California Becomes First in the US to Legalize Motorcycle Lane Splitting
California has become the first US state to legalize lane sharing. Lane splitting, or lane sharing, is the practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes occupied by cars. It’s a common practice on freeways and city streets alike. You may have thought the practice was illegal, but it was really in a gray area because it was never specifically outlawed in the California Vehicle Code. That’s all changed now that California has become the first US state in which lane-splitting is formally legalized.
Drivers can be startled by the roar of a motorcycle next to them and some feel that its unfair to allow motorcyclists to cut through traffic. Although studies show that lane splitting does cut down on roadway congestion, the best argument for allowing lane splitting is that it significantly cuts down on injuries to motorcyclists, who are 26 times more likely to be injured than drivers. The Vehicle Code never specifically allowed lane splitting, but it never outlawed it either. However, most would agree there are safe and less-safe ways to split lanes and the CHP developed lane splitting guidelines in 2015 to encourage motorcyclists to lane share safely.
A 2015 study from the California Office of Traffic Safety found that lane-splitting is safest for motorcyclists when they pass going no more than 10 miles an hour faster than the rest of traffic. It is not surprising that the risk of motorcyclist injury increases as the speed differences between the motorcycles and other vehicles around them increases. The new law allows lane-splitting when the motorcyclists are driving less than 10 miles per hour faster than the other traffic and when traffic is moving at speeds of 30 miles per hour or less. The new law codifies much of the common sense guidelines the CHP promulgated in 2015 as a way of making the practice more safe for drivers and motorcyclists alike.
Some drivers, understandably, will be frustrated or angry that the practice of lane splitting is now legal. However, I hope the conversation about the new law will be informative for everyone on the road so that drivers will be more aware of the motorcyclists around them and motorcyclists will be more aware of how to lane split safely and legally.
Now more than ever, drivers should always look twice for motorcycles, which are smaller and less noticeable than other vehicles. Drivers who are stuck in traffic and who may be tempted to change lanes should now be extra careful to ensure that there are no lane sharing motorcycles approaching from behind. Changing lanes directly in the path of lane sharing motorcyclist could cause serious injuries for which the driver will be liable.
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