It’s a common misconception that you’re always safer riding in a car than you are riding a motorcycle. The fact is, the roads can be dangerous for everyone. Case in point: as of 2015, there were about 1.7 million rear-end collisions in the U.S. every year. And while anyone can be rear-ended, safe lane splitting can help a motorcycle rider avoid many, if not most, of these situations.
Here are the basic lane splitting guidelines you need to know as a rider.
“Lane splitting,” also called “white lining” and “lane sharing,” just means riding a motorcycle between rows of traffic. This practice is frequently debated, even among riders, and its legality is often misunderstood—even by certain members of the law enforcement community. So let’s start by answering the two most common questions that arise concerning lane splitting: (1) is it legal; and (2) is it safe?
Is lane splitting legal?
There is no statute in California that makes lane splitting either legal or illegal. However, as of January 1, 2017, section 21658.1(a) of the California Vehicle Code defines lane splitting as follows: “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.”
Section 21658.1(b) and (c) say that the CHP can develop safety guidelines for lane splitting, and cites resources for them to use as they do that. Therefore, although there is no explicit statement that lane splitting is legal, there is no prohibition, and there are explicit statements about making it safer. Furthermore, previous to this section being added to the code, the CHP Frequently Asked Questions page stated: “Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.” This was echoed in guidelines from 2013.
For all of these reasons, lane splitting appears to be legal. If you are cited, you can and should fight it—but only if none of your other activities were illegal! Remember, lane splitting is not a license to speed, make unsafe lane changes, or otherwise violate traffic regulations, so be careful. And remember, in every other state lane splitting is illegal, so if you’re on a road trip, keep this in mind.
Is lane splitting safe?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Motorcycle Industry Council, and expert research from the University of California, Berkeley among other sources, yes. Starting in 1981 the U.S. government has recognized research showing that lane splitting reduces exposure to collisions for motorcycle riders. In 2015, another landmark study from the University of California, Berkeley was released that shows that lane splitting is safe for motorcycle riders, and in fact is often safer than waiting in traffic, for several reasons:
- Compared with other riders, lane splitting riders rode more often on weekdays and during commute hours, wore better helmets, and rode at lower speeds.
- Lane splitting riders were less likely to use alcohol and ride, and less likely to have a passenger.
- Lane splitting riders were injured much less often during collisions.
- Lane splitting riders suffered fewer head injuries (9% vs 17%), torso injuries (19% vs 29%), extremity injuries (60% vs 66%), and fatal injuries (1.2% vs 3.0%) than riders who waited in lanes in traffic.
The bottom line? If you are in traffic that’s moving slow, at 50 miles per hour or less, and you don’t go more than 15 miles per hour faster than the cars around you, you’re safer splitting lanes. Those lane splitting riders who do run into problems are lane splitting in fast-moving traffic or going much faster than the surrounding traffic.