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Does California Need a Change to the Lane Splitting Law in Order to Prevent Motorcycle Accidents?

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California is the only state in the nation to allow motorcycles to split lanes while driving in traffic. Drivers frequently get irritated by motorcyclists that split lanes and pass them cruising through the traffic, while they have to sit there stopped in traffic. Lane splitting, when not done safely, can be very dangerous, and most motorcyclists get irritated when they see fellow riders acting irresponsibly and many believe lane splitting causes an increase in motorcycle accidents.

Last year, California’s lawmakers tried to regulate lane splitting. California does not have any law making lane splitting illegal, however, officers can still cite lane splitting motorcyclists for other general catch-all traffic violations and for speeding. The law was not an attempt to ban lane splitting, but rather to codify a “best practices” for lane splitting, but would also be a citable offense.

The new law would have required lane splitting to be done at no more than 15 mph faster than the speed of traffic, and not to exceed 50mph.

An extensive study found that when these best practices are followed, the occurrence of traffic related motorcycle accidents significantly drops. (“Safety Implications of Lane-Splitting among California Motorcyclists involved in Collisions,” Rice and Troszak, UC Berkeley Safe Transportation Research & Education Center. 8.6.14).

Drivers that get bothered by lane splitting need to understand that the occurrence of motorcycle accidents caused by inattentive drivers in heavy traffic is much higher in states where lane splitting is not allowed. And any auto collision involving a motorcycle can be very dangerous, if not fatal. And California has the highest number of motorcyclists in the country. And lane splitting means less people are sitting in traffic, means you get to where you’re going faster, not an increase motorcycle accidents.

We at Beahm Law are conflicted regarding the law. Having considered the overwhelming evidence of how much safer lane splitting is when done within the “best practices” law framework, it is difficult to not want California lawmakers to actually put the law in the books. As lawyers who are firm believers in Personal Freedoms, we see the law as a restriction on freedom, and also as a dangerous law for officers to enforce.