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Understanding California "Lane Splitting" Laws

In California, motorcyclists are legally permitted to ride between two lanes of cars -- a practice known as "lane-splitting." California is the only state in the U.S. that has explicitly legalized lane-splitting. However, while lane-splitting is sanctioned by state law, it can have significant implications in the event of an accident. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the laws governing lane-splitting in California.

Understanding Lane-Splitting in California

Lane-splitting involves operating a motorcycle between lanes of traffic, whether these vehicles are stationary or in motion. California's Vehicle Code Section 21658.1 clearly defines and sanctions this activity. Motorcyclists often resort to lane-splitting during heavy traffic, utilizing the narrow gaps between cars to advance.

The safety implications of lane-splitting are a topic of debate. Critics argue it elevates the risk of collisions due to close proximity between vehicles and reduced reaction times. However, some studies indicate that lane-splitting, particularly at lower speeds, may actually decrease the chances of rear-end collisions and certain injuries to motorcyclists.

California's Legal Stance on Lane-Splitting

California officially legalized lane-splitting in 2016. Motorcyclists engaging in this practice must adhere to specific guidelines set by the California Highway Patrol (CHP):

  1. Lane-split only if traffic is moving at 30 mph or less.

  2. The motorcyclist's speed should not exceed the surrounding traffic by more than 10 mph.

  3. Lane-splitting on road shoulders is prohibited.

  4. Avoid lane-splitting near large vehicles like semi-trucks, buses, or RVs, as well as in curves and near on-ramps or exits.

While lane-splitting is lawful, reckless driving can still result in a citation. Additionally, motorists are reminded not to obstruct motorcyclists legally lane-splitting.

Liability in Lane-Splitting Accidents

In California, a fault-based system is applied to road accidents, meaning the responsible party bears the liability. Since lane-splitting is not an infraction in California, fault cannot be automatically attributed to a lane-splitting motorcyclist in an accident.

Fault is determined based on the circumstances of the accident. For instance, a motorcyclist speeding excessively while lane-splitting may be deemed reckless. Conversely, a car driver intentionally obstructing a lane-splitting motorcyclist could be found in violation of the law.

California's comparative negligence rule may result in shared liability among all parties contributing to an accident. For example, a motorcyclist might be 60% at fault, with a car driver bearing 40% responsibility for the same incident.

FAQs on Lane-Splitting in California

  • Is there a speed limit for lane-splitting? While no specific speed limit is set for lane-splitting, CHP guidelines restrict it to scenarios where traffic moves at or below 30 mph, and the motorcyclist’s speed cannot exceed that of the surrounding traffic by more than 10 mph.

  • Can lane-splitting occur on roads with a line? Yes, lane-splitting is permissible on both divided and undivided lanes in California.

  • Does insurance cover lane-splitting accidents? Yes, standard accident insurance policies in California cover lane-splitting accidents since the practice is legal. However, determining fault can be complex, often requiring legal expertise.

In conclusion, while lane-splitting is a legally recognized practice in California, it carries certain risks and responsibilities. Motorcyclists and drivers alike must understand and adhere to the legal guidelines to ensure safety and compliance. In the event of an accident involving lane-splitting, it is imperative to seek legal advice from a seasoned personal injury attorney, like those at Phillips & Associates.


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