California Motorcyclist Safety Program


Lane Splitting General Guidelines

Lane splitting in a safe and prudent manner is not illegal in the state of California.

The term lane splitting, sometimes known as lane sharing, filtering or white-lining, refers to the process of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of stopped or slower moving traffic or moving between lanes to the front of traffic stopped at a traffic light.

Motorcyclists who are competent enough riders to lane split, should follow these general guidelines if choosing to lane split:

1) Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 MPH faster than other traffic – danger increases at higher speed differentials.

- A speed differential of 10 miles per hour or less allows an alert, competent rider enough time to identify and react to most dangerous situations that can occur.

- The greater the speed differential, the less time a rider has to identify and react to a hazard.

2) It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 30 mph or faster — danger increases as overall speed increases.

- At just 20 mph, in the 1 or 2 seconds it takes a rider to identify a hazard, that rider will travel approximately 30 to 60 feet before even starting to take evasive action. Actual reaction (braking or swerving) will take additional time and distance.

- Braking and stopping distance varies greatly based on a multitude of factors (rider, machine and environment).

- As speed increases, crash severity increases.

3) Typically, it is safer to split between the #1 and #2 lanes than between other lanes.

- Other road users are more accustomed to motorcycles splitting between the #1 and #2 (furthest left) lanes.

- Avoid splitting in lanes near freeway on-ramps and exits.

- Avoid splitting lanes when another motorcycle rider is splitting between other nearby lanes as cars may make additional room for one rider and accidentally reduce space for another.

4) Consider the total environment in which you are splitting, including the width of the lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, as well as roadway, weather, and lighting conditions.

- Some lanes are narrower than others, leaving little room to pass safely. If you can’t fit, don’t split.

- Some vehicles are wider than others — it is not advisable to split near wide trucks. If you can’t fit, don’t split.

- Know the limitations of your motorcycle — wide bars, fairing and bags require more space between vehicles. If you can’t fit, don’t split.

- Avoid splitting on unfamiliar roads to avoid surprises such as poor road surfaces.

- Seams in the pavement or concrete between lanes can be hazardous if they are wide or uneven.

- Poor visibility, due to darkness or weather conditions, makes it difficult for riders to see road hazards and makes it more difficult for drivers to see you.

- Help drivers see you by wearing brightly colored protective gear and using high beams during daylight.

5) Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users.

- Be very aware of what the cars around you are doing. If a space, or gap, opens up next to your lane, be prepared react accordingly.

- Always be prepared to take evasive action if a vehicle changes lanes.

- Account for inattentive or distracted drivers.

- Riders should not weave back and forth between lanes or ride on top of the line.

- Riders should avoid lingering in blind spots.

- Never ride while impaired by drugs, alcohol or fatigue.

- Constantly scan for changing conditions.

The Four R’s or “Be-Attitudes” of Lane Splitting:

Be Reasonable, be Responsible, be Respectful, be aware of all Roadway and traffic conditions.

- Be Reasonable means not more than 10 MPH faster than traffic flow and not over 39 MPH.

- Be Responsible for your own safety and decisions.

  • Don’t put yourself in dangerous positions.
  • If you can’t fit, don’t split.

- Be Respectful — sharing the road goes both ways.

  • Don’t rely on loud pipes to keep you safe, loud pipes often startle people and poison the attitude of car drivers toward motorcyclists.
  • Other vehicles are not required to make space for motorcycles to lane split.

- Be aware Roadways and traffic can be hazardous.

  • uneven pavement
  • wide trucks
  • distracted drivers
  • weather conditions
  • curves
  • etc.

Disclaimers:

These general guidelines are not guaranteed to keep you safe.

Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders. These guidelines assume a high level of riding competency and experience.

The recommendations contained here are only general guidelines and cannot cover all possible combinations of situations and variables.

Personal Safety: Every rider has ultimate responsibility for his or her own decision making and safety. Riders must be conscious of reducing crash risk at all times. California law requires all motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet that complies with the DOT FMVSS 218 standard.

Risk of getting a ticket: Motorcyclists who lane split are not relieved of the responsibility to obey all existing traffic laws. With respect to possible law enforcement action, keep in mind that it will be up to the discretion of the Law Enforcement Officer to determine if riding behavior while lane splitting is or was safe and prudent.

When is it NOT OK to split?

You should NOT lane split:

- If you can’t fit.

- At a toll booth.

- If traffic is moving too fast or unpredictably.

- If dangerous road conditions exist — examples include water or grit on the road, slippery road markings, road construction, uneven pavement, metal grates, etc.

- If you cannot clearly see a way out of the space you’re going into (for example, if a van or SUV is blocking your view).

- Between trucks, buses, RVs, and other wide vehicles.

- Around or through curves.

- If you are not fully alert and aware of your surroundings.

- If you are unable to react to changing conditions instantaneously.

- If you don’t feel comfortable with the situation.

Messages for Other Vehicle Drivers

1) Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in California when done in a safe and prudent manner.

2) Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.

3) Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal (CVC 22400).

4) Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal (CVC 22517).

5) Never drive while distracted.

6) You can help keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by

  • Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning
  • Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic
  • Allowing more following distance, three or four seconds, when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency

8 thoughts on “California Motorcyclist Safety Program

  1. Garth January 18, 2013 / 5:35 AM

    If I were in a country where car drivers expect motorcycles to lane split and it was part of “the norm” then I may consider it. Otherwise in Canada, I am would think my chances of an accident (and resulting insurance) go up exponentially.

