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Motorcycle Lane Splitting Legal in California?

Biker, Lane Split, Law, CaliforniaLane-splitting, the practice of motorcyclists passing slower-moving vehicles by riding in between them, may soon become legal in California. Currently, the practice lies in a legal gray area in the state with lane-splitting not officially being made legal or illegal in the state’s statutes. That may soon change, however, if a bill passes and is signed into law by the governor. If the bill passes, California will become the first state in which lane-splitting is made formally legal.

Bill AB 51 and guidelines for lane-splitting

The bill, AB 51, was prompted by a citizen complaint after the California Highway Patrol issued safety guidelines for lane-splitting in 2015. Prior to that, law enforcement agencies had treated lane-splitting as tacitly allowed. The CHP’s guidelines gave suggestions for how motorcyclists could safely engage in the practice, prompting the citizen complaint about the CHP making public policy, prompting the CHP to remove the guidelines.

Assemblymember Bill Quirk then sponsored AB 51, which would allow the CHP to issue safety guidelines for lane-splitting, making the practice legal in the state. The bill passed the California Assembly by a vote of 69 to zero on Aug. 4. Now, the bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. The bill appears likely to be signed into law since it is supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

Proponents of the bill say that lane-splitting helps to reduce traffic congestion by allowing motorcyclists to quickly move through traffic. The bill’s opponents include some motorists and safety officials, who indicate that they believe the practice is unsafe and startling. Some drivers have also complained that they feel it is unfair that motorcyclists are able to move past them when the motorists are stuck in traffic.

Motorcycle accident statistics

In 2013, 4,668 motorcyclists were killed in accidents across the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that in 2012, motorcyclists had a 26 times greater likelihood of being killed in a motor vehicle accident than did other types of motorists. California had a fatality rate for 2012 that was a little lower than the national rate. The state has in excess of 850,000 motorcycles that are registered.

A study by the California Office of Traffic Safety conducted in 2015 found that lane-splitting results in fewer injuries when motorcyclists pass while going no more than 10 miles an hour faster than the other traffic. The risk of injury increases as the speed differences between the motorcycles and the vehicles around them increase. AB 51 would allow lane-splitting when the motorcyclists are driving less than 10 miles per hour faster than the other traffic when traffic is moving at speeds of 30 miles per hour or less.

Possible dangers after the guidelines pass

While the guidelines should provide some parameters for safer lane-splitting, motorcyclists who engage in the practice may still face dangers while passing in between stopped or slow-moving vehicles. Other drivers may not see the motorcyclists and may swerve into them. When traffic is stopped, it is also possible for a driver to open a car door, inadvertently hitting a passing motorcyclist.  In addition, bikers should be aware of other motorcycle laws in California that may come into play when they lane split.

Contact a motorcycle accident attorney

Motorcycles provide riders with an economical mode of transportation along with the free feeling that riding can bring. Motorcyclists simply do not have the same type of protection that is afforded by the steel cages of other types of motor vehicles. This means that motorcyclists are much likelier to suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries when they are involved in traffic collisions. If you have been seriously injured or your loved one has been killed in a motorcycle accident that was caused by another motorist’s negligence, you might need to get legal help. Contact a motorcycle accident attorney today in order to learn about your case and your rights to recovery.


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