Is it Legal to Lane Split on a Motorcycle in California?

There are more motorcyclists in California than in any other state in the country. That is why it makes sense that this was the first state to legalize lane-splitting for motorcycles. Whether you are a motorcyclist in California or just a regular vehicle driver, it is important that you understand exactly what lane-splitting is, whether or not it is safe, and what exactly the law says about this practice.

Understanding lane-splitting in California

Lane-splitting is the practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes or rows of slow-moving traffic in the same direction as the motorcycle. This allows motorcycle riders to save time, and studies have also shown that lane-splitting keeps motorcyclists safer.

Former California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California lane-splitting bill (AB 51) into law in an effort to cut down on traffic. The practice of lane-splitting was not explicitly illegal before this law was signed, but there was too much uncertainty in place about whether the California Highway Patrol or the DMV had the authority to publish any lane-splitting safety guidelines. Now, the confusion is gone.

Guidelines released by the CHP after the law was passed, through the California Motorcycle Safety Program, tell motorcyclists to travel no more than 10 mph faster than the surrounding traffic if they are lane-splitting. Motorcyclists are not permitted to practice lane-splitting if traffic is moving at 30 mph or faster.

It is illegal for a motorcyclist to practice lane-splitting on the shoulder of the road or freeway and motorcyclists are not supposed to share any lanes next to larger vehicles such as tractor-trailers. The CHP also says that a motorcyclist should take into account roadway conditions, such as the width of the road, weather conditions, and lighting conditions, before making the decision to split lanes.

According to a study from U.C. Berkley, lane-splitting can be done safely in traffic traveling at 50 mph or less as long as the motorcyclist does not exceed the speed of other vehicles around them by more than 15 mph. The U.C. Berkeley study also showed that motorcyclists who practice lane-splitting are much less likely to be rear-ended than other motorcycle riders.

Trying to improve motorcyclist safety

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), there are around 900,000 registered motorcycles in the state. Unfortunately, there are also many motorcycle accidents in California. During the latest reporting year of data available from the OTS, we can see that there were 15,328 motorcycle crash injuries and 504 motorcycle crash deaths in the state.

Motorcyclists are inherently more vulnerable on the roadways than those inside traditional passenger vehicles. Even when a motorcyclist is wearing a DOT-approved helmet, it is not uncommon for a survivor of a motorcycle accident to sustain the following injuries:

It should be noted that all motorcycle drivers and passengers in California are required to wear a helmet. Helmets greatly reduce a motorcyclist’s risk of sustaining an open head injury or a traumatic brain injury.

If you or a loved one are a regular motorcycle rider, be sure to follow all traffic laws and practice lane-splitting only when it is safe to do so.