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It’s been one of the more controversial practices by motorcyclists, and now the CHP has issued guidelines on it.

We’re talking lane splitting.

California is the only state to allow lane splitting by motorcyclists, where the bikers ride between lanes of slow or stopped traffic. While there’s no law allowing lane splitting, there’s no law prohibiting it, so the CHP says it’s legal.

CHP Sgt. Mark Pope of the motorcycle safety unit at the CHP’s Sacramento headquarters says the CHP decided to come up with the guidelines because there weren’t any official ones and because some “self-professed experts” were posting all kinds of information online, “some of them scary.”

He says motorcyclist deaths jumped 20 percent in 2011 from 2010 and that also helped prompt the CHP  to gather experts from the CHP, state Office of Traffic Safety, DMV, state Department of Transportation, universities and elsewhere to develop the guidelines.

Pope, who off duty rides a 2011 Kawasaki Concourse C14, says he lane splits at times but only when safe.

“I practice what I preach,” he says, referring to the guidelines issued Jan. 15 by the CHP.

A recent state Office of Traffic Safety study found 77.6 percent of motorcyclists said they lane split, with 30.9 percent doing it all the time; about 53 percent of drivers of various vehicles knew lane splitting was legal; and 7.3 percent of drivers had tried to prevent a motorcyclist from lane splitting.

Pope says legislators have over the years proposed banning lane splitting but the CHP has cautioned that such a ban may cause more motorcyclist injuries or deaths. He explains that the most common collision in California is the rear-ender and if motorcyclists were banned from lane splitting, they likely would end up in more such accidents than they do now. If your car gets rear-ended, you’ll likely survive. If your motorcycle gets rear-ended, the risk of injury or death is much greater.

Pope warns that although lane splitting is legal and that although the guidelines are simply guidelines, not the law, motorcyclists still could be ticketed if officers believed they were speeding, being reckless or otherwise violating a traffic law.

Here are highlights of the CHP guidelines:

–Ride no more than 10 mph faster than other traffic because it “allows an alert, competent rider enough time to identify and react to most dangerous situations.”

–Don’t lane split when traffic is flowing at 30 mph or faster because “as speed increases, crash severity 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,” the guidelines state.

–It’s generally safer to ride between the No. 1 (farthest left) and No. 2 lanes than between other lanes.

–Don’t lane split near onramps and offramps.

–Don’t lane split when another motorcyclist doing it between other nearby lanes because cars may make room for that rider and narrow the gap for you.

–Before lane splitting, take into consideration such things as the width of the lanes, size of other vehicles, road conditions, lighting, weather and more. Don’t lane split between trucks, buses, RVs and other wide vehicles.

–Watch out for other vehicles. They may not be watching out for you.

The CHP guidelines also target drivers of cars, trucks and other vehicles, including advising them to watch out for motorcyclists and warning them not to discourage lane splitting, not to block or impede a motorcyclist in a manner that could harm the rider and not to open a door to stop lane splitting. The last two are specifically prohibited in the state Vehicle Code.

To read the full guidlines, CLICK HERE.

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Comments

33 Comments

  1. Mike

    Anyone deliberately opening a door on any motorcyclist should see some prison time. You can’t tell me with a straight face that isn’t trying to kill the rider.

    February 10th, 2013 5:17 pm

  2. Pearl

    I had no idea there were no formal guidelines governing lane splitting. I lane split rarely just because it’s not always safe or necessary.

    It’s really interesting to watch people’s reaction to lane splitting. Some people will go out of their way to block you if they see you coming in the rear view.
    I’ve never had anyone go to the extreme of opening a door (that would be pretty stupid) but I have had people quickly close the space between cars to stop me.
    Of course being on a motorcycle, I just pass on the other side since I have the agility to quickly change which side of the lane I’m on. Watching their anger in my rear view is always amusing…

    And what’s with THAT anyway? What the hell do you care if I get there ahead of you? It’s NOT a “race”! There’s no prize. Nobody cares if you get there first idiot!

    Lane splitting is dangerous. You never know when someone is going to make a sudden move.
    But if “danger” was a deterrent I wouldn’t be hurling my body around at high rates of speed with nothing more than a helmet between my body, the asphalt and 2000lbs of high speed steel all around me.

    Knowing that you’re one false move away from being splattered on the freeway like a bug is exhilarating.

    February 11th, 2013 7:49 am

  3. Rik G

    YES: Now some guidelines and I LIKE the one where “do not lane split above 30MPH” DONE, like on the freeway, but watch the bikers do it anyway.

