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Lane Splitting Expected to Become Legal in California

California is expected to become the first state in the country to formalize the practice of lane splitting for motorcyclists. Last week, state assembly members passed a bill authorizing the California Highway Patrol to establish guidelines for motorcyclists on how to do it safely. The bill, sponsored by Assembly member Bill Quirk, passed on August 4, 2016 with a 69-0 vote. Only one step remains. The bill goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his signatures. Quirk said the proposed law has had many positives including reducing traffic congestion and promoting safety.

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is a practice where motorcyclists pass other vehicles by riding between them along the lane line. This has been a hot issue in the state because it has been neither legal nor illegal to do so in California. Lane splitting by motorcyclists has been treated as acceptable by law enforcement agencies. Last year, when CHP published safety tips on its website on lane splitting, a citizen complained that the agency should not be allowed to make policy and that it should be the job of lawmakers. That’s how this bill, AB 51, was born.

How the Bill Evolved

The original proposed bill stated that lane splitting could be done legally when a motorcycle was moving no more than 15 mph faster than the traffic around it. That version of the bill also prohibited lane splitting at speeds above 50 mph. The bill was protested by some motorcycle groups that said the speed limit was too low and by opponents of the practice who said lane splitting was dangerous under any circumstances. The revised bill has removed the language about speed and just defined “lane,” leaving the rest to the CHP.

Splitting Lanes Safely

Here are some of the tips the CHP offers when it comes to lane splitting:

• Travel at a speed no more than 10 mph faster than other traffic. Danger increases at higher speed differentials.
• It is not advisable to split lanes when traffic is going at 30 mph or faster. Danger also increases as overall speed increases.
• It is safer to split between lanes 1 and 2 than between other lanes.
• Before you split lanes, take the whole environment into consideration including the width of the lanes, the size of the surrounding vehicles and roadway, weather and lighting conditions.
• Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other motorists on the road.

Motorists for their part should share the road responsibly with motorcyclists. They have a duty to consciously look out for motorcyclists before changing lanes or making other maneuvers on the roadway. As California motorcycle accident attorneys, we hope that this new law makes our roadways safer for motorcyclists.

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