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The Curious Case Of Motorcycle Lane Splitting And California Traffic

Motorcycle Lane-splitting In-between Cars

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If anything inspires controversy about driving on the California freeway system, it’s the practice of lane splitting.

Lane splitting happens when a motorcycle passes between slower cars in traffic. It has been legal in California since January 2017, and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) recently issued guidelines for both motorcyclists and other vehicle drivers regarding lane splitting.

Still, there remains confusion on the part of both motorcyclists and drivers as to the rules and practices. Motorcyclists stand by the practice as being safe and reducing the risk of rear end collisions. Many drivers, on the other hand, feel it is unsafe because lane-splitting motorcyclists are hard to see.

To a degree, they’re both right.

Studies show that lane splitting is safer for motorcycles in stop-and-go traffic. Depending on the rider, the bike and the conditions, it may take the motorcycle longer to stop safely. This makes cycles more susceptible to rear-end collisions, which are far more serious to a motorcycle rider than to someone inside a car or truck.

Alarmingly, however, many drivers are unaware of this. Poll your Facebook friends to see how many Californians are ignorant of the law and safety benefits. Those are likely to be the same people who become furious when motorcyclists split lanes.

The CHP does concede that lane splitting can be dangerous and urge riders to use extreme caution. They warn that it should not be performed by inexperienced riders, and that the risk of death or serious injury during a lane-splitting collision increases with speed.

Since it is the law, how can we all stay save in a lane splitting state?

First, help your friends and family to be aware that lane splitting is both legal and safe, so that they can be prepared to share the road with motorcycles.

CHP guidelines are clear that intentionally blocking a motorcyclist is illegal. You may not intentionally maneuver your car to impede the motorcycle’s path. Opening a vehicle door to block a motorcyclist is also illegal, as well as dangerous and counterproductive.

Here are some additional guidelines:

  • When driving in the far-left lane, stay as far to the left as you can, to give motorcyclists safe passing room.
  • Remain alert, anticipating possible movements by other motorists.
  • Lower your radio in traffic to help you stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Check side-view mirrors when you hear a motorcycle.
  • Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
  • Never ride or drive while impaired by drugs, alcohol, or fatigue.

Lane splitting may continue to be a hotly-debated issue among drivers and motorcyclists, but staying aware on the road will help keeping everyone safe.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident that was someone else’s fault, our team of experienced motorcycle accident attorneys is available 24/7 to provide you with a free case consultation. Simply complete the form on this page, or call us at 888.845.9696.

Photo by Chris Yarzab (

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