    This entire process is wrong. Just don’t let them split, and be done with it. Why does a motorcycle have different driver rights?

    February 11th, 2013 8:39 am

  4. d duncan

    I will never understand why we allow this. No other state does…because it is ridiculous. If the CHP feels that it is safer then having motorcyclists follow the same rules as every other motor vehicle then maybe we should be honest … motocycles just aren’t as safe period.

    February 11th, 2013 9:17 am

  5. Robert

    I hate to split lanes with my bike, because it is too dangerous
    I only split lanes when traffic is stopped and my bike overheats…
    I had a CAR spit my lane at the Novato narrows last week!
    His Black BMW got a nice scuff mark on his front passenger1/4 panel from my shoe

    February 11th, 2013 9:17 am

  6. Brad

    To heck with the “guidelines”, I want to see the legal parameters for lane splitting.

    February 11th, 2013 10:04 am

  7. Elizabeth

    Another good reason to signal before changing lanes. Even if the space next to you is open, you never know who might be coming up from behind in your blind spot.

    February 11th, 2013 10:40 am

  8. sonomaborn

    murphy’s law, what can go wrong will go wrong…

    live fast, die fast, live slow, die slow

    happy riding

    February 11th, 2013 11:07 am

  9. miggy

    @ Robert….should you even be riding? You have admittedly vandalized another persons vehicle, are you responsible/smart enough to ride between moving vehicles?

    February 11th, 2013 11:18 am

  10. J. Longtooth

    Every driver has been startled by the sudden appearance of a motorcycle where none was expected. I’m curious if any driver of a vehicle has ever been cited and penalized for clipping a motorcycle while the bike is splitting a lane. The law must have that scenario covered, but I can’t recall of ever hearing tell of a single case. It seems to me only fair a motorcyclist should automatically be on the liability hook if-and-when such an accident occurs. After all, the decision to roll the dice with their lives by splitting lanes is theirs alone.

    February 11th, 2013 11:49 am

  11. Jeff

    d duncan- California may be the only state that allows this logical, sensible and safe (except for dangerous car drivers) practice, but there are other places where it’s also legal and commonplace– every other civilized country on the planet! The US, except for CA, is completely backward in this regard, primarily because motorcycles aren’t as widely used for transportation here; they’re seen more as novelties in the states, which is a shame. If there were more out on the roads, there wouldn’t be traffic jams and we’d be saving millions of gallons of gas yearly.

    February 11th, 2013 12:42 pm

  12. Robin Thomas

    Finally, at least some guidelines. I commute daily from Sonoma Co. to Corte Madera. Lane-splitting by these self-entitled riders is more than dangerous – as most of them do it going faster than the allowed speed limit – and I’m not talking the 30 MPH speed limit. During commute traffic, when traffic is moving 50 MPH or more, it is very difficult and extremely distracting to have a bike come roaring past your vehicle, either on the drivers or passenger side. The bikers have little or no respect for passenger vehicles, considering that they fully expect you to know they are coming and expect you to move aside. We need more than guidelines – we need laws to stop this! My commute partner and I call these people guys with a death wish!

    February 11th, 2013 1:05 pm

  13. Chris P. Lo Pinto

    I feel it is very important for drivers to understand why there is a rule like this here in CA. I am from Mendocino County and have been riding since 1968, having grown up in N.Y. and there I got a citation for lane splitting so was fearful of that practice until in 1995 I was riding home from S.F. and at the point south of Petaluma where the freeway drops from three lanes to two I had a CHP motorcycle officer ride alongside who told me that I should lanesplit for several reasons, first of which was the fact that if traffic came to a sudden stop in front of me that I might not have time to stop before hitting the car in front, and also that I was taking the space of a car and that because of congestion it would actually be more practical to ride in between cars. I told him I did not feel comfortable doing it and he told to “get over it”, so I learned that day and rode like that through stopped traffic all the way to Santa Rosa, which turned out to be the only practical solution. Several years later on a ride to S.R. coming back, I was just riding in the left lane because traffic was still moving at about 45 mph and suddenly the cars in front of me slammed on their brakes and I knew instantly I would not be able to stop in time to prevent hitting the car in front and I swerved out onto the center median, and rode on dirt inches from the guardrail for several hundred feet knowing that if I went down I would be badly injured, and somehow was able to retain control of my motorcycle and ride it back onto the pavement without falling. That was very very scary, and at that point knew that the CHP officer was correct. Ever since then, in heavy traffic I lane split carefully knowing that riding in a lane with cars is even more dangerous and am very glad that California allows this practice which has since saved my life several times. Of course there are many riders who don’t know or care about the proper guidelines for this and that is too bad, because if it were outlawed there would more motorcycle fatalities and even less room on over crowded freeways. For drivers of cars and trucks it seems like a bad idea, but if done properly, it is actually a better way to go.

