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Why Is Lane-Splitting Legal In California?

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Posted on January 15, 2024

California is the only state in the U.S. to legalize lane splitting for motorcyclists. Several other states do not have laws explicitly illegalizing lane splitting. In these states, many motorcyclists view lane splitting as de facto legal, but whether or not they’re ticketed for a traffic infraction largely depends on the jurisdiction. In California, however, motorcyclists are free to lane-split legally since the state legislature passed a bill legalizing the common California practice in 2016.

Both drivers and motorcyclists who are new to lane-splitting in California may wonder, “What is lane-splitting and why has California legalized it?”

What Are Lane-Splitting and Lane Filtering in California?

Drivers who are new to California are often startled when a motorcycle speeds up alongside them and passes between the lanes of traffic by riding the white line. This is lane-splitting. When motorcyclists lane split, they ride between slow or stalled traffic lanes so they can advance through traffic. Lane splitting is only legal in California when traffic flows at 40 MPH or less. Motorcyclists may not exceed 10 MPH over the speed of traffic and may ride at no more than 50 MPH.

Lane-filtering occurs when traffic is at a full stop at red lights and motorcyclists lane-split between the stopped cars to advance to the head of the line.

While having motorcycles driving between lines of traffic instead of remaining in the lane may intuitively seem like a dangerous practice, several studies show that lane splitting actually helps reduce the number of injuries to motorcyclists from traffic accidents.

How Does Lane Splitting in California Help Motorcyclists Avoid Accidents?

Studies show that motorcyclists face a higher risk of motorcycle accidents and injuries when they remain in the lane with slow or stalled traffic. While essentially trapped between two large vehicles, a motorcycle rider is vulnerable to serious injuries if the driver behind them rear-ends them, slamming the biker into the vehicle in front or “sandwiching” them. The practice of lane-splitting allows the biker to remove themselves from the higher risk of collisions by advancing ahead of slow or stalled traffic.

At intersections with signal lights, the practice of lane-filtering to the head of the line allows bikers more room to escape should a negligent driver fail to stop and collide with stopped vehicles, causing a multi-car collision at the intersection.

It is illegal for drivers in California to interfere in any way with a motorcyclist who is lane-splitting. Behaviors such as moving to block a lane-splitter or opening a vehicle door in the path of a lane-splitting biker are dangerous and illegal in California.

Safely Tips for Lane-Splitting in California

Just because lane-splitting is legal in California doesn’t mean that riders should recklessly speed between lanes of cars or weave or dart through traffic. Reckless lane-splitting behaviors such as exceeding 50 MPH or weaving through multiple lanes can result in a citation. The following tips help motorcyclists to avoid injuries while lane-splitting in California:

  • Avoid lane splitting unless traffic is moving at less than 30 MPH
  • Remaining in the two left lanes is safest for lane-splitting
  • Be aware of your bike’s dimensions so you don’t attempt to squeeze into a space that’s too narrow
  • Don’t lane-split on unfamiliar roadways that may have unknown hazards
  • Don’t lane split after dark or during poor weather visibility conditions

Motorcyclists in California should always drive defensively and remain aware of their entire surroundings, especially when lane-splitting.