Lane Splitting in California
Here in California, we’re allowed to lane split because we’re not specifically told we can’t. If you’ve been following along with the legal happenings, you may be aware of AB 51, which would codify the act of lane splitting and finally provide some legal guidelines. As it stands, lane splitting in California falls into a legal grey area – it isn’t actually defined by the law in any direction.
That’s a good thing for riders; if it isn’t defined, it isn’t breaking the law. The problem is that the lack of legal language allows a plethora of misconceptions to develop about lane splitting.
If the legal language was in the books, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would then have to educate all licensed drivers and riders on the matter. If the rest of the world can lanes split and has done so since the beginning of motorized transportation, I’m sure we’d be able to work it out in the United States.
But let’s get back on track – last year, AB 51 was going to codify lane splitting up 50 mph within a speed delta of 15 mph. In other words, you would not be able to lane split if traffic were moving above 50 mph, and you wouldn’t be allowed to ride 15 mph faster than traffic that is moving at the given time.
Personally speaking, that seemed reasonable. I generally use lane splitting to filter through slow traffic, so those speed limitations didn’t seem to hurt. However, that wasn’t an opinion shared by some other riders in California.
How did they come up with the speed limits for AB 51? From a study done by Dr. Tom Rice of UC Berkeley / SafeTREC, which can be read in full at Lane Splitting is Legal.
AB 51 was expected to get voted on last year, but was pulled by its main supporter, California State Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), because “Lane splitting is a very complex issue and the author feels he needs more time to work out the details so that it’s more likely to be signed.” At the time, the bill had passed the state Assembly and was on its way to the California Senate floor.
A few days ago, this iteration of the bill appeared on Lane Splitting is Legal, a website that advocates for lane splitting.
As you can see, the bill has now been amended in its purest from, or rather, what we know it to be as of now – simply riding between cars. But more importantly, education on the matter will now be established between the DMV, Department of Transportation (DOT), The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and “a motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.”
As motorcyclists, we consider this a major home run. So if you’re a California resident, reach out to your representatives and try to get them on board with the newly improved AB 51. Even if you’re not a California resident, we strongly encourage you to contact our representatives.
Is there a catch? Not in the current wording of the bill. None. Let’s be absolutely clear on that point. It retains the spirit of lane splitting in California, in that it is up to us to do it in a safe manner. Don’t drag this down into a sour political debate regarding your own opinions; this law could potentially protect riders in court.
But even if AB 51 doesn’t pass, remember that you can still be ticketed for lane splitting – not for the act itself, but by doing so in an unsafe matter such as speeding.