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California motorcycle enthusiasts have been lane-splitting for a long time. Lane-splitting is just riding between two lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars. In every state except California, it’s illegal. In California, until recently, the laws said nothing about it. As a result, as long as a rider was prudent, no tickets would be issued for lane-splitting.
In 2013, the California Highway Patrol (CHiP) tried to set guidelines for lane-splitting, but withdrew them after a huge outcry and a realization that only the legislature can make laws. The law just passed authorizes ChiP to set guidelines for lane-splitting in a safe manner.
Although a majority of drivers consider the practice unsafe, a University of California study, explained here, found that lane-splitting was safe as long as the motorcyclist didn’t go more than fifteen miles an hour faster than the traffic on either side and stayed under fifty miles per hour. The most accidents happened when the lane-splitting biker who was going too fast met a motorist who was changing lanes. The study pointed out that, as motorcycle enthusiasts have long contended, sitting stopped or idling along in traffic led to many rear-end collisions and it was safer for the motorcyclist to keep moving between the lanes of cars. The study also noted that having legal guidelines would lead to better awareness and more acceptance among drivers.
The bill (AB51) was introduced by California Democratic Senator Bill Quirk December 1, 2014. At that time, it included a provision that motorcyclists had to travel less than fifteen miles an hour over the flow of surrounding traffic. Several motorcycling groups objected, and that provision was removed.
The bill finished its legislative journey August 5, when the California Senate passed it unanimously, and it is now on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it.
In its final form, AB51 allows such agencies as CHiP, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Transportation, the Office of Traffic Safety, and a safety-focused motorcycle organization to create guidelines about safe lane-splitting.
You can read the entire bill in a few seconds—it’s that short and simple—just click here.
If the governor signs the bill, lane-splitting will be fully legal in California, and motorcyclists in other states will have a sample law to take to their own legislatures.
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