Why Lane Splitting is Legal in California

The Californian published an article yesterday about "lane splitting"...


"Lane splitting" is what someone does when he or she rides their motorcycle in between slow-moving cars on a freeway. The article says that this practice goes way back to the days when all motorcycles had air-cooled engines, and needed to keep moving to prevent overheating.

I suppose there's some truth to that, though today, many air-cooled motorcycles don't overheat when stopped on freeways.

The reason why California remains as the only state in the union to allow lane-splitting is because of safety.

Several years ago, lawmakers in Sacramento drafted a bill to make lane-splitting illegal, thinking it would save more lives. However, the California Highway Patrol lobbied against the bill, on grounds that it cause more bikers to die.

That is, if motorcyclists were forced to wait behind slow moving or stopped vehicles, they run the risk of getting rear-ended by other vehicles. This happens all too often on freeways, where drivers fail to pay attention to stopped traffic up ahead. Rear ending a motorcycle is almost always fatal for the biker.

That's why the CHP wants bikers to split lanes, to protect them from drivers not paying attention.

The CHP used accident fatality data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to show that a frequent cause of deaths in motorcycle accidents in other states are car drivers rear-ending motorcycles.

That's why the California State Legislature changed its mind and allowed lane-splitting to remain legal.

I put about 30,000 miles each year on my two motorcycles. I've witnessed many "rear-end" accidents between two cars on the freeway. When a car gets rear-ended, the driver usually survives. But when it happens to a motorcycle, the biker almost always dies. If lane-splitting were legal in all 50 states, a lot more people would be alive today.


  1. It's hard to believe there are zero comments in response to this entry, not even from car drivers who don't understand and will rant and rave about how unsafe the practice is, blah blah blah.

    So here's my response: right on target.

    You should also mention that there would be a lot more motorcyclists in other states if they also took away the prohibitions to lane sharing. Driving a narrow vehicle at a steady and predictable pace through traffic of all kinds is one of my main reasons to bicycle and motorcycle. Stuck in traffic almost never applies.

    BTW, some times when it does apply is when somebody in front of me lane splitting is blocking the way. Please use courtesy and get back in line to allow overtaking biker to come on through.

    -- Trevor

  2. I have been told by a traffic cop (when I asked about lane splitting) that while it is technically legal to do so, if there is an accident because of the lane splitting, the motorcycle will be found at fault because there is also a law about only one vehicle occupying a space at a time. Did the CHP address that issue at all? Also, as a car driver, not a motorcycle rider (though my husband is), I would like to tell motorcyclists to please keep in mind that when a bike buzzes past your window it can cause quite a scare.

  3. I know I'm kinda late on this, but let me give you the law and reasoning behind the "at faut" issue from me as a motorcycle officer. Basically, splitting is legal because the vehicle code authorizes 2 vehicles to drive side by side in a lane wide enough for the 2 lines of traffic. Essentially, if you can fit 2 big rigs in 1 lane, they can drive side by side. That's also why its legal to squeeze in between another car and the curb when making a right turn.

    Now, if you're splitting and move back and forth between 2 lanes, you have to use your signal before crossing the lane lines.

    On the part of being at fault for accidents, it's simple. Even though it's legal to split lanes, it may not be safe to do so. You can't drive faster than the speed limit. The basic speed law also says you can't drive at a speed that's unsafe for conditions. So, if you get in an accident, the cause will most likely be unsafe speed.

  4. Lane splitting is wreckless and unnecessary. Lane splitting isnt two vehicles sharing one lane, they r driving down the line, if there is any wrecks because of lane splitting the bike should always be at fault, just plain dumb