    February 11th, 2013 1:36 pm

  14. Anthony Angry

    Every motorcycle rider should take the safety class and if every driver had the same education we get in the motorcycle safety class, it would be a huge improvement.

    Personally, I don’t lane share on the highway because I don’t feel I’ve got enough miles under my belt to safely anticipate the changing situations – and my schedule rarely, if ever, has me in heavy traffic. I do, however, go to the front of the line at stop lights and yeah, sometimes people sure take it as some personal offense. What IS the deal with that? It’s a safer place to be for a motorcycle. Yeah, it’s a convenience for us that ride but too bad, grow up. If your only reason to be against it is that, “it’s not fair!” Grow up.

    I’m not convinced that it shouldn’t be illegal to lane share at night, though. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a driver to discern a motorcycle headlight from all the others in the rear-view mirror and a driver might make a lane change while unaware of the bike that’s splitting lanes.

    February 11th, 2013 1:45 pm

  15. paul

    an area that should be prohibited, lane splitting legally banned, is at hwy junctions and the car jostling area before and after. The only two lane splitters to get mad at me were in the area between Ashby and University where there is so much lane changing going on that anyone spliting lanes up to the San Rafael cut-off should be considered mentally impaired and too irrational to ride a bike.

    If a merger is trying to merge when convenient, not at the most crowded time, and you are in the blind spot, it is going to look to you as if you were cut off, yet you never let the car ahead know you were there or what your intentions were. True going left as well.

    No splitting at interchanges and merging areas as even the number 2 lane will become impacted by reactive and defensive drivers.

    February 11th, 2013 2:59 pm

  16. Stacy

    I split lanes only when I need to, meaning, when the traffic is going so slow either you might drop your bike from the stop and go or your bike may start overheating. Lane splitting should be used only when needed.Splitting lanes takes a lot of confidence and skill. Unfortunately I see it overused when some bikers just don’t want to stay anywhere near the speed limit which gives us a bad name and reputation.

    February 11th, 2013 3:25 pm

  17. hannon sutro

    I got sideswiped by a large Harley a few years ago in the Novato narrows area immediately by the airport. The problem is that while the car is stuck in traffic , the motorcycle got away and didn’t bother to stop. I couldn’t get his plate number and because of the deductible had to eat the buff out job to the tune of $ 600 dollars.
    Just for that reason alone it should be illegal, you can’t catch them.

    February 11th, 2013 3:47 pm

  18. Heywood Jablome

    I ride, I split lanes. I have been run into and had some close calls…but sit in that traffic while my bike and I both over heat?? FAHGETAHBOUTIT.

    February 11th, 2013 4:09 pm

  19. Palmeda Day

    The majority of the responses are from motorcycle riders. I wish there was some way of warning the driver of the car that the motorcycle is about to spit the lane. I have had Harley’s scare the s—. out of me when they drive past with their loud pipes. And the other foreign bikes you can’t hear until they whine by.

    February 11th, 2013 4:42 pm

  20. Michael Roesner

    This is a great topic. I ride an air cooled machine. Common sense tell me to ride if my life depends on it.

    February 11th, 2013 7:11 pm

  21. rider

    I think that the reaction from some of the drivers here is indicative of how car drivers are on the road. They don’t ride but don’t want others to ride either. I wish like someone else said they would start writing up the drivers of cars for swerving to cut off the biker or do undercover stings with out of uniform officers and see the dangers that riders endure every time they ride. Its legal…. don’t worry about others just drive safe.

    February 12th, 2013 6:35 am

  22. Bunga Gunga

    best thing people in cars can do is hang up the cell phone, turn the music down, stop eating, stop fixing your makeup, and freakin pay attention. Your driving! Stop zoning out in your little bubbles!

