Is Lane Splitting Legal in California?

No, motorcycle lane splitting is legal in California. In fact, California is one of the few states that has legalized this practice. However, it’s important to remember that lane splitting must be done safely and according to certain guidelines. Below are some additional points to keep in mind.

California Highway Patrol: What You Need to Know

“Lane splitting by motorcyclists is legal in California.” This statement from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) leaves no question that motorcyclists in California can legally split lanes if they choose to do so. Not only that, but the CHP has also adopted rules that require drivers to avoid putting lane-splitting motorcycle riders in harm’s way. 

Unfortunately, lane splitting accidents remain relatively common. According to a study published by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California, Berkeley, approximately 17 percent of all motorcycle accidents involve lane splitting. While this study is now seven years old, there are no more-recent data to suggest that this statistic has changed. 

California’s Lane Splitting Laws

The issue of whether lane splitting is legal in California is addressed in Section 21658.1 of the California Vehicle Code. While the law does not expressly authorize lane splitting, it does not prohibit lane splitting either (unlike the laws in other states), and Section 21658.1 gives the CHP the authority to “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.” 

Comparative Analysis

California is currently the only state in the U.S. that has explicitly legalized lane splitting. In most other states, lane splitting is either illegal or exists in a legal gray area, with no specific laws addressing the practice. Some states, such as Texas and Oregon, have considered legislation to legalize lane splitting but have not yet passed any laws.

The debate surrounding the legalization of lane splitting nationwide is ongoing. Proponents argue that lane splitting can help reduce traffic congestion, decrease motorcycle riders’ exposure to rear-end collisions, and improve overall traffic flow. They also point to studies that suggest lane splitting, when done safely and at lower speeds, does not increase the risk of accidents.

Opponents of lane splitting argue that the practice is inherently dangerous, as it places motorcyclists in close proximity to larger vehicles and can startle drivers who are not expecting a motorcycle to pass between lanes. They also argue that the legalization of lane splitting could lead to more accidents, as some motorcyclists may engage in the practice recklessly or at high speeds.

Despite the ongoing debate, some states are considering following California’s lead in legalizing lane splitting. In 2021, Utah became the second state to legalize lane filtering, a more limited form of lane splitting that allows motorcyclists to pass between stopped vehicles at intersections. As more states consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of lane splitting, the landscape of motorcycle laws across the country may continue to evolve.

CHP Guidelines

In response to Section 21658.1, the CHP has established several guidelines for both motorcycle riders and drivers. For motorcycle riders, the CHP offers the following lane splitting safety tips:

  • Evaluate the “total environment” of the road—including the width of the lanes, the size of the vehicles around you, and the current weather and lighting conditions. 
  • Understand that motorcycle riders’ risk increases when lane splitting at higher speeds or when traveling at a significantly higher or lower speed than other vehicles. 
  • On the highway, lane splitting between the far-left lanes are typically safer than lane splitting between other lanes of traffic. 
  • Avoid riding in drivers’ blind spots whenever possible, and do not ride on the shoulder (“[r]iding on the shoulder is illegal [and] not considered lane splitting”). Try to avoid lane splitting next to 18-wheelers and other large vehicles. 
  • Wear brightly colored or reflective riding gear and use your high beams during daylight hours to maximize your visibility to drivers. 

For drivers, the CHP indicates that any acts intended to impede motorcycle riders who are lane splitting are prohibited. According to the CHP:

  • Drivers may not intentionally block or impede a motorcycle rider who is lane splitting “in a way that could cause harm to the rider.” 
  • Drivers may not open their doors in front of approaching motorcycle riders who are lane splitting. 
  • When driving in the far-left lane of a multi-lane road, drivers should “move to the left of their lane to give motorcyclists ample room to pass.” 

Additionally, for both motorcycle riders and drivers, the CHP’s Lane splitting safety guidelines advise “[b]eing courteous and sharing the road.” To mitigate the risk of lane splitting accidents, the CHP also generally recommends:

  • Always check your mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes, merging, or turning. 
  • Always signal before changing lanes, merging, or turning. 
  • Stay alert, avoid distractions, and anticipate drivers’ and motorcycle riders’ actions. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. 

