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Lane Splitting – What’s the Law?

General September 20, 2021

Since the beginning of 2018, I have had more and more cases in which my client is simply commuting to work and lane splitting when a vehicle suddenly changes lanes directly into their path causing a violent broadside collision, an ejection from the bike and serious injuries. 

Then the CHP Traffic Collision Report concludes the motorcyclist is the “Primary Collision Factor” for riding in violation of the California Vehicle Code §22350- Unsafe Speed and, to add insult to injury, the CHP does not mention that state the suddenly turning car is even an “associated factor” for making an Unsafe Lane Change.      

So what exactly is the California law on lane splitting?

The Benefit:

As you are well aware, lane spitting reduces traffic commute times for riders and other drivers. It is also safer for bikers who can avoid being rear-ended by distracted drivers in stop and go traffic. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated lane splitting “offers a means of reducing congestion in addition to possible safety benefits.”

A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research & Education Center found that 17% of the 6,000 motorcycle accidents in California between 2012 and 2013 involved lane splitting at the time of their collision. That same study found that lane splitting was “relatively safe” if done in moving traffic at 50 mph or less and motorcycles don’t exceed other vehicle’s speed by 15 mph, that lane splitting motorcyclist were less likely to suffer head, torso and fatal injuries  but more than twice as likely to rear-end another vehicle. 

But the bottom line is that lane splitting takes another vehicle out of the line and improve traffic for all.

The Lane Splitting Law:

Lane splitting date back to the 1960’s when most motorcycle were air-cooled and would overheat in California notoriously bad “stop and go” traffic. The practice of lane splitting was never illegal in California.  It is the only state in country where lane splitting is legal. 

However, on August 19, 2016 California Vehicle Code §21658.1 (Assembly Bill 51) was officially enacted making lane splitting legal in California. The California Highway Patrol was instructed to develop “educational guidelines” for the safety of motorcyclist and drivers. So this did not actually change the law, it just empowered the CHP to make guidelines. 

In September 27, 2018, the CHP released “Lane Splitting Safety Tips” which begins with a BOLD Disclaimer that 

“Lane Splitting can be dangerous and extreme caution should be exercised’

The only “Tip” that refers to speed states:

“Danger increases at higher speed differentials”  

So according to Cycle World and others, the new law didn’t do much to actually set up real guidelines for lane splitting.  

The Bottom Line on Lane Splitting:

I believe that CHP Officers have “Marching Orders” from the Sacramento CHP Commanders to enforce the old (unapproved) A.B. 51 guidelines for motorcyclist:

  • Travel at a speed “no more than 10 MPH” faster than other traffic;
  • Not advisable to lane split when traffic flows 30 mph or faster 

I deduct this from my review of most if not ALL of my client’s CHP Traffic Collision Reports which compare my client’s allegedly “admitted” speed to the surrounding vehicle’s speed to conclude that my client was riding in violation of the California Vehicle Code §22350- Unsafe Speed for Conditions.  

This CHP Report last Page “Conclusion” will then be used by insurance companies for the driver’s at fault to flat out deny lability or claim some sort of comparative negligence (they always say you’re either say 30% or 50% at fault). Total Bull!   

To fight this, first, a witness can’t give expert opinions as to your speed and second, and most important, a CHP Officer can only testify as to what the parties said (an exception to the hearsay rule) and what he observed. A CHP’s officer’s opinion as to fault or the Primary Collision Factor or who he believes is at fault is improper and will never see the light of day.  

If you were riding at a reasonably safe speed, straight, with a lane, when some Bozo busted out of their lane to jump into an opening next to you (i.e. an Unsafe Lane Change) causing a collision and injuries – Fight It! Win!        

If you or a loved one have been involved in a motorcycle accident involving lane sharing/ lane splitting , please call Tom Reinecke – at (800) 275-8326.

About Thomas G. “Tom” Reinecke: Since 1987, Tom Reinecke has been the highest rated California Motorcycle attorney. A graduate of UCLA, former Superior Court Judge Pro Tem, and Author of California Motorcycle Law, Tom has successfully handled thousands of motorcycle accident and injury cases.   

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