    • advgrrls January 18, 2013 / 5:38 AM

      it’s part of the culture in California and other countries where cars expect this…part of drivers ed. If it can be done there then here too. Did you watch the video? Still of course a riders responsibility ultimately because we are the most vulnerable but it can be done, there are always risks when riding. I think this in the end would be much safer for the rider especially in HOT weather to keep us flowing and moving.

  2. Garth January 18, 2013 / 6:11 AM

    Yes I watched the video and I cannot imagine doing that in parts of Canada. People are far too distracted and in a level of rage to accept a bike jumping the que. In California and parts of BC where bikes are the norm year round, and where car drivers anticipate it then i can see it working somewhat but risking life and limb just to allow traffic to flow faster than it already is would not be for me. Even if it were legal I would say that it would be a rare time that i would do it.

    I know when I am driving my car there are enough distractions already and trying to anticipate a motorcycle zipping between me and another car is not something that I would always be looking for.

    Here is what wheels . ca has to say about it. http://www.wheels.ca/feature/why-lane-splitting-in-a-motorcycle-is-just-asking-for-trouble/

    Mind you they are a car oriented site.

    • advgrrls January 18, 2013 / 6:21 AM

      Yeah like I said it has to be part of a culture initiated by any Ministry or Department of Motor vehicles. I see bicycles do it all the time in Vancouver and not even safely but cars know they will do it. This is not about high speed splitting…it’s about less than 30 KM or mpg splitting.

      I think you are right when you live in an area where bikes are on the road for more than 6 months of the year…but in most cases like in Toronto I would hope tons of bikes are out in the better months…making motorcycles more obvious.

      Cars suck in general when it comes to sharing the road but if it was taught even now to share with us with more emphasis, then maybe lane splitting could be incorporated into that cager school and motorcycle ed.

    • George Vasilopoulos January 19, 2013 / 1:55 AM

      It’s interesting that you’d mentioned ‘jumping the queue’ – I think this concisely illustrates just how much of a cultural shift would be required since that is the majority feeling among motorists out there (I was born in Vancouver and lived off and on there for nearly 20 years so I speak from my own experiences)…

      As mentioned in the video, each motorcycle removes 1 car off the road (or potentially two if you share a commute 2-up). Yet still many car drivers have the ‘why should he/she cut ahead when I have to wait’ attitude not recognising that by allowing smaller/faster bikes get to the front they are actually working to reduce the congestion that’s holding them up. This translates to reduced pollution and increased fuel efficiency all round, not least for the motorcyclist who keeps moving more of the time – and, as Leslie mentioned, it also increases safety on hot days by keeping the ventilation going instead of stewing in your own salty sweat bath.

      There is also the ‘not fair’ attitude as well – but when is life actually ‘fair’? For example, you don’t see many skinny people arguing against the fact that morbidly obese people need to purchase two airline tickets if they don’t fit in a single seat. We all make choices, and our choice to ride a motorbike means we accept the risks associated with greatly reduced levels of passive safety and weather protection – but huge increases in agility and connecting with the environment around us, compared to driving a car.

      The distraction for car drivers disappears when filtering becomes part of the highway code and is taught/testing during driving training and road tests – and therefore doing so is back up with a set of ground rules so to speak. But I think a cultural shift, if filtering was made legal, would take a generation or two before the aggro dissipated that a lot of motorists seem to have towards motorcyclists.

  3. George Vasilopoulos January 18, 2013 / 12:40 PM

    Here it’s known as filtering and is one of the things you need to demonstrate safely on your licence road test. The examiner is always on a motorbike and communication is via a bluetooth headset which they supply. The examiners also expect that you wear appropriate gear and will give you a good telling-off if not (but cannot legally prevent you from taking the test if you have at least an EC-approved helmet).

    Our highway code is explicit about filtering – see §88 here: https://www.gov.uk/rules-motorcyclists-83-to-88 and §211 here: https://www.gov.uk/road-users-requiring-extra-care-204-to-225/motorcyclists-and-cyclists-211-to-213

    Since filtering in traffic is a cultural norm in the majority of Europe, car drivers are, on the whole, very attentive when manoeuvring in traffic, and expect motorcycles to be there among them. Most of the time cars will move over enough to let through motorcycles. Like anywhere you get the odd twat behind the wheel but I’ve never seen anyone blatantly prevent motorbikes from going through. One thing I’ve noticed is that most drivers are FAR less aggressive than in either Canada or the US – I’ve not heard of anyone opening a door on a bike or anything as vicious as that.

    Here’s a video of my everyday commute to work (I should note at 2:30 it appears that I’m filtering on a blind corner, but in reality you can see far enough around it to notice oncoming cars and filter safely) – http://youtu.be/Liq8nMDCCfc

    Of course being the crazy UK we don’t ride on the right side of the road – we ride on the correct side ;)

    • advgrrls January 18, 2013 / 9:40 PM

      like I said when it becomes part of the culture with rationale it could work here.

  4. George Vasilopoulos January 19, 2013 / 2:09 AM

    Have to disagree with one thing in the video – I’m quite surprised that they mentioned being hit from behind was the one situation that you have no control over… If you’re checking your mirrors regularly you can be in a position to accelerate to safety if you see a car approaching from behind that is unlikely to stop in time…

    Likewise if you’re constantly aware of what’s around you all the time while moving, you can use this information appropriately if you need to make a sudden manoeuvre or stop – for example aiming for the hard shoulder or between cars ahead if you think the person behind you is distracted and won’t stop in time… or even deliberately crashing off the road, which would often be preferable to being squeezed like a tube of toothpaste between two crashed cars/trucks/lorries etc…

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