California’s AB 51 Has Passed!

AB 51 passes in californiaCalifornia’s Lane-splitting law, AB 51, has been signed by Governor Jerry Brown. The announcement came via press release from the office of California Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D). AB 51 has had long journey, and for those who haven’t been following its adventure, let’s just go over the basics.

AB 51 address an education problem with lane-splitting, which, until now, was not addressed legally. Though it has been practiced in California for decades, there has been much confusion surrounding it – namely the legitimacy of the act.

Now, agencies such as the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Department of Transportation (DOT), The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), and “a motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety,” have the authority to publish guidelines regarding lane-splitting, consequently solidifying its place as a legal action while out on the road.

To be clear, AB 51 does not impact lane-splitting in California, as we know it. AB 51 only describes what lane-splitting is–operating a motorcycle in between rows of cars or stopped traffic. Originally, the bill had clauses that stipulated various speeds, but the original draft of AB 51 was tossed aside and a version free of speed restrictions was put forward. This unrestricted version of the bill that has just been passed.

For more detailed information, please refer to the complete press release from the office of Bill Quirk:

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Quirk (D-Hayward) and Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R- Palmdale) have successfully granted the California Highway Patrol (CHP) authority to develop educational guidelines on lane splitting.

Lane splitting, which occurs when a motorcycle drives between rows of stopped or moving traffic, is a gray area in California law. This is because statute is silent – California does not explicitly allow it, but also doesn’t explicitly prohibit this behavior.

Recognizing the need to develop guidelines as an education tool for drivers, the CHP convened a committee of traffic safety stakeholders and motorcycle safety experts in 2012. However, an individual filed a complaint that the guidelines were underground regulations. At the suggestion of counsel, CHP removed the guidelines from its website and the Department of Motor Vehicles removed them from the Motorcycle Handbook.

“Removal of the guidelines left a huge gap with regards to traffic safety. CHP had to curtail all education and outreach efforts on lane splitting,” Assemblymember Quirk explained. Last year he partnered with Assemblymember Lackey, a retired California Highway Patrolman, to introduce Assembly Bill (AB) 51.

AB 51 clarifies that the CHP does have authority to develop educational guidelines on lane splitting. It further asks that they convene a group of stakeholders to provide their expert opinion in the drafting of the guidelines. “There are motorcyclists that lane split safely and others that disregard all safety considerations – those are the drivers this bill will help the most,” Assemblymember Quirk stated.

“California took a groundbreaking step today as the first state to formally allow motorcycle lane splitting,” said Assemblymember Lackey. “More importantly, we are now giving riders and motorists clear guidance on when it is safe. This is a huge win for roadway safety.”  

“I am thrilled to see that California, is once again, at the forefront of common-sense road safety legislation. Signing of this bill will bring legitimacy to this practice and help to keep our roads safer and our drivers – both motorcyclists and motorists – better educated.” Assembly member Quirk commented upon learning his bill was signed.

Lane-splitting is an act performed all over the globe, in countries with population densities far greater than any major city in the United States. The widely accepted practices has benefits in the forms of lessening traffic congestion and more importantly, keeping motorcycle riders safe.

This is more than a win for motorcyclists in California; this is a precedent. Other states in the union now have a example of what can be achieved with positive legislation. This bill would not have passed successfully without the support of the motorcycling community at large.

Sources: The Office of California Assemblyman Bill Quirk

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