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California Moves towards Officially Allowing Lane Splitting for Motorcycles

California Assembly member Bill Quirk has sponsored a bill that would make it officially legal for lane splitting in the state of California. The bill AB 51 was passed and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on August 19, 2016. It officially defines lane splitting (also referred to as lane sharing) and authorizes the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to come up with safety guidelines.

Lane splitting occurs when motorcyclists drive between lines of cars and trucks that are stopped or moving slowly in heavy traffic. It has long been controversial in the state with some claiming that it is recklessly dangerous. Nonetheless, the CHP has long accepted this practice as long as it is done responsibly. Technically speaking, lane splitting was never on the books as illegal and thereby is considered legal.

The department originally developed guidelines in 2012, but an individual filed a complaint saying that the CHP could not create public policy, making them underground regulations. The guideline was withdrawn, but it now reappears as AB 51 with additional clarification saying that the CHP does have the authority to develop guidelines and tasks the department with doing so.

While the language is still being worked out, there are several strategies or guidelines likely to be in the bill that motorcyclists can already adopt as safety precautions.

  • The optimal place to split lanes is between the two far left lanes (lanes #1 & #2).
  • Avoid splitting lanes near entrance and exit ramps.
  • Be aware of the size of your motorcycle and space in which you are splitting.
  • Bad weather and darkness create poor visibility -- consider this before lane splitting.
  • Don't split lanes differently than the motorcycle in front of you - cars may react to the bike in front of you and move to one side, which could then block your pathway. Also give a reasonable space to the motorcyclist ahead of you when both of you are on the same route.
  • Don't travel at a speed that excessively faster than the surrounding vehicles. A good rule of thumb is a 10-15 mph differential.
  • Don't lane split when traffic is moving faster than 30 mph. The increased speed shortens the time for reacting to hazards on the road. It should be noted that the increased speed often increases severity of a crash.

It should also be noted that motorists driving cars and trucks should not try and impede the act of lane splitting either by opening a vehicle door or maneuvering their vehicle to one side of the lane to block a motorcycle's progress.

If you, a friend or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycle accident, the first order of business is to seek medical attention if injured. It's important to develop detailed medical records if you plan to obtain compensation from another driver. An attorney skilled in the complexities of motorcycle accidents in California will be extremely helpful in recouping medical costs, lost wages and damage to property, as well as peace of mind in the situation of wrongful death or severe injury. Just because you or a loved one chooses to ride a motorcycle doesn't mean you choose to accept the careless decision of drivers around you.

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