A funny thing usually happens when state lawmakers start talking about making something “legal” that wasn’t “illegal” in the first place. And, the dangerous practice of lane-splitting by motorcyclists is no exception. For years the California Vehicle Code has made no mention of lane-splitting at all – as a moving violation or prohibited maneuver – which explains why it’s wasn’t illegal. As long as you wore a proper helmet, possessed a valid license, and motorcycle insurance, there wasn’t much the CHP could do if that was the only visible “legal” infraction.
Until now, motorcyclists have only had the guidelines the California Highway Patrol issued in 2013, advising those who choose to lane-split to do so when traffic is going 30 mph or slower, and to not travel more than 10 mph faster than the speed of traffic. The CHP’s guidelines also suggest riding between the left lanes and to refrain from lane splitting near trucks, at night, on unfamiliar roads, or in bad weather.
But, things are about to change. Initially, the word was that the legislation was being put into place to make lane-splitting or traffic filtering “officially” legal – which is often the first clue that more tight regulations are coming down the road. And, that’s more or less what is transpiring with a new bill making its way through the California state Senate.
Prompted by safety concerns, the Assembly last week approved a bill that would formally legalize lane-splitting. But, by doing so, it would place new restrictions on when and how cyclists can do it. The bill, AB 51, limits motorcyclists to 15 miles per hour faster than the cars they are passing. Going further, it also prohibits motorcyclists from lane-splitting at speeds above 50 miles per hour.
For example, if freeway traffic slows down to 35 miles per hour, motorcyclists can cut between cars at up to 50 miles per hour. However, anytime the freeway traffic is moving at 50 miles per hour or faster, motorcyclists would be banned by the new law from engaging in lane-splitting. And, once on the books, the California Highway Patrol could legally write a citation to any motorcyclists observed performing the controversial maneuver at higher speeds.
The bill, co-authored by Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, currently in the Senate for debate, is prompting mixed reactions from motorcyclists and drivers. Quirk, a science-based guy with a Ph.D. in astrophysics, explains his goal is safety – not to ban lane-splitting. He went on to say that the questionable practice has become a habit in California. In fact, about 80 percent of motorcyclists report that they lane-split on a regular basis. It will continue to happen, in part because it’s difficult for the CHP to chase down illegal motorcyclists who don’t want to be caught.
Although the CHP hasn’t taken a stance on the bill, it has shown it, too, wants to curtail excessive behavior. Motorcyclists seem to understand that the pressure is on to do something to curb the worst lane-splitting. But, the American Motorcyclist Association officially opposes the bill, but not adamantly. Their main push is to request the bill be amended to allow lane-splitting in some instances at speeds greater than 50 miles per hour.
Regardless of whether you ride a motorcycle, drive a car or both, as is often the case, those who abuse the privilege will always make it tougher for the rest of us. As long as you keep your safety in mind you have a better chance of avoiding serious injury. You can also take advantage of getting the cheapest motorcycle insurance rates in California. Why not get a free motorcycle insurance quote today?
Are you for or against the new lane-splitting law? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.