Is it safer for motorcycles to ride within or between designated lanes on a highway? Some studies show that when motorcycles ride between lanes of traffic the risk of motorcycle accidents decreases.
Riding a motorcycle between designated traffic lanes, called lane splitting, has long been practiced by cyclists in California. In the past, however, the legality of this type of riding has been unclear. California law did not explicitly prohibit lane splitting, but it also did not expressly permit it. With this grey area in the law, law enforcement reactions to lane splitting varied around the state. Inconsistent interpretations of the law contributed to passage of a new law, the first of its kind in the U.S.
If cyclists rode “safely and prudently,” in the eyes of law enforcement, no ticket would be issued to the motorcyclist. However, as with any subjective standard, “safe and prudent” was in the eyes of the beholder. The statute, California Vehicle Code Section 21658, says:
ARTICLE 1. Driving on Right Side [21650 – 21664]
Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction, the following rules apply:
(a) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.
The ambiguity in the phrase “as nearly as practical” has been cleared up with the passage of the first law in the country to legalize motorcycle lane splitting law. Assembly Bill 51 was passed unanimously by the state assembly and signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown in August 2016. AB51 went into effect January 1, 2017. This law adds Section 21658.1 to the California Vehicle Code, which says:
ARTICLE 1. Driving on Right Side
(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.
(b) The Department of the California Highway Patrol may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles.
(c) In developing guidelines pursuant to this section, the department shall consult with agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior, including, but not limited to, all of the following:
(1) The Department of Motor Vehicles.
(2) The Department of Transportation.
(3) The Office of Traffic Safety.
(4) A motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.
While more specific than the existing law before 2017, the new law does not provide detailed guidance to cyclists about how to safely engage in lane splitting. The California Highway Patrol is charged with developing safety guidelines related to lane splitting (although the law does not require them to do so). The safety standard is still “safe and prudent” riding.
Many motorcycle accident attorneys see this law as acknowledgement that the practices of experienced cyclists do contribute to greater safety for motorcycles and other vehicles on the roadways.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a motorcycle wreck, call the motorcycle accident attorneys at Cerritos Legal today at 562-865-9356 for your free consultation.