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California Begins Legalizing Lane Splitting for Motorcyclists

The McClellan Law Firm

Members of the California State Assembly passed a bill with a vote of 69-0 on August 4, 2016 that will allow the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to establish guidelines surrounding lane splitting by motorcycles. This bill still needs to be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown before it becomes official.

For those not aware, lane splitting is a tactic used by motorcyclists to avoid traffic where they drive in between the cars, often at high speeds. Up until this point, lane splitting was technically neither legal nor illegal, but was generally acceptable in the eyes of law enforcement agencies.

The original bill, proposed by Assembly member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), set restrictions on how fast the motorcycles could travel in between vehicles. They could only go 15 miles per hour faster than traffic, and were not allowed to lane split above 50 miles per hour. These restrictions rubbed many motorcycle groups the wrong way, as they believed that the speeds were too low. The final version of the bill that unanimously passed through the Assembly only gives a basic definition of what a lane is, and leaves the CHP to set any other restrictions or regulations.

There are many questions that the CHP will need to answer in the coming months as it determines how to maintain motorists’ safety, once lane splitting is legal.

“Are they violating the Basic Speed Law?” asks Craig McClellan of The McClellan Law Firm. “Who has the right-of-way between a lane splitter and a vehicle changing lanes? The answers to these questions and others aren’t found in the Vehicle Code, and guidelines to be provided by the CHP don’t have the force of law. Thus, the answers may have to be decided by juries on a case-by-case basis.”

The Basic Speed Law in California[1] states that drivers may not drive faster than current conditions allow. Passenger vehicles generally don’t need to worry about this in heavy traffic, but how fast is too fast when hundreds of cars are lined up across miles of the freeway?

Drivers in California are notoriously bad at remembering to use their turn signals when changing lanes, and it only becomes worse in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Many of those drivers are anxiously waiting for enough of a space to open up so they can shift over, and may begin to change lanes at what they believe to be a safe distance from an oncoming motorcycle, but it can take a motorcycle around 240 feet – about eighteen car lengths[2] – to come to a complete stop when traveling at 60 miles per hour. Until a speed limit is set for lane splitting, drivers will need to pay extra attention to make sure they aren’t blindsided by a speeding motorcyclist.

More than 90,000 motorcyclists were injured in traffic collisions in 2014, and motorcyclists were 27 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of a passenger vehicle[3].

At The McClellan Law Firm, our accident attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of our clients, and with over 110 verdicts and settlements of over $1 million each, our success speaks for itself. Fill out the form on our website to begin your free case consultation, or give us a call at (619) 215-1488 to set up a meeting with one of our accident lawyers today.