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Motorcycle Law – Lane Splitting in the State of California: Navigating the Gray Area

Posted by John Upton | May 06, 2024 | 0 Comments

Have you ever been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a California freeway, only to watch motorcyclists zip past you between lanes? This maneuver, known as lane splitting, raises questions about its legality, safety, and the challenges faced by riders in the event of an accident. In this blog post, we'll explore the intricacies of lane splitting, a practice unique to the Golden State.

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting, also referred to as white-lining or filtering, is the act of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of slow or stopped traffic, typically on multi-lane freeways. Instead of remaining confined to a single lane like other vehicles, these riders utilize the space between lanes to progress through traffic more efficiently.

Is it Against the Law?

While many states have outlawed lane splitting, California stands out by permitting it. Although the state doesn't actively promote the practice, the California Department of Motor Vehicles acknowledges its existence and provides guidelines to ensure safety for both riders and drivers. Moreover, California's legislature has not enacted any laws prohibiting lane splitting, instead directing the California Highway Patrol to develop guidelines to ensure motorcyclists' safety while engaging in this practice.

The guidelines developed by the California Highway Patrol per this directive include the following:

· Consider the total environment when you are lane splitting (this includes the width of lanes, the size of surrounding vehicles, as well as current roadway, weather, and lighting conditions).

· Danger increases at higher speed differentials.

· Danger increases as overall speed increases.

· It is typically safer to split between the far left lanes than between the other lanes of traffic.

· Avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles (big rigs, buses, motorhomes, etc.).

· Riding on the shoulder is illegal; it is not considered lane splitting.

· Be visible – Avoid remaining in the blind spots of other vehicles or lingering between vehicles.

· Help drivers see you by wearing brightly colored/reflective protective gear and using high beams during daylight3.

These are prudent measures that every rider contemplating a lane-splitting maneuver should consider. While California law grants riders the autonomy to decide whether or not to lane split, they should take the time to understand the potential risks involved in this practice and be cognizant of their own riding abilities and limitations.

Overcoming Bias at Trial

Despite its legality, lane splitting can face scrutiny in court. During any jury trial, competent, fair, and impartial jurors need to be appointed to decide facts and award monetary damages in personal injury cases. The opposite of this is known as a biased juror. It is likely that at least some of the jurors in any motorcycle accident case may have a bias against motorcyclists and consider motorcycle riding in general and lane splitting in particular to be a reckless or even foolhardy endeavor. 

Overcoming biases against lane splitting often requires the expertise of a motorcycle safety expert to educate jurors on the practical reasons why riders opt for this maneuver. Highlighting that, when done sensibly, lane splitting can reduce the risk of rear-end collisions by inattentive drivers is crucial.

The issue should also be raised during the jury selection process4 to identify and weed out, through for-cause and peremptory challenges, prospective jurors with inflexible and unfavorable mindsets against lane-splitters. Indeed, Courts are required to permit “liberal and probing examination calculated to discover bias or prejudice with regard to the particular circumstances of the case” (California Code of Civil Procedure section 222.5).

We Ride with You. We Fight for You.

At Dordick Law Corporation, we're not just lawyers; we're riders too. Attorneys like Gary Dordick, Dylan Dordick, and John Upton have M1 endorsements and ride regularly. Our firsthand experiences on the road enable us to understand the unique challenges faced by motorcyclists. With our expertise, we've secured numerous seven and eight-figure settlements and judgments for fellow riders.

Whether you're a motorcyclist navigating California's busy freeways or someone injured in a lane-splitting collision, we're here for you. Contact Dordick Law Corporation call our offices today (310) 551-0949 or fill out our online form to schedule a complimentary consultation with Michael. . Ride safe, California!

About the Author

John Upton

Associate Attorney | John Upton


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