Can Motorcycles Split Lanes in California?

can motorcycles split lanes

Motorcycle laws differ from state to state. Some states permit riders to ride without wearing a helmet, while others do not. Some states have more rigorous criteria for obtaining a motorcycle license.

But one of the most contentious but popular practices among motorcycle riders is lane splitting. This is the practice of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of stopped or slow-moving traffic. So, is it allowed? Despite the fact that most states have laws against this practice, California is an exception.

Can Motorcycles Split Lanes In California?

One of the most common misconceptions is that motorcyclists who cross lanes are breaking the law. News flash: In California, they are not. California law has never explicitly made the practice of lane splitting or lane sharing illegal. As a result, it’s always been considered acceptable. So can motorbikes split lanes in California? The answer is a big Y-E-S.

What Is Lane Splitting?

The issue of whether motorbikes can cross lanes is a polarizing issue for most states. This is because this practice, while acceptable in California, does not come without risks. While most motorcycle riders already know what lane splitting is, it would not hurt to delve into this controversial practice.

When a motorcyclist moves between lanes to navigate traffic, this is lane splitting. For example, if there is a traffic jam on any of the California highways and a motorcyclist rides down the white lane divider line between lanes of traffic, they splitting lanes

This is the very reason why it is also known as “white lining.” It is because when a motorcycle rider does this, he or she weaves between flowing vehicles at a higher speed while primarily staying on the white line dividing the lanes.

However, lane splitting is not limited to roads that are clearly divided into lanes by white lines. California Vehicle Code 21658.1 defines it as “driving a motorcycle 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.”

Is It Illegal To Split Lanes On A Motorcycle?

In many states, lane splitting is considered illegal. However, there are other states that have not specifically prohibited this practice or are considering legislation to legalize it.

California remains the only state where it is explicitly legal. In fact in 2016, then Governor Jerry Brown recently approved a law that acknowledges lane splitting as a legal conduct. He then went ahead to direct the California Highway Patrol to produce safety standards for motorcyclists and vehicles.

This law gave way to the creation of California Vehicle Code 21658.1. This stipulation is a clear answer to the question “is it illegal to split lanes on a motorcycle?” In California, it IS legal. In fact, on Section B of the aforementioned code, the California Highway Patrol was given the authority to develop the guidelines relating to lane splitting in “a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcycle riders and passengers of the surrounding vehicles.”

These guidelines should be a result of consultation with pertinent agencies including the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Transportation, the Office of Traffic Safety, and recognized motorcycle organizations that promote motorcyclist safety.

So can motorcycles split lanes? While in California it is legal to do so, other states are either on the fence about the practice or consider it illegal. That is why it is best to be aware of the motorcycle laws driving between lanes that are specific to the state before you drive through.

Motorcycle Laws Driving Between Lanes Promote Commuter Safety

The top priority of motorcycle laws is to ensure the safety of everyone on the road and not only the motorcycle rider. The same goes for lane splitting. This is why the California Highway Patrol provided these lane splitting safety tips which were released on September 27, 2018.

Among the most important safety guidelines when lane splitting are the following:

  • Consider the total environment when you are lane splitting (this includes the width of lanes, the size of surrounding vehicles, as well as current roadway, weather and lighting conditions).
  • Danger increases at higher speed differentials.
  • Danger increases as overall speed increases.
  • It is typically safer to split between the far left lanes than between the other lanes of traffic.
  • Avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles (big rigs, buses, motorhomes, etc.).
  • Riding on the shoulder is illegal; it is not considered lane splitting.
  • Be visible—Avoid remaining in the blind spots of other vehicles or lingering between vehicles.

The California Highway Patrol also specifically addressed the question – can bikes split lanes? In the section addressed to other drivers, the guidelines state the following:

  • Lane splitting by motorcyclists is legal in California.
  • Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal.
  • Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcyclist is illegal.
  • Drivers in the far left lane should move to the left of their lane to give motorcyclists ample room to pass.

The guidelines end with general safety tips for all motorists in California. The following tips were mentioned:

  • Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning.
  • Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
  • Being alert and anticipating possible movements by other motorists.
  • Never riding/driving while impaired by drugs, alcohol or fatigue.
  • Being courteous and sharing the road.

Injured In A Motorcycle Accident? Connect With Motorcyclist Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has been hurt by a careless driver in California, you should be aware of your legal rights so that insurance companies do not take advantage of you. Our California motorcycle accident lawyers at Motorcyclist Attorney have years of expertise ensuring that motorcyclists receive the compensation they are legally entitled to. We can assist you in determining your legal choices.

To schedule a free consultation, simply call our firm now at 844-284-9437. We work on a No Win-No Fee basis, which means you won’t have to pay anything until we get you the justice you deserve. We speak English and Spanish. 

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