California's Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Proposal Moves Forward

A motorcyclist lane splits on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.
A motorcyclist lane splits on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. | Photo: Nathan Bittinger/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A bill aiming to regulate and clear the gray area surrounding motorcycle lane-splitting could also make California the first state to formally legalize it.

Lane-splitting is when motorcyclists ride between cars during moving or stalled traffic. Although lane-splitting isn't exactly illegal or legal in California, confusion still remains.

AB 51, introduced by assemblymembers Bill Quirk and Tom Lackey, was approved by the Assembly on Thursday and is now expected to head to the Senate, confirmed a spokesperson from the office of assemblymember Lackey.

Assemblymember Lackey told KCET via phone that there is still a lot of ambiguity when it comes to lane-splitting in California, thus causing a greater danger to both motorists and motorcyclists.

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"Lane-splitting is a good thing when we have heavy traffic like we do in high population centers and Southern California. Motorcyclists are harder to see. When they are stopped in traffic, they are much more prone....[and have a] greater likelihood of suffering injuries," Lackey explained. "I have 28 years of law enforcement experience and have seen tragic consequences of motorcyclist collisions."

The California Highway Patrol initially created guidelines for safe lane-splitting in 2013, according to Denny Kobza, owner of the Bay Area Riders Forum and a member of the California State Motorcycle Safety Committee.

"When the guidelines came out, we saw a huge benefit... All of a sudden people were more aware that we [motorcyclists] have a right to be there. I see people making more room on the road, being more attentive," Kobza said over the phone.

However, the CHP's motorcycle lane-splitting guidelines have since been taken down, according to an earlier report by the LA Times. The Bay Area Riders Forum recovered the guidelines on its site here.

Kobza and the Bay Area Riders Forum, however, would like to see modifications to AB 51.

Under the current form of the bill, a motorcyclist would be able to lane-split, as long as he or she is not going 15 mph faster than the speed of traffic and only up to 50 mph.

"At this point, we are hoping to see further amendments to the bill to increase the actual speed limit to what is legal by law currently, rather than the 50 mph total that's on the bill now," noted Kobza.

The reason behind increasing the speed limit, he explained, is to ensure the safety of riders experienced enough to apply lane splitting and making sure they're also able to get out of dense traffic and move to a safer spot in traffic.

Citing a UC Berkeley study on lane-splitting, Kobza agrees that it is much more "perilous for a motorcyclist to be sitting in traffic and potentially being rear ended than it is when lane splitting."

UC Berkeley is expected to release an updated study looking at the issue of lane splitting, motorcycle speed, and accidents.

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