    February 12th, 2013 11:35 am

  23. Susan

    tell you what, lets come up with a deal. Make it so Harleys can’t be that freakin’ ridiculously loud anymore and I’ll allow the lane splitting motorcyclists to come sit near my window. I have issue with lane splitting even in very slow or stopped traffic because now motorcyclists aren’t moving fast enough to move smoothly between my vehicle and another without wobbling back n forth or bouncing off vehicles or into side mirrors. I further don’t like lane splitting because of blind spots and I shouldn’t have to worry about moving over and possibly hitting a motorcyclist because they’re to my left between me and another vechicle. Personally I fail to see why they can’t be in the lane like a vehicle. If you’re there and have lights on I doubt you’ll be rear ended or something and the danger of that I believe is less likely than people turning left into them because they’re lane splitting. I’ve had zero problems driving behind a motorcycle but lots with them lane splitting and several near accidents.

    February 13th, 2013 10:29 am

  24. Jacob

    I ride a motorcycle practically every day from school and back. I rarely have to lane split on the freeway, but I always filter to the front on a red light. I believe most people don’t care if a motorcycle filters to the front at a red light. But iv had people try to pin me when lane splitting on the freeway in traffic. It was a terrifying experience for me and there should be a way to report such drivers to the police. If done safely it reduces traffic congestion and is safer for the rider, maybe if more people payed attention to there surrounding while driving we would have much less accidents.

    February 13th, 2013 12:08 pm

  25. Jesse

    I’m a relatively new rider and said that I would never lane split, but the reality is that you need to – LA traffic is no joke.

    I agree with all the safety comments noted here and only lane split when safe and traffic is at a stand still. I have come across a few drivers that are against the lane splitting by us riders and actually try to “close the gap” on us and not let us through. But, the one thing I have not heard anyone speak of here is that “motorcycles cannot stay idle in traffic” and just go with the flow of slow to non moving traffic because “they will overheat”. Which means pulling over and letting the bike cool before continuing. Who does that? Or has time for that? My bike runs at 160 degrees F at normal speeds and starts to heat up if slowed – so I don’t understand why drivers aren’t told this in traffic schools, news channels or in literature. We should not all take the blame for some of the more reckless riders out there, but we are all on the same roads. Please look out for us and keep it real – your car can do more damage than our bikes can.

    February 14th, 2013 10:58 am

  26. Biker

    Dear car drivers who “think” lane splitting should be illegal; either 1, move to a state where it is, or 2, apply critical thinking to view the issue rather than reacting with your ego/outrage.

    Lane splitting/sharing is the safest option for the bike in stop and go traffic, and it is one less car holding you up.

    Bikes don’t need you to move over (there is actually plenty of room), but if you try it, you will usually get a friendly wave anyway, as we appreciate the gesture.

    Finally, if you want to see more courtesy on the road, then practice it. As Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

    Respectfully,

    A motorcyclist.

    February 17th, 2013 2:17 pm

  27. Rudy Shaw

    I ride from Santa Rosa to San Francisco 5 days a week and personally feel much safer when lane sharing than when stuck in traffic. I would say that on average I get cut off at least 3-4 times per day on my commute and honestly the scariest sitation for me is when I am in the car pool lane (not lane sharing) going with the flow of traffic, maybe 30-35 in the car pool lane and then a stopped car in the right hand lane decides to make a break into the car pool lane while not seeing me. I can’t count the amount of times I have had to slam on the breaks a few times locking up the rear tire and sliding to within inches because someone changed lanes and cut me off. The next scariest situation is when I slow down in traffic and the person following behind isn’t paying attention and almost rear ends you. At least when all the cars around are slowed down and I am splitting between them at a reasonable speed I feel comfortable knowing that nobody is going to be cutting in front of me going 30+ mph slower than me, and if the cars I am splitting are side by side I know they aren’t going to randomly try and change lanes. I also don’t have to worry about being rear ended. As long as I am within 5-10 mph of the flow of traffic I have plenty of opportunity to slow down or adjust for a car that is trying to block or not paying attention.

    As for the car drivers that are upset because of being surprised by a harley with loud exhaust or a bike buzzing by you, the fact that you are surprised by it and it scares you only enforces the fact that you are not paying attention to your mirrors and what is going on behind you. I even have a headlight modulator with makes the headlight blink and stand out more and it is amazing how I can be behind someone for miles and somehow they still dont even see me behind them. Which is further proof that motorcyclists need to be able to take extra steps to protect themselves rather than rely on the drivers around them to see them and do the rigth thing.

    March 3rd, 2013 12:53 pm

  28. Katrina

    If lane splitting is the safest option for a bike in stop and go traffic, why is illegal in 49 out of 50 states? This is the most ridiculous, unsafe thing I have ever seen, experienced or heard of. I have never had a problem stopping safely behind a motorcycle. It is NO different than stopping safely behind another car, truck, van, etc. I do have a problem with unexpected objects driving in between me and other vehicles. Key word: unexpected. I would never do anything intentional to hit or injure another person, but I will not alter my driving habits to allow for this stupidity. I also will not feel bad if you get squished between two cars and are severely injured or killed.