Technological Advancements to help with Surrounding Traffic

Emerging technologies have the potential to significantly improve the safety of lane splitting for motorcycle riders in the future. Some of the most promising developments include:

1. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS):

ADAS technologies, such as blind-spot monitoring and collision warnings, can help drivers become more aware of nearby motorcyclists, reducing the risk of accidents caused by driver inattention.

2. Connected Vehicle Technology:

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication can provide real-time information about traffic conditions and the presence of nearby motorcycles, helping drivers anticipate and respond to lane splitting riders.

3. Augmented Reality (AR) Helmets:

AR helmets with heads-up displays and rearview cameras can enhance riders’ situational awareness and decision-making while lane splitting.

4. Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS):

ITS applications, such as dynamic speed limits and adaptive traffic signals, can create a safer environment for lane splitting by smoothing traffic flow and reducing sudden speed changes.

While these technologies show promise, it is important to recognize that they must be combined with education, awareness, and responsible behavior from both riders and drivers to truly enhance the safety of lane splitting.

As technology advances, it will play an increasingly important role in making lane splitting a safer practice for all road users.

Insurance Claims After a Lane Split Accident

When it comes to lane splitting accidents, insurance coverage and claims can be complex. Insurers may attempt to deny or reduce claims by arguing that the motorcyclist was engaging in a risky or negligent behavior, even though lane splitting is legal in California.

To protect themselves, motorcyclists should ensure they have adequate insurance coverage. This includes:

1. Liability Coverage: This coverage protects the motorcyclist if they are found at fault for an accident and are sued by the other party. Motorcyclists should consider purchasing higher liability limits to provide greater protection.

2. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: This coverage protects the motorcyclist if they are involved in an accident with a driver who has no insurance or insufficient insurance to cover the damages.

3. Medical Payments Coverage: This coverage helps pay for the motorcyclist’s medical expenses after an accident, regardless of who was at fault.

4. Collision Coverage: This coverage helps pay for damages to the motorcycle caused by a collision with another vehicle or object.

5. Comprehensive Coverage: This coverage helps pay for damages to the motorcycle caused by non-collision events, such as theft, vandalism, or weather-related incidents.

Motorcyclists should also be aware that some insurance policies may have specific exclusions or limitations related to lane splitting accidents. It is important to carefully review the policy and discuss any concerns with the insurance provider.

In the event of a lane splitting accident, motorcyclists should document the incident thoroughly, gather witness statements, and consult with an experienced motorcycle accident attorney who can help them navigate the claims process and protect their rights. By having appropriate insurance coverage and understanding their legal options, motorcyclists can better protect themselves financially in the event of a lane splitting accident.

What Are Your Legal Rights After a Lane Splitting Accident in California? 

Given that lane splitting is legal in California, motorcycle riders who are injured in lane splitting accidents have the same legal rights as riders who are injured in other types of motorcycle accidents. This means that injured riders can file insurance claims to hold at-fault drivers accountable, and they can seek to recover just compensation for their:

  • medical bills,

  • lost wages,

  • pain and suffering,

  • and other losses.

  • Families who have lost loved ones in lane splitting accidents can file claims as well.

But, even though lane splitting is legal, the insurance companies still frequently try to blame lane splitting motorcycle riders for their own injuries. While this isn’t fair, it is a reality. To protect themselves—and to ensure that they are seeking maximum compensation for their accident-related losses—injured riders and their loved ones should seek representation from an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer as soon after their (or their loved one’s) accidents as possible. 

Request a Free Consultation with Bakersfield Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Mickey Fine

If you have been injured or tragically lost a loved one in a lane splitting accident, we can help you and your family recover the financial compensation you deserve. 

To learn more in a free and confidential consultation with Bakersfield motorcycle accident lawyer Mickey Fine, please call (661) 333-3333 or tell us how we can help you online today.