Motorcycle 'lane splitting' nears legalization in California

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/5/2016

The practice of driving motorcycles between lanes of California freeway traffic to bypass congestion could soon be legal.

California, often referred to as a motorcyclist mecca, is the only state in the country that allows so-called lane splitting with motorcycles. State law neither permits nor forbids the practice.

In 2013 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 soon removed after a complaint that the guidelines could be misinterpreted as enforceable laws.

Assembly lawmakers voted unanimously on Thursday, Aug. 4, to sign off on Senate changes to a bill to define lane splitting and set guidelines for the practice. The bill cleared the Senate on Monday by unanimous consent. AB51 now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, the bill would permit state police to develop educational guidelines related to lane splitting to help ensure the safety of motorcyclists and occupants of other vehicles.

Removed from the Assembly-approved version was language that set speed limits for motorcycles while lane splitting.

Advocates say lane splitting is beneficial because it saves motorcyclists time and fuel. They say the practice also helps many motorcycles avoid overheating while sitting in traffic.

A 2014 University of California, Berkeley study also found the practice helps to reduce congestion and keep roads safer.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, spent nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol. He recently told the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee the bill would help to ensure roadway safety while also allowing for the positive traffic benefits that lane splitting offers.

“Data is clear that lane splitting can increase the overall safety of motorcycle riders when done correctly because it helps minimize the threat of rear-impact collisions, which are far more dangerous for motorcyclists.”

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