Is Lane Splitting Legal in California?

Motorcycle riders can split lanes under California law.

Whether lane splitting is legal depends on the state where you are driving. Currently, there is no federal law that covers lane splitting in the United States. 

Our experienced motorcycle accident attorneys can help determine either your rights to damages if you are in an accident due that involved lane splitting in California. If you have specific questions, the experienced team at Demas Law Group can help. Call us or contact us online to set up a free initial consultation today.

What Is Lane Splitting? 

Lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. It can also be called lane sharing, white-lining, or filtering. 

In many other countries with lots of traffic, it can be a commonly accepted way for small scooters, motorcycles, or bikes to maneuver through traffic. In the United States, however, the practice of lane splitting can be quite controversial. 

Whether it should be legalized nationally and whether it is safe is up for debate. 

Is Lane Splitting Legal in California

California was the first state to pass formal legislation on lane splitting. 

California Assembly Bill 51 addresses lane splitting. It passed on August 19, 2016. This bill removed language that made lane splitting illegal in California. Even though lane splitting is now allowed in California, many people do not know this. Lane splitting can lead to misunderstandings that cause road rage and even accidents. 

California’s Lane Splitting Law 

California Assembly Bill 51 was and remains the first state law directly related to lane splitting in the United States as of 2021. Assembly Bill 51 did the following: 

  • It officially made it legal for motorcyclists to lane split. 
  • It formally defined lane splitting.
  • It authorized the California Highway Patrol to provide educational guidelines on lane splitting. 

The Demas Law Group has experience with applying Assembly Bill 51 to a variety of situations. We can help determine your rights if you were in an accident where lane splitting was involved.

Is Lane Splitting Safe? 

There is little data specifically on whether lane splitting is safe, which is why many states have not passed legislation specifically allowing lane splitting. 

Even though lane splitting is allowed in California, motorcyclists are encouraged to exercise caution when lane splitting. Lane splitting can be done safely. While lane splitting, riders must still obey the rules of the road or otherwise could be ticketed. 

The California DMV Motorcycle Guide provides additional safety tips on lane splitting.

Lane Splitting Safety Study 

A study completed by the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at UC Berkeley found that out of a pool of 5,969 collisions that involved motorcycles, approximately 17% of collisions involved motorcycles that were lane splitting when the accident occurred.

The study goes on to say that lane splitting can be more safely completed at speeds of 50 mph or less or where the speed differential between the motorcycles and other automobiles was 15 mph or less, deeming lane splitting in these circumstances “relatively safe.” 

Lane Splitting Tips 

Although lane splitting is legal in California, it is generally recognized that it can be dangerous under certain circumstances. Indeed, when California Assembly Bill 51 passed, part of the legislation authorized the California Highway Patrol to establish educational safety tips related to lane splitting, acknowledging that it could be potentially dangerous if not executed safely. 

The California Highway Patrol has released its own document detailing lane-splitting tips for drivers. These tips include: 

  • It is safer to split the far left lanes than other lanes. 
  • Consider the overall situation (number of lanes, speed of cars, etc.) when lane splitting. 
  • The danger increases when speed is increased or when the speed of the motorcycle/bike is much greater than the cars around it. 
  • Try to avoid lane splitting next to big vehicles. 
  • Avoid blind spots of other vehicles. 
  • Wear reflective and bright clothing when possible.
  • Check mirrors and blind spots frequently. 
  • Share the road to prevent accidents. 

Supporters and Opponents

Although there is no full consensus on whether lane splitting is safe, many groups have spoken out in favor or against the practice: 

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes that lane splitting should be studied further as it is a common practice in other countries and can reduce congestion.
  • The American Motorcyclist Association, an advocacy group, supports lane splitting and is working to make it legal in other states. 
  • AAA opposes lane splitting and has actively fought against it in various states.

Who Is Liable in a Motorcycle Lane Splitting Accident? 

Even though Assembly Bill 51 permits lane splitting, the law is silent on who is at fault should a collision occur where lane splitting is a factor. If you have been in a collision that involves a motorcycle and lane splitting, determining liability will be done on a case-by-case basis. 

California is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning that a judge would compare the negligence of both parties in the case of an accident. This also means that both parties can ultimately be considered at fault to different extents. If you are considered at fault that does not mean that you cannot pursue compensation for your damages. Any amount you receive, however, will be reduced by your amount of liability for the accident. 

Whether a motorcyclist was safely splitting lanes could also be heavily dependent on the guidelines that California Highway Patrol released. Police reports and supporting opinions as well as insurance claim investigations may also be considered in the case of a collision. 

Contact a Sacramento Motorcycle Accident Lawyer for Help 

If you’ve been wondering whether lane splitting is legal in California the simple answer is “yes.” However, determining liability in an accident involving lane splitting in California depends on many factors. 

Our experienced motorcycle accident lawyers can help. Contact Demas Law Group today for a free initial consultation.

John N. Demas is the founding partner of Demas Law Group, P.C., and has been exclusively representing injured victims around Sacramento for nearly thirty years. John is passionate about helping people, and he has earned a stellar reputation in the community for his dedication and successful results for his clients.