Lane splitting, which is the practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes when traffic has stalled, has long been legal overseas. In the U.S., lane splitting is not considered normal practice, but in California, the practice is in a gray area-neither legal, nor illegal.
Traffic enforcement officers tend to look the other way when motorcyclists ride between lanes, as long as they do so in a safe manner. And in fact, lane splitting is so common that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) previously released lane splitting guidelines to promote traffic safety. After a petitioner complained that a state agency is not allowed to set policy, the DMV was forced to take down the guidelines. However, lane splitting may soon become legal within California.
The passage of AB 51
AB 51 is the bill that would legalize lane splitting in California. The bill was sponsored by Assembly member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward). It easily passed the assembly with a 69-0 vote. Ahead of the vote, Assembly member Quirk praised the bill for its potential to relieve the notorious traffic congestion that plagues the Southern California area. He also lauded the bill for its potential to improve traffic safety.
Originally, AB 51 would allow lane splitting only if motorcyclists were traveling no more than 15 mph faster than the speed of traffic and no faster than 50 mph. After motorcyclist advocacy groups objected to the language of the bill, this stipulation was removed. The specifics of lane splitting guidelines will be left to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to determine.
“It will give the CHP the authority it needs to educate the drivers and riders of California on the safe guidelines,” said Nicholas Harris in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Harris is a Western States Representative of the American Motorcyclist Association.
A look at the lane splitting issue
AB 51 still has its detractors, despite its unanimous passage. Critics of lane splitting argue that the practice can increase the risk of catastrophic motorcycle accidents. Of particular concern is the risk of a motorcyclist being struck by a vehicle that is in the process of changing lanes.
However, when lane splitting is done in a safe manner, proponents say it will actually decrease traffic accidents. Motorcyclists are already at a higher risk of injuries in heavy traffic than are motorists, and lane splitting would allow them to limit this risk.
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- Los Angeles Times, California takes first step to establishing lane-splitting guidelines for motorcyclists, http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-sac-essential-politics-updates-california-to-establish-lane-splitting-1470328822-htmlstory.html
- California Motorcyclist Safety Program, Lane Splitting General Guidelines, http://www.ridetowork.org/files/docs/lanesplitting_guidelines.pdf