lane splitting in California

Yes, lane splitting is legal in California, but with important safety restrictions.

California is one of the few states that allows motorcyclists to ride between lanes of traffic under specific conditions. However, it’s crucial to understand the rules to ensure safe and legal riding.

Read the full article for details on California’s lane splitting guidelines, safety precautions, and who bears liability in an accident.

Many motorcyclists (and automobile) drivers ask whether or not lane splitting in California is legal. In our state, lane splitting is a highly contentious issue that is subject to many misperceptions. Unlike in the majority of U.S. states, lane splitting is legal in California and it has been for a long time. Still, lane splitting is highly misunderstood, by both drivers and bikers.

In late 2016, the California state legislature sought to bring additional clarity to the issues, when it became the first in the country to take serious steps to establish and formalize official lane splitting guidelines. Here, our California motorcycle accident lawyers explain the state’s updated lane splitting guidelines, how to split lanes safety and legal liability for motorcycle lane splitting accidents.

The California Lane Splitting Guidelines: Explained

While lane splitting is legal in California, motorcyclists should be aware of the fact that it is subject to certain restrictions. Indeed, lane splitting is actually subject to particularly strict state regulations. California lawmakers want to make sure that the practice is always done with the highest level of safety in mind. To ensure that this occurs, motorcyclists (and drivers) should be aware of the following key guidelines:

  • When done safely, lane splitting is legal and bikers have every right to do it;
  • When lane splitting is dangerous, such as when there are cars cutting in and out, lane splitting is strictly prohibited;
  • Motorcyclists should never go more than ten miles per hours faster than the rest of the traffic; if the traffic is moving at more than 35 miles an hour then lane splitting is prohibited; and
  • Motorists cannot take it upon themselves to stop or impede a biker from engaging in lane splitting.

Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Safe?

It is no secret to bikers that lane splitting is a controversial practice. Many drivers feel that lane splitting is inherently dangerous and they want the practice banned outright. On the other hand, many motorcyclists counter, by saying that allowing lane splitting is actually safer than banning it. The reasoning behind this argument is that lane splitting lets bikers better navigate the highway when traffic is extremely thick; as a result, it considerably reduces the risk that they will be hit from behind by a large vehicle.

On this debate, it is clear that California lawmakers have come down on the side of bikers. The practice is allowed because state representatives believe that lane splitting is safe when it is done responsibly. The California Office of Traffic Safety has conducted extensive research on lane splitting. Based on the results of their findings, the agency has determined that lane splitting bikers must be:

  • Reasonable
  • Respectful
  • Fully aware of the overall road conditions

Who is Liable for a Lane Splitting Accident in California?

Of course, just because lane splitting is legally permissible, does not mean that motorcyclists are immune from being blamed for any resulting crash. All motorists in California (drivers, bikers, truckers, etc) have a legal duty to always operate their vehicle in a safe manner. What constitutes a ‘safe manner’ will always depend entirely on the road conditions and the specific circumstances in question. If a California motorist fails to live up to their duty to operate their vehicle safely, then they are negligent, and as such, they can be held liable for damages.

Certainly, that not to say that bikers are automatically liable for lane splitting accidents either. It is quite the contrary. Any party (a biker, a driver, a manufacturer or even a government entity) could potentially be held liable for a lane splitting wreck. Ultimately, liability will always depend on the specific facts of the crash in question. Then, those facts will need to be applied to California’s comparative fault rules. Under the state’s civil code, fault is established by proving negligence. In the most simple terms, negligence is nothing more than the failure to take proper care in a given situation.

Both motorcyclists and other drivers must take proper safety precautions to avoid turning ordinary lane splitting into a dangerous situation. As California is a ‘comparative’ fault state, multiple different parties might share the liability for the same crash. If you are found partially liable for your own crash, your ability to recover compensation will be limited. To protect your right to recover compensation for 100 percent of your damages, you should be represented by an experienced personal injury attorney. Your attorney will be able to fight for your rights. You need to make sure that you are not unjustly blamed for an aspect of a lane splitting crash.

Were You Injured in a Bay Area Lane Splitting Accident?

We can help. At GJEL Accident Attorneys, our team has extensive experience handling motorcycle accident claims and car accident claims. The bottom line on motorcycle lane splitting: It’s a very, very complex subject; have handled dozens of lane splitting cases and would be happy to help anyone with a prospective case think that issue through. To request a free, no-obligation review of your case, please call us today at 1-855-508-9565. We represent victims throughout the Bay Area, including in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, San Mateo County and Santa Clara County.

Written by Andy Gillin. Last Updated 04/15/2024

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Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Since 1972 he has been helping seriously injured victims throughout northern California fight & win their personal injury cases. Andy is one of the top awarded & recognized wrongful death lawyers in northern California.