Is Lane Splitting Legal in California?
Lane-splitting, also called “white lining,” is the act of passing between adjacent lanes of moving traffic. Understandably, many jurisdictions consider this a dangerous practice and have specific laws prohibiting lane-splitting. Other jurisdictions recognize that lane-splitting can be a life-saving maneuver in some traffic patterns and have clear guidelines stipulating when and how lane-splitting can be acceptably executed.
California has neither. California does not enforce any guidelines prohibiting lane-splitting, nor does the sate encourage the practice or consider it legal. Instead, the state relies on drivers and motorcyclists to make good decisions and use their best judgment to navigate difficult traffic patterns.
How to Legally Lane-Split
Many motorcyclists claim that lane-splitting is a necessary maneuver in certain situations. For example, if a motorcyclist is trailing behind a driver and the driver suddenly stops, the motorcyclist may not have room to pass the stopping vehicle in the other lane if another vehicle is in that lane. Instead, the motorcyclist could weave between the two lanes, avoiding an accident. This is a difficult maneuver and riders should only do it when absolutely necessary.
- Riders should only lane split when traffic is moving no faster than 35mph. Lane-splitting at higher speeds is extremely dangerous.
- Riders should not exceed 10mph over the speed limit when lane-splitting.
- Riders should attempt to only split the innermost lanes closest to the left side of the road. Most drivers are more accustomed to changing traffic patterns happening on the left as vehicles pass normally, so other drivers are more likely to react appropriately when a rider lane-splits through the leftmost lanes.
- Riders should avoid lane-splitting around turns. Only lane-split on straightaways when the way forward is completely visible.
Ideally, a rider should only lane-split to avoid an accident or to escape being “buried” by slower-moving vehicles traveling side-by-side in adjacent lanes. Once a rider executes a lane-split, he or she should take a lane as usual and ride with the flow of traffic.
Best Practices and Safety Tips
Riders may need to lane-split as a last-second decision to avoid an accident, and this maneuver can be lifesaving in such circumstances. Whenever a rider decides to lane-split, keeping a few general safety tips in mind can help him or her execute the maneuver as safely as possible.
Make Yourself Visible
Wearing bright, reflective clothing is a good way to increase your visibility to other nearby drivers and help them notice you as soon as possible.
Wear Appropriate Safety Gear
Heavy boots, riding leathers, strong gloves, and a Department of Transportation-approved motorcycle helmet greatly reduce your risk of serious injuries in the event of an accident.
Maintain Situational Awareness
Do not become distracted while riding so you can quickly adjust to changing traffic patterns.
Avoid Using Drugs or Alcohol Before Riding
Doing so is not only illegal but also extremely dangerous and will make it much more difficult to execute potentially risky maneuvers like lane-splitting.
Only Lane-Split When Necessary
If you notice an aggressive driver or a driver who may be intoxicated, you should try to avoid that driver as much as possible. Lane-splitting can be a quick and effective method for avoiding other dangerous drivers, but you should not lane-split to simply weave around slower-moving traffic.
California does not allow or prohibit lane-splitting; it is up to every driver and motorcyclist to use good judgment in changing traffic conditions and execute maneuvers as safely as possible. If lane-splitting contributes to an accident in any way, it is possible the lane-splitting rider could face legal penalties for doing so, but state laws will not have the same level of bearing on the case as they would in other states with provisions against lane-splitting.