The Legal Implications of Lane-Splitting In California: A Comprehensive Guide for Motorcyclists

If a motorcyclist rides between vehicles along the lane, it’s called “lane splitting.” Although it’s not necessarily illegal, it should be avoided. This is because it can cause serious hazards to motorists and other riders on the road.

Motorcycle lane splitting in California isn’t an illegal practice. Interestingly, California law enforcement agencies didn’t even officially recognize this practice until 2017. Motorcycle lane splitting came into consideration after the inclusion of Section 21658.1(a) of the California Highway Code.

The California Highway Code Section 21658.1 (a)

According to this section, “lane splitting” is defined as riding a motorcycle whose two wheels come into contact with the ground in the middle of moving or stopped vehicles in the same lane. It can be on undivided and divided streets, highways, or roads.

However, it’s not technically a law exclusively for motorcycle lane splitting in California.

Lane Splitting Has Never Been An Illegal Practice

Motorcycle lane splitting has never been an illegal practice in California. The biggest problem with lane splitting is that there is insufficient data.

UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education conducted a study in 2015. According to their study, 17% of the nearly six thousand motorcycle crashes took place between 2012 and 2013; and these were due to lane splitting. The motorcyclists crashed into another vehicle.

Based on this research, lane splitting is considered a comparatively safe strategy for motorcyclists in traffic moving at a speed close to or less than 50 mph and not going above the speed of other cars by over 15 mph.

So Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting in California Legal?

California has no written laws on motorcycle lane splitting. But is it still legal to do so?

People were doubtful about the legality of lane splitting for many years in California. The fact is that the law enforcement agencies in California refused to introduce punishment for lane splitters. Oddly enough, lane splitting was neither technically legal nor illegal. And no books of law in California had any specific rules and regulations related to this practice.

Finally, in 2017, the California Vehicle Code was rejuvenated with the new Section 21658.1 for regulating the lane-splitting practice. The section clearly delineates lane splitting and appeals to the CHP to formulate guidelines for lane splitting. Eventually, California will become the first state in the nation to legally recognize and regulate lane splitting.

However, Section 21658.1 isn’t technically a law to regulate ‘motorcycle lane splitting’ in California. This new lane-splitting law has its critics. According to several safety advocates, lane splitting is risky for both motorcyclists and other riders on the road. However, at the same time, it can even be an efficient tool for motorcyclists if done attentively, safely, and prudently.

So is motorcycle lane splitting legal or not? The newly added Section 21658.1 is an official recognition of lane splitting. It’s not technically a lane-splitting law in California. Hence, it doesn’t even  give the legal system, lawmakers, or police officers permission to create official decisions and policies on lane splitting.

This practice isn’t illegal for motorcyclists in California. However, it is illegal if another driver tries to impede a motorcyclist in their way, causing harm to the driver. A driver should also not open their car’s door to obstruct a motorcyclist.

In general, California has several motorcycle laws, like the Helmet Law, Turn Signal Law, and Age Restriction Law. However, if you ever get stuck up in a legal incident related to motorcycling, then you should not delay searching for the best California motorcycle accident lawyer that you can find.

Tips to Aid Motorcyclists When Lane Splitting

Lane splitting isn’t an illegal practice in California, but it should be exercised with extreme caution. Otherwise, it can lead to serious damage, or even be fatal.

Inexperienced motorcyclists must avoid practicing lane splitting. However, the safety tips below will help you lane split safely. But remember to practice caution and keep that a priority. These tips can only guide you.

  • The risk of serious injuries increases when the overall speed increases.
  • Don’t lane split if there are large vehicles next to you.
  • Higher speed differentials also increase the danger.
  • Consider the lane’s width, the vehicles’ sizes around you, the road’s lighting conditions, and the weather before lane splitting.
  • Don’t linger between cars. Avoid being in the blind spots of other drivers. Stay visible.

It’s the responsibility of both drivers and motorcyclists to maintain a safe road environment. And you can obtain it by applying common sense and courtesy while riding on the road and by being cautious when on a bike or vehicle. Motorcyclists can reduce the risk of getting injured by always wearing protective gear like helmets and not riding while intoxicated.

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