Motorcycle lane-splitting laws in California

Categories: Personal Injury

Love it or hate it, lane-splitting is legal in California. But just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s safe. The maneuver can still result in serious accidents even when performed safely with good judgment. Worse, failing to use good judgment could leave you liable for a motorcyclist’s or driver’s injuries and property damage.

A motorcycle accident lawyer in San Luis Obispo can help if you were accused of causing a wreck while riding legally or if you were injured by a lane-splitting motorcyclist. Our attorneys have extensive experience in this area with a long track record of success in cases similar to yours. 

If you want to learn more about how we might be able to help you, schedule a free consultation by calling (805) 541-0300 or by contacting us online

What is lane splitting?

As defined by California Vehicle Code Section 21658.1, lane splitting is driving a motorcycle with two wheels touching the ground between moving or stopped vehicles that are in the same lane. 

Splitting lanes reduces the amount of space both the motorcyclist and the motorist have in their lane for reacting to maneuvers made by other drivers.

Some drivers might be surprised by the maneuver, and others might not see the motorcycle in their blindspot – either scenario can have a tragic ending if either person moves into the other’s path. 

Why is lane splitting legal in California?

Lane splitting was made legal despite being dangerous due to one primary reason: traffic. California highways are notorious for frustrating traffic jams that can last for hours. Legalizing lane splitting was one way to try and relieve this problem, so long as it was done safely.

Restrictions on lane splitting

Just because lane splitting is legal doesn’t mean riders can make the move however they like, wherever they like. You still can’t ride on a highway shoulder since that’s not considered to be within two lanes of traffic. Riders also can’t lane split when conditions are dangerous, such as during bad weather, insufficient lighting, and when a road is in disrepair.  

Lane splitting guidelines

lane splitting california traffic

If you’re going to lane split – or you’re sharing the road with a motorcycle – there are guidelines to follow to help everyone get to their destination safely. 

For riders

Motorcyclists should only lane split when they’re traveling no more than 10-15 mph faster than the vehicles that surround them. The faster the motorcycle is going, the higher the risk of an accident occurring. Riders can perform the move on all roads, including undivided and divided streets as well as highways.  

For motorists

If you’re a driver in California, you should always be prepared for the possibility of a rider trying to split lanes. Of course, you should always pay attention to your surroundings, but be especially wary of riders when you’re in slowed or stopped traffic.

Stay in the center of your lane, listen for approaching motorcycles, and double-check your mirrors and blind spots before making a departure from your lane. 

Lane splitting safety tips

If you’re a rider and splitting lanes, follow all safety rules. Here are a few additional tips to follow.

  • Always consider the environment before lane splitting. This not only includes the condition of the road, but also the size of the vehicles around you. Remember, you can’t split lanes if the weather is bad, there’s not enough lighting, or the road is in disrepair. You should also avoid splitting lanes between large vehicles like semi-trucks because they’ll have a lower chance of seeing you, as will cars in front of them.
  • The faster you go, the more of a chance you’ll be severely hurt if you’re in an accident. If you have to lane split, never do it when riding more than 10 mph faster than surrounding traffic.
  •  If that traffic is moving at 30 mph or higher, lane splitting should be avoided because cars are more likely to make last-minute maneuvers, possibly without signaling, which could prove dangerous for you.
  •  Splitting lanes is usually safer when you do it between the lanes on the left. 
  • Don’t linger between vehicles, and always make yourself as visible as possible by wearing reflective or brightly colored gear and clothing.  

Speak with Ernst Law Group if you’re in an accident

Even though lane-splitting is legal in California, that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to avoid liability in an accident. The driver’s insurance company is more than likely going to claim you caused the wreck due to carelessness.

Unless you have a skilled Ernst Law Group motorcycle accident attorney by your side, it’s going to be hard for you to prove you were being careful. Give us a call at (805) 541-0300 or use our online contact form for a free review of your case.