While newspapers and television stations often report that lane splitting is neither legal nor illegal in California, they are not exactly right. Lane splitting — that is, driving between lanes of traffic or sharing a lane with another vehicle — is banned, but only for “[f]ully enclosed 3-wheeled motor vehicles of specified dimensions.” (Cal. Veh. Code § 21714) The law is silent on the legality of motorcycles and lane splitting, though.
One state legislator was hoping to change that with a bill that would make lane splitting legal under some circumstances. The bill passed the Assembly but failed to make it out of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. It may or may not be reintroduced next year.
Under the bill, lane splitting would be permitted in traffic traveling no faster than 50 mph and for motorcyclists traveling no more than 15 mph faster than traffic. While motorcycle groups opposed the bill — it is unnecessary and restrictive, they said — an association of personal insurance providers in California supported the limits as one way to make the roads safer.
The speed limits were not plucked from thin air. Researchers with the University of California Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research & Education Center analyzed 12 months of crash data and found that the risk of injury and death was significantly lower when traffic speeds did not exceed 50 mph and when lane-splitting motorcycles moved no more than 15 mph faster than traffic. Overall, though, lane-splitting motorcyclists were less likely to be injured in an accident than non-lane-splitters.
Interestingly, the study found that lane-splitters are not your average motorcyclists, and the differences may explain the difference in injury frequency and severity. For example, lane splitters were more likely to be riding during the week, during commuter peaks and on highways. They tended, too, to wear better helmets and were less likely to drink and drive. The study also found that non-lane-splitting motorcyclists drove faster and were more likely to have a passenger than their lane-splitting counterparts.
California is not the only state to look at regulating lane splitting. If the bill were to pass next year, though, we could be the first to limit the practice rather than banning it outright.
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, “California motorcycle lane-splitting bill shelved for the year,” Jessica Calefati, July 8, 2015