Lane-Splitting: Part 1

This topic may seem irrelevant on this very rainy Wednesday in December, as my motorcycle sits hidden away in my garage in Pasadena. I didn't want to be on the road at all today, much less jump on the bike. Even in my more daring, much younger days, when I argued that, "hey, that's why God invented rain suits," I still avoided lane-splitting on a day like this. Nonetheless, I anticipate a dozen or more blog entries on this topic in 2011, so I thought I might as well get a jump on it. Consider this an introduction on the topic, with more to come in future posts about the safety issues, legality, and ongoing debate about lane-splitting.

When I was in law school, I rode my motorcycle every day, rain or shine, through the heavy San Francisco traffic. For the rest of the past decade, I've ridden it just about every day to work, whether that commute was through five miles of Orange County traffic, or a horrific twenty-five mile commute through downtown Los Angeles. Thankfully, these days I live just three short miles from my office. But regardless of the distance, I would rarely shy away from lane splitting. After all, who likes sitting, roasting in the hot sun, bored to death, waiting to move two car lengths every five minutes? Especially when there's a wide-open lane, just inviting my motorcycle to get going.

I will admit it again: Yes, despite my constant work with injured motorcyclists, I am a lane splitter. "Lane splitting," also known as "lane sharing" or "white lining," is the practice of riding between rows of traffic. Although illegal in most states, it is legal in California,* and most of the rest of the world. Now honestly, I don't recommend it. But I still do it. In fact, I don't recommend riding a motorcycle in heavy Los Angeles or San Francisco or San Diego traffic EVER, especially if you are inexperienced as a rider. But . . . I do it.

The practice of lane splitting is much maligned as dangerous, crazy, irresponsible, unfair, etc. Many a cager (aka car driver) feels that "if we have to wait in traffic, motorcyclists should, too." This, of course, is a silly argument against it. But if it really is that dangerous, maybe it should be illegal, right? As a motorcycle accident attorney, I have encountered surprisingly few motorcycle accidents that were the result of a lane-splitting biker. And in each of those cases, other factors were also involved, such as alcohol or excessive speed. In fact, I would be very-much surprised if sitting in stop-and-go traffic was any safer than (slowly and carefully) riding between lanes. Plenty of motorcycle accidents have happened to bikers who were just sitting at traffic lights or waiting in a line of cars.

In fact, according to the SF Gate, a USC study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that lane splitting is actually safer than sitting in stop-and-go traffic, where bikers are far more likely to be “sandwiched'' between two cars.

“For a motorcyclist, that's the safest place to be,'' Professor Harry Hurt said shortly after releasing his study. “A lot of people think it's a hazard, but the cold, hard facts are that it's not.''

I will continue to lane split as long as it's legal in California. But I never do so when traffic is moving at high speeds. And I never do so at more than 10-15 miles faster than the flow of traffic. The truth is, we all know that riding a motorcycle comes with inherent dangers. But those dangers can be decreased with appropriate safety precautions. Depending on traffic conditions and a rider's experience and skill level, one such precaution may be to avoid lane splitting altogether.

There are tons of drivers out there who don't see us. Either because they are texting, fiddling with their radio, talking on their phone, or otherwise not paying attention. If we're riding between lanes, faster than the flow of traffic, it's no different. Whether we choose to lane split or not, we need to take precautions to ride safely, and within our skill level. Part of that is avoiding excessive speed, and to always be attentive of what's going on around you. "It wasn't my fault" won't put you back together if some careless driver injures you in a motorcycle accident. The attorneys at Riderz Law are happy to represent you in a motorcycle accident, but we would much prefer that you never need us. We may be lawyers, but we are motorcyclists first.

Ride safe, and stay sunny-side up.

(For a continued discussion of this topic, see our posts, Is Lane Splitting Legal? and Is Lane Splitting Safe?)

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*According the to CHP's website, "Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner."

2 replies
  1. Safi
    Safi says:

    I was just researching whether or not lane splitting is legal and came across this article. Very well written, and helpful.
    I was trying to look for a date at which this article was written just to compare with the other results from my search, but i didn’t find one.
    What i was specifically searching for is the links from this article. The link that says “….Legal in California…” and points to “” seems to have been removed by the CHP. I was just wondering, did they make it illegal to split lanes? or did they just move the page?
    In any case, my search continues.
    Thank you very much for the very informative article. Please reply if you have an updated link from CHP or if the rules have changed.
    Thanks again.:-)


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