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Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Is Legal in California, But Is It Safe?

By Renee Nordstrand on March 18, 2018

Lane-splitting may seem inherently dangerous. But there is research to support the notion that it is actually safe and can be beneficial for everyone on the road. Throughout much of the world, lane-splitting on motorcycles is a perfectly acceptable way to get through traffic. In the U.S., however, it is only legal in California, where motorcyclists are free to move among other vehicles.

The safety issue ultimately seems to come down to how quickly a motorcyclist is moving compared to the cars and trucks around him or her.

What Is Lane-Splitting?

Lane-splitting refers to the act of driving a motorcycle between other vehicles on the road, usually between two lanes of traffic. This can be done when cars around the motorcycle are moving particularly slowly, or even when they are stopped in traffic. So long as the motorcyclist obeys all traffic signs and is mindful of road conditions, it is legal for him or her to split lanes in California. Lane-splitting was made legal in 2016, but it has been around for much longer because prior to 2016 there was no law specifically prohibiting the behavior.

How Can Lane-Splitting Be Safe?

Research has shown that lane-splitting allows motorcyclists to remain safer since they can maneuver in traffic more naturally and avoid being struck by other motorists not paying attention in traffic jams.

What is interesting is that the same research showed that the most important aspect of safe lane-splitting is the motorcyclist’s speed compared to other vehicles. So long as the person keeps his or her motorcycle no more than 15 miles per hour faster than surrounding vehicles, lane-splitting is usually safe. When motorcyclists speed up, accidents become much more likely to happen.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Lane-Splitting

Lane-splitting not only lets a motorcyclist navigate traffic more quickly and easily, but it also helps alleviate traffic for other motorists. When motorcycles can move through traffic jams, so long as they do not travel at high speeds, it removes them from the jam. Fewer vehicles sitting still in traffic means that cars and trucks are able to move along more effectively, which can have an overall reduction on the length and time of traffic jams.

An obvious disadvantage of lane-splitting is that most drivers do not check their mirrors as often as they should. The quieter a motorcycle, the less likely a motorist is to see it splitting a lane, and the more likely it is that the motorist will change lanes or swerve, accidentally colliding with the biker.

Have you been struck by another driver while safely riding on your motorcycle? Whether you were lane-splitting or not, call NordstrandBlack PC today at (805) 962-2022 and tell us what happened. We can discuss your legal options in a free consultation.

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