Motorcycling - Trivia

Lane Splitting is Legal in California - Do's and Don'ts for Your Safety!

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Are you an avid rider? Are you aware of what lane splitting is? When you’re biking on the road in the middle of heavy traffic, safety should be your primary concern. If you try to speed with vehicles in the same lane as yours, it can lead to accidents and even claim your life. Therefore, before you hit the road, it’s important to know where lane splitting is legal and what the California lane splitting law states.

So, What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting refers to the action of riding a motorcycle or bicycle in between the rows/lines of other vehicles that have stopped or are moving in the same direction as yours. It is also known as lane sharing, filtering, white-lining, or stripe-riding. Motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians tend to use up this space between other vehicles to move past traffic. Though lane sharing helps motorcyclists bypass traffic and save time, it’s risky to ride amidst traffic or fast-moving vehicles.

Lane Splitting
Lane Splitting

The larger vehicles may change lanes with no prior indication or they may fail to notice smaller vehicles, like bicycles and motorcycles. This is how the question “is lane splitting legal?” came up. Due to the risks involved in lane sharing, it has been prohibited in certain countries. Let’s learn more about lane splitting, its guidelines, the California Motorcyclist Safety Program and its legality.

Also, learn about using reference points for riding safety before learning about lane splitting.

Use of Lane Splitting

For Motorcyclists

By splitting lanes, motorcyclists can stay safe from getting slammed by slow-moving vehicles from behind. These kinds of minor accidents can happen due to the inattention and carelessness of drivers waiting in traffic. Also, when lane splitting is done the right way, bikers can save a lot of their time by avoiding a long wait behind stopped or slow-moving traffic.

For Other Drivers

Lane splitting helps in clearing the queue for other vehicles. Motorcycles move quickly through narrow gaps available, freeing up space for the other vehicles which can move faster without being blocked by motorcycles. This helps in reducing traffic congestion to a great extent.

California Lane Splitting

If you live in the golden state of California, you would know about lane splitting.

california lane splitting law
Lane Splitting in California

Lane splitting in California isn’t illegal, as long as you do it in a sensible and safe manner. If you know the rules and guidelines for lane sharing and the precautions to be taken when riding alongside large vehicles, you’re good to go.

Apart from California, there are no other states where lane splitting is legal, though, in some of the states such as Utah, Oregon, and Nevada, they are considering the idea of legalizing it. Read further to learn about the general guidelines of lane splitting, as outlined by the state of California.

Lane Splitting General Guidelines

Here is a list of general lane splitting guidelines as per the California Motorcyclist Safety Program.

1. Differential Speed Limit

Don’t exceed your speed beyond 10 Mph.

Lane splitting general guidelines
Speed Limit for Lane Splitting

This is because, as the speed differential increases, it also increases the risk of accidents. When you’re at a speed differential of up to 10 Mph or less, you’ll be in a safe situation and have enough time to react to any danger that may come your way. If you exceed this speed differential, you may not have time to think and react to possible hazards.

2. Traffic Speed

Bikers, we have a word of caution for you- Avoid lane splitting when the main traffic speed is 30 Mph or more.

California Motorcyclist Safety Program
Traffic Speed

This is because high speed always increases the risk and severity of accidents. As per observation, when a rider is at 20 Mph and takes about 2 seconds to identify a hazard, in those 2 seconds he/she will travel at least 30 to 60 feet before performing an action. So completing a reaction (braking or turning) actually takes more time and distance than expected.

3. Splitting Lanes

If you are planning to split the lanes, then it is advised to lane split between lane #1 and #2, than splitting between other lanes.

 Lane Splitting
Lane Splitting

Lane #1 and #2 are the lanes to the extreme left as other vehicles are more prone to motorcycles splitting between lanes. Make sure you avoid splitting lanes when some other rider is already splitting between the lanes. This is because, while vehicles give space to one motorcycle, gap available for another rider gets reduced. Additionally, make sure you don’t split lanes near exits and freeway on-ramps.

4. Splitting Environment

You must consider the whole environment where you’re splitting. This includes the size of other vehicles, weather, lane width, lighting conditions, roadway, etc.

  • Always remember this mantra – Don’t split if you don’t fit comfortably! Know how much space your motorcycle needs (with bags, bars, etc.) in between vehicles and don’t try to squeeze in. Only go forward if you have enough space to go in easily.
  • It is pivotal to know your road. Avoid splitting in lanes that are narrower than the usual lanes.
  • Improve your visibility to other drivers by wearing vibrant helmets or clothing (Read our article on Motorcycle Summer Gear), and using high beams during the day. If there’s poor visibility, avoid splitting or riding near the larger vehicles.
  • It is best to avoid lane splitting near heavy vehicles such as trucks as there may not be enough space for you near such vehicles.
  • If you don’t know the road, forget lane splitting! You never know when you might encounter with poorly-maintained surfaces.
  • Any ridges or concrete on the road in between lanes can be risky, so split carefully.

5. Alertness on Road

No matter what always stay alert on the road and anticipate sudden movements by other vehicles.

  • Look out for any space or gap opening up next to you and be prepared to take an evasive action if a vehicle near you switches lanes.
  • Don’t ride when you’re fatigued or feeling sleepy.
  • Watch out for and stay away from distracted, rash drivers.
  • Keep your eyes fixed on the road and look for changing conditions.
  • Avoid blind spots (alongside large vehicles where the driver can’t see you) and don’t keep moving back and forth between lanes. Also, avoid riding on the line.

These guidelines are very general and may not cover all the possible situations and events. Also, they have been designed keeping in mind highly experienced riders. It should be noted that lane splitting should be avoided by novice motorcyclists. California lane splitting law also states that the riders, as well as passengers, must wear safety helmets (complying with the DOT FMVSS 218 standard) while riding.

What Other Vehicles Can Do to Aid Safe Lane Splitting

lane splitting
Safety during Lane Splitting
  • Regularly check your rear-view mirrors and blind spots for any motorcyclists. Do this especially when you’re taking a turn or changing lanes.
  • Avoid driving when you’re distracted and under the effect of alcohol or drugs.
  • Be aware of the fact that lane splitting done in a safe manner, by following all the guidelines, is legal in California. So, it would be illegal to block or discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting, either by opening your vehicle door or by refusing to give them space to pass you. Give indication to fellow drivers and riders before changing lanes or making sudden movements.
  • Keep enough distance between you and the motorcyclists when you’re behind them, in order to give them enough time to react during emergencies.

With the knowledge of the benefits of lane splitting and its guidelines, you can use the roads in a better and much safer way. It can be a win-win situation for both riders as well as other motorists if these guidelines are kept in mind and everybody on the road makes way for another. However, it’s the responsibility of every rider to maintain his/her safety on the road, by taking proper safety measures and splitting lanes sensibly. So, Ride Safe and Ride Hard!

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