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Is lane-splitting legal in California?

The last post on this blog discussed the circumstances of a motorcycle accident in which the cyclist's passenger was killed. The police report stated that the cyclist had been "lane-splitting" just before the accident. The legality of lane-splitting has stirred much debate among the California Highway Patrol, the state legislature, motorcycle clubs and others. As the result of this debate, the question that provides the title for this post does not have a clear answer.

Most California motorists and motorcyclists understand lane-splitting as driving the bike between two lanes of moving traffic, traveling on or close to the markings that separate traffic lanes. The motorcycle's narrow profile allows it to pass between two lines of automobiles traveling in the some direction. The relative safety of this practice obviously decreases as the speed of traffic and the bike increases.

All parties to the debate over lane-splitting agree on one point: the legislature has never explicitly made lane splitting illegal. After this conclusion, opinions diverge. One group, Lane Splitting Is Legal, takes the position that lane-splitting is NOT illegal in California but that it should be done only in a "safe and prudent manner." The group does not, however define this term. In the summer of 2014, the California Highway Patrol announced guidelines for lane-splitting, but public objection to the promulgation of the guidelines without a public hearing caused them to be withdrawn. In February 2015, a new bill was introduced in the legislature to make lane-splitting legal when traffic is moving at 30 mph or slower and the cyclist does not drive more than 10 mph faster than the adjacent cars. The bill is moving through the legislature and appears to have broad support in both houses, but it has drawn opposition from some motorcycle groups who believe that such a law cannot be enforced.

The debate over lane-splitting is likely to continue. In the meantime, cyclists will continue to drive their bikes between traffic lanes on the state's freeways. Any person who has been injured in a motorcycle accident involving lane-splitting, or has lost a loved one in such a mishap, may want to consult a lawyer who specializes in motorcycle accident litigation. Such an attorney can provide a helpful review of the facts of the accident and a knowledgeable opinion about which parties, including the lane-splitting motorcyclist, may be liable for damages.

Source: Lane Splitting is Legal in California, "Lane Splitting is Legal in California," accessed on May 16, 2015

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