Lane Splitting in California

There are numerous unique things about driving in California, and the law permitting motorcycles to lane-split is one of them. Drivers who visit California may be unnerved seeing motorcyclists speeding between lanes of travel, while resident Californians may simply be annoyed by the sight. 

Lane-splitting is not just something motorcyclists have a right to do. It is a feature of California roads that affects the rights and responsibilities of both motorcyclists and motorists. Failing to acknowledge and abide by these rights and responsibilities can lead to costly tickets and traffic collisions.

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane-splitting is the practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes of slower-moving cars and trucks moving in the same direction. It is sometimes referred to as “white lining” or “stripe-riding” because the motorcyclist uses the white lines separating one motor vehicle lane from another as the centerline of their own lane.

Lane Splitting vs. Lane Filtering: What’s the Difference? 

Lane-splitting is technically different from lane filtering. Lane filtering is a practice whereby motorcyclists and bicyclists filter to the front of a block of stopped traffic. 

For example, suppose there are dozens of cars backed up at a red light in a busy metropolitan area. Cyclists and bikers who use the space between stopped traffic to get to the front of the traffic block are filtering.

Lane Splitting in California

Although some Californians may believe lane splitting has always been legal, the practice was officially legalized in California on January 1, 2017. No other state has officially legalized lane splitting. Other states have either not addressed lane splitting in their laws or have explicitly made it illegal.

In California, lane splitting is defined as operating a motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving traffic traveling in the same lane, including on divided and undivided streets, roads, and highways. Thus, California’s statutes legalize not just lane splitting but lane filtering as well.

Lane-splitting has practical benefits for all drivers who use California’s roads. It reduces traffic congestion on some of the state’s busiest roads. Motorcyclists can better see the road ahead and safely navigate it, leaving lanes of traffic available for cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles. 

In 2015, the University of Berkley released a study that found lane splitting increased motorcyclist safety. Specifically, the report found that lane splitting in heavy traffic reduced the risk of motorcyclists being struck from behind, killed, or suffering head and body injuries. 

Rights and Responsibilities of Motorists and Motorcyclists

Lane splitting in California is not going away, despite how motorists might feel about the practice. Therefore, both motorists and motorcyclists must know what to expect from each other.

Lane Splitting from Motorcyclists’ Perspective

Motorcyclists who choose to lane split may do so between lanes of traffic proceeding in the same direction on any highway or road. There are no minimum or maximum speeds that apply to lane splitting other than those generally applicable to all traffic. 

While motorcyclists can split any lane of travel, they may not ride on the shoulder. They must also obey all other traffic laws regardless of whether they are lane-splitting.

Motorcyclists are also responsible for lane splitting safely by:

  • Being mindful of their speed and the speed of surrounding traffic
  • Remembering that lane-splitting dangers increase as vehicle speeds increase
  • Refraining from lane-splitting when driving next to large vehicles
  • Remaining visible to other traffic and not staying in blind spots
  • Wearing highly visible clothing while riding
  • Using turn signals to indicate intentions

Motorcyclists choose when to lane split. It is entirely optional. No law mandates that motorcyclists have to lane split under any circumstances. If you do not feel comfortable lane-splitting, there is no requirement that you must.

Dealing With Lane Splitting as a Motorist

As the driver of a car or truck in California, it is your responsibility to remember that motorcyclists are permitted to lane split. You may not block or impede a motorcyclist in any way, including by opening your door to obstruct a motorcyclist. Doing so is illegal and can cause serious injury or death to a motorcyclist who is lane-splitting.

Just as you should expect motorcyclists to lane split, you can legitimately expect that they follow all the rules of the road while doing so. This includes using turn or hand signals and not driving recklessly. A motorcyclist can still be liable for a crash if they operate their bike in a careless or reckless manner while lane-splitting.

Lane-Splitting Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility

Just because lane-splitting is legally recognized in California law does not make motorcyclists above the law. Both bikers and drivers have a responsibility to operate their respective vehicles in a safe and prudent manner. When this happens, both motorcyclists and motorists can experience the benefits of lane-splitting.

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