California is one of the only states that permits lane splitting, which is when motorcyclists drive between two lanes of traffic. Lane splitting is legal no matter whether the road is divided or undivided or whether the traffic is stopped or moving.
Here are three key things to know:
- Lane splitting – also referred to as “lane sharing” – was codified on January 1, 2017 in California Vehicle Code 21658.1 VC.
- While lane splitting, motorcyclists must still obey all pertinent speed limits and traffic laws to avoid an accident.
- Lane splitting is least dangerous when the motorcycle rider is traveling at a similar speed to surrounding traffic.
- 1. What is considered lane splitting and is it safe?
- 2. What are California’s lane splitting laws?
- 3. Are there California lane splitting speed limits?
- 4. Can lane sharing impact a personal injury case?
1. What is considered lane splitting and is it safe?
Lane sharing is when you ride your motorcycle on the dotted line between two lanes of traffic that are moving in the same direction.1
A 2015 study from UC Berkeley remains one of the top resources that discusses the safety of lane splitting in California. After analyzing nearly 1,000 accidents involving lane sharing, the study found that lane splitting is reasonably safe when the act is done at
- no more than 15 mph over the speeds of surrounding motorists.2
Lawmakers in most states frown upon motorcycle lane splitting because it significantly decreases the space between motorcycles and four-wheel vehicles. Motorists are left with less “wiggle room” to maneuver, and it may place motorcyclists in drivers’ blind spots.
Specifically, lane splitting detractors claim that the practice increases the risk of certain types of motorcycle crashes, including:
- merging into other vehicle drivers,
- rear-end collisions, and
- collisions when rigs and vehicles are changing lanes.
2. What are California’s lane splitting laws?
On August 19, 2016, California became the first state in the U.S. to declare lane splitting legal in an effort to relieve traffic jams. However, you still have to follow any applicable speed limits, rules of the road, and federal and state laws.
- consider the total environment before splitting lanes (including lane widths, traffic congestion, and the presence of large vehicles like semi-trucks that may have trouble seeing you),
- avoid lane splitting in poor weather, inclement weather, bad lighting, or on roads in disrepair,
- split lanes between the far-left lanes as opposed to the other lanes,
- not ride on the shoulder of the road (which is illegal),
- wear bright colored/reflective protective gear.3
A few other states have legalized lane sharing in recent years. Some examples include Utah, Arizona, and Montana.4
3. Are there California lane splitting speed limits?
You have to obey all pertinent speed limits when operating your motorcycles. Failure to do so can result in a California speeding ticket.
The CHP also provides the below warnings as to speeding when sharing lanes:
- danger increases at higher speed differentials, and
- danger increases as overall speed increases.5
In short, lane splitting is safest when you are going the same speed as the surrounding traffic, and when everyone’s speed is slow.
4. Can lane sharing impact a personal injury case?
Yes. If you are injured in a lane splitting accident, you can file a motorcycle lawsuit or personal injury claim with the other party (or their insurance company) that allegedly caused the accident.
You could recover compensation for any losses if you can prove that the other party was a negligent driver. If successful, you could receive payment for:
- medical bills and medical expenses,
- lost wages,
- lost earning capacity,
- property damage, and
- pain and suffering.
Even if you were partly at fault, you can usually still recover some type of compensation in these cases. Though the total amount will be reduced in accordance with California’s rules on comparative negligence.
In an effort to prevent motorcycle accidents, the CHP has issued the following safety tips for vehicle drivers:
- it is illegal to intentionally block a rider who is splitting lanes,
- it is illegal to open a door to impede a motorcyclist,
- check mirrors and blind spots before turning or changing lanes,
- make appropriate signaling before changing lanes or merging,
- be courteous and share the road.6
Need legal help?
Contact our California law firm today for a consultation and legal advice if you have been injured in a crash. Our California motorcycle accident lawyers have offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and throughout the state.
- California Assembly Bill No. 51. Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 51 into law in 2016. The new law officially defined lane splitting in the California Vehicle Code. The bill also granted the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) (and to a large extent the Office of Traffic Safety and the Department of Transportation) the authority to publish lane splitting safety tips.
- Sarah Yang, Berkeley News: “Is motorcycle lane-splitting safe? New report says it can be,” (2015). See the CHP Lane-Splitting Safety Tips.
- CHP website, “California Motorcyclist Safety.” California Vehicle Code 21658.1 VC. Educational guidelines for “lane splitting” – (a) For the purposes of this section, “lane splitting” means driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.
(b) The Department of the California Highway Patrol may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles.
(c) In developing guidelines pursuant to this section, the department shall consult with agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior, including, but not limited to, all of the following:
(1) The Department of Motor Vehicles.
(2) The Department of Transportation.
(3) The Office of Traffic Safety.
(4) A motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.
- Arizona Revised Statute 28-729. Lane Filtering, Utah Department of Public Safety. Montana Code Annotated 61-8-392. See also Oregon Senate passes ‘lane splitting’ bill for motorcyclists, KPIC 4 (March 21, 2023)(the bill now moves to the House).
- See note 3. See also lanesplittingislegal.com.
- See same.