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Is Lane Splitting Legal in California?

April 29, 2022 Personal injury

California is actually the only state where lane splitting is legal, at least without restrictions. Other states, such as Utah and Montana, have laws that allow lane-splitting but refer to it as “lane filtering,” which is only legal under certain, highly restricted conditions.

The Definition of Lane Splitting

Section 21658.1(a) of the California Vehicle Code defines lane splitting as the following: 

“21658.1 (a) For the purposes of this section, “lane splitting” means driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.”

In other words, lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist passes a vehicle by using the area between two lanes. 

Why is Lane Splitting Legal in California? 

Lane-splitting

Lane splitting is legal in California because the state recognizes it as a tool to decrease traffic congestion. Since the volume of freeway traffic in California is higher than in most other states, strategies are necessary to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Lane splitting allows motorcycles to occupy space on the highway that isn’t being used by vehicles. 

Is Lane Splitting Dangerous? 

There are arguments for both sides, with some saying there is a higher risk of an accident when lane splitting and others that state it is safer for motorcyclists. The Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at UC Berkeley conducted a study in 2015 and found that only 17-percent of motorcycle crashes between 2012 and 2013 involved lane splitting. Therefore, it does not seem to increase accidents. However, the risk of a collision occurring while lane splitting increases the faster a rider travels. Additionally, there is a higher risk of a lane splitting accident if drivers are not paying attention, do not check for riders before changing lanes, or get rattled by how loud a motorcycle is passing them.  

How to Reduce the Risk of a Lane Splitting Accident 

To avoid a lane splitting accident, there are safety tips that both motorcyclists and drivers can follow: 

For Motorcyclists

  • Consider the total environment before lane splitting (e.g., the width of lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, roadway conditions, weather, lighting).
  • Keep in mind that the higher your speed, the increased danger of a lane splitting accident.
  • Lane splitting between the far left lanes is typically safer. 
  • Avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles (e.g., buses, semi-trucks, motorhomes, etc.).
  • Riding on the shoulder is not lane splitting and is illegal.
  • Remain visible to others on the road by avoiding blind spots when possible. 
  • Wear brightly colored or reflective protective gear and use high beams, even during the day. 

For Drivers

  • Remember that lane splitting is legal. 
  • Check for motorcyclists in your blind spots before changing lanes, making a turn, or merging. 
  • Signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging. 
  • If traveling in the far left lane, move to the left of the lane to give motorcyclists more room to pass. 
  • Never intentionally block or impede a motorcyclist. Be courteous and share the road. 

If you were in an accident as a result of lane-splitting in California, please reach out to our San Diego car accident lawyers or San Diego motorcycle accident attorneys depending on the situation.