Is Lane Splitting Legal in California?

Author: Mesriani Law Group
Posted on: August 23, 2022

Riding a motorcycle can be a great way to explore the open roads of California and throughout the United States. However, it’s important for motorcyclists to obey all traffic and safety laws while riding. Although there is no federal law for lane splitting in the United States, each state has its own motorcycle laws including a popular yet controversial motorcycling technique called lane splitting.

Right now, California remains the only state in the country that allows lane splitting. In August 2016, California became the first state in the country to pass a law that legally defined lane splitting (also referred to as lane sharing) in its vehicle code. Although Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, and Utah are also considering lane sharing laws, lane splitting is still not legal in those states.

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting also referred to as lane sharing, refers to a technique where a motorcyclist rides between the lanes of traffic that’s either moving slowly or stopped. In California, you can legally ride on the dotted line between two lanes on a highway with two or more lanes where traffic is moving in the same direction. When done correctly, studies have shown that lane splitting can also reduce traffic and road accidents.

Studies have also shown that, when done correctly, lane splitting is a safe way to drive and can reduce traffic and road accidents. When done recklessly or incorrectly lane splitting can be extremely dangerous, and the utmost caution should be exercised when using this technique on the roads.  Inexperienced riders should not engage in lane splitting as the risk of serious injury or death during a lane-splitting crash increase as speed increases.

Lane Splitting Laws in California

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has developed lane safety guidelines for drivers and motorcyclists.

Section 21658.1 (a) was added to the California Vehicle Code. According to this law, lane splitting is defined “as driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.

(b) The Department of the California Highway Patrol may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles.

(c) In developing guidelines pursuant to this section, the department shall consult with agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior, including, but not limited to:

(1) The Department of Motor Vehicles.

(2) The Department of Transportation.

(3) The Office of Traffic Safety.

(4) A motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.””

Where is Lane Splitting Legal?

Even though lane splitting has been deemed legal in California, there are certain restrictions that are in place that are designed to ensure the safety of motorists.

For example, riding on the shoulder of a freeway or road is illegal since it is not considered being in between 2 lanes. It is also not recommended that motorcyclists share lanes next to any large vehicles including motorhomes or semi-trucks. Splitting lanes when road, lighting, and weather conditions are dangerous is also not legal due to the higher likelihood of causing an accident. Riders must also take things like the width of lanes into consideration when splitting lanes. Only lane share when it is safe to do so.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

A study by researchers from UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) found that only about 17% of motorcycle accidents involved lane-splitting.

The study was based on motorcycle-involved traffic collisions data in California from June 2012 through August 2013 and showed that only 997 out of about 6,000 accidents reported by the CHP involved lane-splitting at the time of the crash.

The research also showed that when lane-splitting, motorcyclists are most often involved in collisions when the rider is traveling too fast while attempting to change lanes. However, if a rider splits lanes in traffic moving at 50 mph or less and doesn’t exceed the speed of other nearby vehicles by more than 15 mph, lane splitting can be relatively safe. The same research data from UC Berkeley showed that lane-splitting riders were more likely to wear better helmets, travel at lower speeds, and ride during commute hour and weekdays compared to other motorcyclists.

Lane Splitting Dangers

Although lane splitting can be safe when done correctly, it can still be very dangerous. Lane splitting should not be attempted by inexperienced motorcyclists and extreme caution should always be used.

The risk of a serious injury or death increases during a lane-splitting crash as speed and speed differential increase. There are some general safety tips that can help riders stay safe but does not and cannot guarantee safety. Ultimately, every motorcyclist is responsible for their own safety and well-being while on the road.

Lane Splitting Tips

Riders should follow all traffic safety laws to keep themselves and other motorists safe when lane splitting. Additionally, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when splitting lanes in Los Angeles or anywhere throughout California:

  • When lane splitting, consider the environment including the current weather conditions, lighting conditions, roadway conditions, size of surrounding vehicles, and width of lanes.
  • The risk of serious injury or death increases at higher speed differentials, so it is not recommended that motorcyclists travel at a speed more than 10 mph faster than other traffic.
  • The risk of serious injury or death increases as overall speed increases, so lane splitting is not recommended when the traffic flow is going 30 mph or faster.
  • It is generally safer to split lanes between the far-left lanes compared to the other traffic lanes.
  • Avoid splitting lanes next to larger vehicles such as buses, motorhomes, big rigs, garbage trucks, flatbed trucks, or semi-trailer trucks.
  • Do not ride on the shoulder; this is against the law and is not considered lane splitting.
  • Avoid staying in the blind spots of other drivers and avoid lingering between vehicles. Stay as visible as possible to keep yourself self.
  • Wear brightly colored or reflective protective gear to help other drivers see you more easily. Use high beams during the day.
  • Avoid lane splitting near freeway exits or on-ramps.

Riders should do their part to keep themselves and others safe while sharing the road. Most motorcycle crashes happen when other drivers don’t see the motorcyclist. In addition to the tips listed above, riders should also check their blind spots and mirrors frequently, especially before making a turn or changing lanes.

