Lane Splitting in California

Some things about California still amaze me. The Pacific Ocean. The palm trees. The perpetual summer. And lane splitting. In California there is no law prohibiting motorcyclists from driving beside another vehicle that is occupying a lane. I made a simple diagram in Paint for those of you not sure what this means:

Lane Splitting: The motorcyclist passes between the cars.

Lane Splitting: A motorcyclist passes between the cars.

When traffic is very slow or stopped I understand lane splitting to allow motorcycles to filter forward. Many motorcyclists only use lane splitting for this purpose. However, not all motorcyclists are that intelligent or polite. On U.S. Route 101 I see reckless lane splitting frequently. A few weeks ago a biker split a lane with me at 75 mph in heavy traffic. I also had a close call with a motorcycle that passed me on the right as I was preparing to take an exit off-ramp.

I fail to understand lane splitting on a simple level. As I see it, when a vehicle is in a lane the driver has the right of way for that lane. California is the only state in the United States that does not prohibit lane splitting (1). The 2015 California Driver Handbook states that “Motorcyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers” (2, pg 62).  On the very next page of the book these statements appear: “Allow the motorcycle a full lane width. Although it is not illegal to share lanes with motorcycles, it is unsafe.” And then: “Never try to pass a motorcycle in the same lane you are sharing with the motorcycle” (2, pg 63). So what I am hearing is this (lack of) logic:

– Motorcyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers.
– A motorcycle and automobile can legally share a lane.
– A motorcycle and automobile sharing a lane is unsafe.
– An automobile driver should never pass a motorcycle in the same lane.

I think allowing motorcycles to filter forward in slow traffic might make sense (when cars are stopped or driving <10 mph). However, if this is conceded, then it must be acknowledged that motorcyclists do not have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers. The automobile driver has the responsibility to defer lane ownership to a motorcyclist, while in some cases the motorcyclist may invade the lane of the automobile driver.

Some things in California I like–lane splitting is not one of them.

(1). Bizjak, T. Motorcycle lane-splitting study finds: the more speed, the more danger. The Sacramento Bee. October 23, 2014.

(2) California Department of Motor Vehicles. Driver Handbook. English. 2015.


1 Comment

Filed under General

One response to “Lane Splitting in California

  1. sue

    lane splitting is supposed to occur at speeds under 35 mph. wth –they allow bikers to get away with stunts like this; amazes me. Mostly I think, it’s that they just can’t catch them doing it. SO foolhardy. Giant egos.

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