What is Lane Splitting? Is Lane Splitting Legal? 

During stopped or slow-moving traffic in California, motorcycles are allowed to pass between cars. This maneuver is known as lane splitting and is only legal in California. It is called this because the motorcyclist often rides on the line in between cars and “splits” the lane. For this reason, it is also referred to as “whitelining” or “stripe-riding.” Motorcyclists do it to cut down on their commute time, especially during morning or evening traffic hours.  

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) published guidelines on motorcycle lane splitting for experienced riders. In the event of a collision, determining liability is strictly case-by-case.

Who is Liable in a Motorcycle Lane Splitting Accident?

Lane splitting is a controversial subject among California drivers since it was illegal for many years, even though police rarely issued citations. Due to the different factors involved, it can also be challenging to prove liability in lane splitting accidents. However, there are instances where the issue is straightforward. These include:

  • A passenger vehicle driver may be held liable if he/she hit a motorcyclist who was safely splitting lanes
  • A motorcyclist may be held liable if he/she was unsafely splitting lanes (speeding, cutting off cars and weaving)

The determining factor in these examples is whether the motorcyclist safely split lanes or not. CHP guidelines can provide useful insights for what is considered “safe.” 

Two motorcycles dressed in black lane splitting between cars in traffic

California Motorcycle Lane Splitting Laws

On August 19th, 2016, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 51. This made it officially legal for motorcyclists to lane split. The new law formally defined lane splitting in California’s vehicle code. It also explicitly authorized the CHP to provide educational guidelines on lane splitting. 

As motorcyclists embrace the new law, the topic has sparked concern amongst motorists. Even though splitting lanes is legal in California, motorcycle riders are still encouraged to use extreme caution when driving in between lanes. 

What are Safe Practices for Splitting Lanes? 

The CHP originally published guidelines in 2013, before the law became official:

  • Motorcyclists should drive no more than 10 miles per hour faster than other traffic
  • Avoid splitting lanes when traffic is moving at 30 miles per hour or faster
  • It is safer to split lanes between lane numbers 1 and 2 (the lanes farthest to the left)
  • Consider your environment before you split lanes
  • Be alert and anticipate maneuvers from other motorists

In 2018, the CHP provided additional safety tips in a press release. These added more details to the previous guidelines. These new tips included:

  • Consider the total environment when splitting lanes (this includes lane width, size of nearby vehicles, and road, weather, and lighting conditions)
  • Danger increases with a greater speed differential between cars and motorcycles
  • Danger also increases as overall speed increases
  • Avoid splitting lanes next to large vehicles like big rigs, buses, and motorhomes.
  • Riding on the shoulder is not considered lane splitting and is illegal
  • Be visible — don’t stay in the blind spots of drivers or linger between vehicles
  • Wear brightly colored/reflective gear and use high beams during daytime hours; this helps other drivers see you

Following these tips can help motorcyclists exercise caution and increase their visibility while lane splitting. For other vehicle drivers, it can help to simply be aware that there may be riders splitting lanes and to check blind spots frequently in traffic.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

The California Office of Traffic Safety conducted a study on splitting lanes. The report recorded the number of these types of accidents from June 2012 to August 2013.

Researchers discovered:

  • 5,969 California motorcycle crashes occurred during the 14-month period
  • 997 of these crashes involved lane splitting in California
  • 17 percent of all accidents in the study involved splitting lanes

Motorcycle from point of view of rider, with statistic about motorcycle lane splitting superimposed over the handlebars

After analyzing the crash data, researchers determined that splitting lanes can be safe when certain guidelines are met:

“Lane-splitting appears to be a relatively safe motorcycle riding strategy if done in traffic moving at 50 MPH or less and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 MPH.”

The study also emphasized the inherent risks:

“Lane-splitting riders often put themselves closer to other vehicles than they otherwise would. This proximity reduces the time riders have to identify and react to changes in the behaviors of other motorists.”

The Risks of Lane Splitting

Many motorists choose to ride motorcycles for their small size and agility.

There is still debate on whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

A number of drivers believe that splitting lanes creates the opportunity for more traffic accidents, pointing to situations where motorcyclists have significantly less time to react to vehicles around them.

Worse, motorcyclists tend to suffer grave or fatal injuries following a wreck. Internal bruising, broken bones and traumatic brain injuries are common outcomes in collisions.

Blurred image of motorcyclist with white helmet driving through traffic

Speak with an Attorney Today

Liability in cases involving lane splitting is not usually clear-cut. Each circumstance requires extensive review to determine fault. A knowledgeable lawyer can help determine your rights after a motorcycle crash or car accident.

The cost of recovering after an unexpected accident is a significant burden. An experienced motorcycle accident attorney can assist you in getting the compensation you need to offset these expenses.

The attorneys at Hodes Milman have successfully helped accident victims recover damages for their losses. Our legal team has more than 30 years of experience with California motor vehicle laws. Lane splitting can be a highly technical area of the law that requires the guidance and advice of an attorney. Contact Hodes Milman at (949) 640-8222 today for a no-obligation, free consultation and take the first step towards reclaiming your life.

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