Why Did CA Legalize Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting was originally allowed as a way to help reduce traffic congestion on California’s busy highways. After the results of a study from UC Berkeley concluding that lane-splitting can be relatively safe, California legislation decided the improvement in traffic caused by lane splitting was enough to warrant the shift in motorcycle laws. According to the study, riders can split lanes relatively safely if they do so at less than 15 mph relative to the speeds of nearby vehicles and at the speed of 50 mph or less in moving traffic.

Why is Lane Splitting Legal in California Only?

Although states such as Montana and Utah have laws that allow for lane filtering, currently, California is the only state where splitting lanes isn’t against the law.

Lane splitting is legal in California because the state recognizes this practice as a useful tool to decrease traffic congestion since the volume of traffic is much higher than in other states. As of 2021, Los Angeles is ranked as the sixth most congested urban area in the United States.  On average, a study found that Los Angeles commuters lost 62 hours in traffic; that’s about double the national average of 36 hours. With lane splitting, the motorcyclist isn’t taking up a vehicle space on the road because they are sharing the lane with another driver or driving between the lane. Essentially, lane splitting reduces the number of vehicles in a freeway lane and results in less overall traffic for California drivers. Other states may not have legalized lane splitting since there is less traffic.

Can Lane Splitting Affect a Motorcycle Accident Claim?

Yes, lane splitting can affect a California motorcycle accident claim. Since California is a pure comparative negligence state (meaning that when an accident happens, the fault of each party involved is based on their individual contribution to the accident), the defendant will have the right to allege that the plaintiff was partially at fault for their injuries. If the judge or jury finds that the plaintiff was partially responsible for causing his or her own injuries, the amount of damages recovered would be reduced proportionally based on their percentage of fault.

If you were involved in a motorcycle accident while lane splitting according to traffic laws, you might not be at fault for the accident. However, if the defendant can prove that you broke a law such as speeding, driving recklessly, or weaving between cars, he or she might convince the court that you were partially at fault for the accident. For example, if you were found to be 25% at fault, your total compensation would be reduced by 25%. In that scenario, you would end up receiving less compensation since you were also found to be responsible for the crash.

Keep in mind that since lane splitting is legal in California, other vehicle drivers must also respect motorists on the road. For example, CHP guidelines state that intentionally impeding or blocking a motorcyclist in a way that could cause injury or harm to the rider is illegal. Additionally, opening a car door to block a motorcyclist is illegal. California drivers in the far-left lane must move to the left of their lane to allow motorcyclists enough room to pass.

CHP guidelines also state that whether you are on a motorcycle or driving a car, all motorists should be courteous and share the road. Always signal your intentions before merging with traffic or changing lanes. Check blind spots and mirrors before turning or changing lanes. And never ride or drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or fatigue.

Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Have Been in a Motorcycle Accident Due to Lane Splitting

Getting into a motorcycle accident due to lane splitting can be extremely traumatizing. If you or a loved one were injured by a negligent driver in Los Angeles or anywhere in California, it is important to contact an experienced Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyer as soon as possible. Our law firm has over 20 years of experience helping motorcycle victims obtain justice and the maximum compensation for their injuries. We accept clients on a contingency basis meaning that if we don’t win your case, you don’t owe us anything. There are strict deadlines for filing claims in California so don’t hesitate and call us today at (866) 500-7070 for your free consultation.

Lane Splitting FAQs

Why is it legal to lane split in California?

Lane splitting is legal in California because the state recognizes this practice as a useful tool to decrease traffic congestion since the volume of traffic is much higher than in other states. As of 2021, Los Angeles is ranked as the sixth most congested urban area in the United States. On average, a study found that Los Angeles commuters lost 62 hours in traffic; that’s about double the national average of 36 hours. With lane splitting, the motorcyclist isn’t taking up a vehicle space on the road because they are sharing the lane with another driver or driving between the lane.

Is lane splitting in CA illegal?

Currently, California is the only state in the country that allows lane splitting. In August 2016, California became the first state in the country to pass a law that legally defined lane splitting (also referred to as lane sharing) in its vehicle code. California was also the first state to remove the language in state law that made lane splitting illegal. Although Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, and Utah are considering lane sharing laws, lane splitting is still not legal in those states.

At what speed can you split lanes in California?

California Highway Patrol guidelines state that motorcyclists should only split lanes when the flow of traffic is at speed limits of 30 mph (miles per hour) or less as danger increases as overall speed increases. Motorcyclists also should not travel more than 10 mph faster than the vehicles around them since danger increases at higher speed differentials. Additionally, the law states that no rider should drive at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent with regard to various conditions including visibility and weather.

What lanes can you split in California?

In California, motorcyclists can split lanes between rows of stopped or slow-moving vehicles in the same lane, including on divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways. In other words, riders can lane split between the lanes of traffic that are either moving slowly or stopped. Riders can legally ride on the dotted line between two lanes on a highway with two or more lanes where traffic is moving in the same direction.