California lane splitting, driver alerts get attention at statehouse

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/11/2014

Truckers driving in California experience a lot of things that aren’t typical elsewhere. One example is motorcyclists who ride between lanes of freeway traffic to bypass congestion.

The Golden State is the only place in the country that allows so-called lane splitting with motorcycles. State law does not address the practice.

Until this summer, the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Motor Vehicles posted on their websites and provided printed materials informing motorcyclists about the safety guidelines for the practice. The information was removed after a complaint that the guidelines could be misinterpreted as enforceable laws.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, wants to address that concern. The incoming Assembly Public Safety Committee chairman has filed a bill for consideration during the upcoming regular session that would set guidelines for lane splitting.

Motorcycles would be authorized to be driven between rows of stopped or slowed vehicles in the same direction if the speed of traffic is 35 mph or less. However, motorcycles could be driven no more than 10 mph in excess of the speed of traffic.

Supporters say that lane splitting saves motorcyclists time and fuel. They also point out that it helps many motorcycles avoid overheating while sitting in traffic.

The bill, AB51, can be considered when state lawmakers return to the Capitol on Jan. 5, 2015.

Another road safety issue that is likely to be discussed in Sacramento in the months ahead involves hit-and-run incidents.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, is back with his bill to include hit-and-run vehicles in the state’s emergency alert program. The program posts descriptions of vehicles and license plates on freeway signs in certain situations, including child abductions.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the same bill during the fall. He cited concerns about adding alerts that could “overload the system.”

A “Yellow Alert” system would alert the public about vehicles suspected in hit-and-run incidents and encourage drivers to report the vehicles. The system would be activated by law enforcement when a hit-and-run results in death or serious bodily injury, and a sufficient description of the vehicle is available.

Gatto cited the success of a similar alert system in Denver, Colo. He said the program helped achieve a 76 percent arrest rate.

“Continuing to allow hit-and-run victims to suffer without hope of solving these crimes is unacceptable,” Gatto said in a statement. “We need to step-up our efforts to catch these criminals and hold them accountable.”

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