeley, which reviewed nearly 6,000 accident records, found that lane-splitting was involved in 17 percent of crashes. Even so, the authors determined that lane-splitting could be safe if used in traffic moving 50 miles per hour (MPH) or less and if the motorcycle did not “exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 MPH.”

Because the practice is not illegal, the state keeps no statistics on its safety or effect on accident rates. Think about it: Law enforcement officers indicate on crash reports when a law was violated. Because California has never prohibited lane-splitting, no one has tracked whether lane-splitting caused or contributed to traffic accidents.

The new law explicitly allowing motorcycle riders to lane-split will do nothing to resolve this safety dispute. However, the new law gives the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles the ability to implement lane-splitting safety guidelines. With 80 percent of riders lane-splitting on freeways, these entities will hopefully put safety first when they do so.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a motorcycle accident, contact the California accident lawyers at Alexander Law Group, LLP for a free, no obligation consultation. Call 888.777.1776 to speak with an attorney right now.

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