Lane Splitting Is Now Legal in CA - But Is it Safe?

With the signing of A.B. 51 into law by Governor Jerry Brown on August 19th, 2016, California is now the first state to legally recognize “lane splitting,” or the popular practice in which motorcyclists ride between lanes of traffic. The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblymembers Bill Quirk and Tom Lackey, formally approves the practice and gives the California Highway Patrol the ability to create and disseminate lane-splitting safety guidelines in consultation with motorcycle riders and safety groups.

Lane splitting has been widely used by motorcyclists for decades as a means of easing traffic congestion and eliminating riders’ exposure to rear-end collisions. Many other states, including Nevada, Georgia, Washington, Oregon, and Texas, have considered passing similar legislation in the past two years to formally recognize lane splitting, with restrictions.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

According to studies of motorcycle collisions by the University of California at Berkeley, splitting lanes is a relatively safe maneuver when both the motorcyclist and other drivers obey the rules of the road and adhere to safe driving practices. In the same study, however, it was revealed that 997 of the 5,969 studied motorcycle accidents involved lane splitting – equating to roughly 17 percent.

The study reveals that lane splitting puts riders closer to other vehicles than they otherwise would, reducing the time riders have to identify and react to hazards on the road. On the contrary, supporters of lane splitting point to another part of the study which found that bikers who lane split are considerably less likely to suffer a head injury, torso injury, extremity injury, and fatal injury than riders who were not lane splitting. Interestingly enough, however, California does not formally track how often traffic accidents involve lane splitting.

Regardless of whether you choose to lane split or not, there are several things you can do to minimize your risk of being involved in a motorcycle accident:

  • Do everything you can to remain visible to other drivers
  • Stay in the mix with cars during busy urban traffic
  • Keep your eye on vehicles that are positioned to violate your right of way
  • Slow down when approaching turns
  • Never drink and ride

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