“Lane splitting” or “lane sharing” is the act of riding a motorcycle in between two lanes of stopped or slowly moving traffic. Many motorcyclists use this maneuver to help them bypass congested traffic common in California. While lane splitting is legal in California, it must be performed with proper care and caution.

History of the California Motorcycle Lane Splitting Law

Prior to the passage of the motorcycle lane splitting law, the official stance of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles was that “California law does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane.” Many motorcyclists would split lanes and follow guidelines by the California DMV that recommended lane splitting only at speeds lower than 40 mph and speeds no more than 10 mph faster than the speed that traffic was traveling at in other lanes and when it could be done in a reasonable and responsible manner with the motorcyclist taking into account road conditions.

However, lawmakers officially legalized this practice with the passage of California Vehicle Code 21658.1, which became effective on Jan. 1, 2017. This law applies to motorcycles:

California became the first state to make lane splitting legal, but this practice is often used in heavily-populated areas throughout Europe and Asia.

Safety of  Motorcycle Lane Sharing 

Some people are under the belief that lane sharing is always a dangerous driving maneuver. However, many motorcyclists believe that lane splitting makes it safer for them to ride and avoid being hit from behind.

Recent research supports this view: the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California Berkeley conducted a study of more than 6,000 crashes and concluded that safe lane splitting is safer than stopping behind vehicles in slow moving traffic, resulting in fewer fatalities, serious torso injuries and concussions. Additionally, they found that when motorcyclists conducted lane splitting at speeds under 50 mph and less than 15 mph faster than traffic in nearby lanes.

Tips on Safe Lane Splitting

Follow these guidelines to safely lane split:

You should avoid lane splitting under any of the following conditions:

How to Avoid Lane Splitting Accidents

If you are driving a car, you also have the responsibility to drive carefully. You should be on the lookout for motorcycles that are lane splitting. Keep a few seconds of distance between you and other vehicles on the road. Expect possible sudden movements from others and drive defensively. Do not weave back and forth between lanes.

Liability in Lane Splitting Accidents

If a lane splitting accident occurs, it is not necessarily the motorcycle rider’s fault. If you were involved in a lane splitting accident, you should contact police to report the accident. The responding officer will determine if lane splitting was completed in a safe and prudent manner. Every motorcycle rider is responsible for his or her own safety and must use his or her own judgment to safely travel in a way that reduces crash risk.

Lane splitting is a legal driving maneuver, so the motorcyclist will not necessarily be held liable if an accident occurs. Instead, the specific circumstances surrounding the accident will help determine who is found at fault for the accident. Ultimately, liability will be determined as it is in other cases, such as:

California uses a comparative negligence system, so liability may be split between the parties. While sharing part of the liability will not bar you from recovery, your award can be reduced by your degree of fault.

If you were injured in a California lane splitting accident and you believe the other driver was at fault, it is important to contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced with these types of accident claims. He or she can conduct a thorough investigation to determine who is legally responsible for your injuries and pursue maximum compensation for your claim.

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