“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.
What Does California Law Say about Lane Splitting?
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.”
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 is 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.
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.
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.