A California Senate bill proposing restrictions on motorcycle lane splitting was placed on hold this week pending a safety study currently being conducted by UC-Berkeley. The bill, which would have eliminated lane splitting from highways of less than three lanes and required motorcyclists to engage in the activity at a “safe speed” only when facing traffic congestion, was strongly opposed by the American Motorcycle Association.
In a press release issued by the AMA, the organization said “lane-splitting has been an accepted custom and necessary strategy to ease traffic congestion in California for years,” calling the bill, “a sudden and significant shift in traffic management strategies in the state with respect to motorcycles, which could have had a serious impact on traffic flow.”
According to Nick Harris, the AMA’s western states representative, “Lane-splitting by motorcyclists, when done correctly, helps improve traffic flow for everyone on the road… That helps everybody save time, gas and hassles, and promotes safer roads by mitigating traffic backups. It’s important that we work to preserve lane-splitting for the benefit of everyone on the road.”
However, Harris’ caveat of “when done correctly” is exactly what the now postponed bill (S.B. 350) is looking to address. There has been minimal research conducted on whether lane splitting is actually safer, and although the number of rear end collisions involving motorcycles is reduced as a result of allowing lane splitting, it’s still open for debate whether filtering through traffic can cause the rider to be more vulnerable to other types of accidents.
At present, the state of California allows lane splitting as long as it’s “safe and prudent;” a subjective definition left open to interpretation from police officers and judges. But with no restrictions or clear criteria for what constitutes safe and prudent, a motorcyclist who ends up in an accident while lane splitting may find himself facing an uphill battle when it comes to getting compensation. If a police officer deems them to be at fault, or even partially at fault, it can have a serious impact when it comes to recovering damages from the incident.
As with any potentially dangerous activity, exercising caution and good judgment goes a long way toward both preventing accidents and alleviating responsibility should an accident occur. And, with lane splitting continuing to be totally acceptable in California for the foreseeable future, riding cautiously and alertly is the best defense when it comes to avoiding motorcycle accidents.
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