    August 21st, 2013 11:58 am

  29. If you don't know, look it up!

    Just to answer some questions I read in other comments. Why is it allowed? Several reasons, including the one given in the article, the fact that getting the bikes out of the crush of stop n go traffic helps the cars get down the road faster too, and another I discovered back in ’95 while stationed in CA and traveling on the 405 around L.A. –it gets HOT inside motorcycle gear in full sun in high summer, and motorcyclists can quickly go from a little too warm to passed out from heat stress. I didn’t pass out, but we’d received training in recognizing the signs and after 20 minutes in stop n go a few feet n stop with no off-ramps nearby and no shady overpasses to pull to the side under conditions it was becoming imperative for me to cool down when I finally made the decision to lane split. Back then motorcyclists in California were being told by DVM to go no more than 5 mph faster than surrounding traffic; it’s amazing to though who haven’t been in a like situation how much difference the air flow thru gear venting makes at only 5 mph. As soon as I started moving the danger of death from falling over and not getting treatment in time passed…as did the prospect for all those in cars to have to sit and wait for emergency services to do their stuff. Lane splitting should be legal, with appropriate guidelines and appropriate education for those driving cars, in any and every state with hot summer weather in which traffic jams are common.

    Appropriate driver education is important for many reasons, but here’s one –again from my experience– that is likely new to most people. It is NOT legal to force a motorcyclist to travel on the white land lne. I had the opportunity to speak with the motorist who came up behind me and, in continuing to come forward while moving slightly to the outside of the road on a two lane highway, literally forced me to move onto the lane line between her car and another traveling in the adjacent lane and held me there (both lanes were packed with cars) at 55 mph for perhaps 3-4 minutes before the person behind her slowed enough for me to move back into the lane. The driver herself seemed utterly oblivious to attempts to motion her forward or backward to give me space in the lane. kudos to myself and the driver on the other side for steady nerves in preventing an accident, and the driver behind her for recognizing the situation and gradually slowing to let me back into the lane. The capper to this stupidity? The unsafe driver turned into my military installation, and when I came up to ask why she’d done that after she parked, was told “I see you guys on motorcycles lane split, so it MUST be legal to MAKE you lane split too.” No, it’s not. Not at all. Not ever. And how a readiness officer could be so stupid about safety i will never understand.

    Lastly…anyone on a motorcycle who feels it’s thrilling, cool, etc to be out on a road with “just a helmet between my body and the asphalt” surrounded by tons of steel needs to get their body off the bike until their brain matures enough to catch up. That attitude is a killer, and while anyone riding like that may have the right to take themself out, they don’t have the right to cause anyone else’s accident –anyone else on a bike OR in a car– by virtue of that kind of thinking. Mom didn’t mean that when she joked about you playing in traffic. And every time your attitude creates a scared or startled sriver in a car who then takes the wrong action around another motorcyclist that ends up in an unsafe situation and injury or death, YOU share the blame.

    Ride safe. Or park it and get a car.

    November 24th, 2013 3:08 pm

  30. Frank

    At 50 years if age with 42 years of riding, I can tell you that riding in CA is safer than all the other states. I only lived in CA for 5 years, but it was amazing to see how everyone shared the road… For the most part. Being back in GA, I can tell you that being stuck in traffic is dangerous and uncomfortable due to the heat from the engine and the lack of air going through safety gear. Lane splitting give

    December 26th, 2013 8:12 am

  31. Frank

    Lane spliting gives you a choice!

    December 26th, 2013 8:14 am

  32. Robert

    Lane Splitting should be OUTLAWED! As a motorcycle rider since a kid.. I use to lane spit all the time, but being 57 now I will never do it, to freaking dangerous.. A friend of mine in 4 years has been swiped by 3 bikes and everyone of them took off, He chased one down one time and he just talked to him,, I would kicked his assss!

    January 2nd, 2014 2:45 pm

  33. Sam

    Robert, perhaps your friend should be more aware of the motorcyclists and provide adequate room. I find it hard to believe that any rider would want lane splitting to be illegal. It’s a choice. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it and would rather sit in bumper to bumper traffic hoping that the car behind you doesn’t rear end you into an accordion, then that’s your choice. Let the majority of other riders who do lane split continue to do so. I feel much safer splitting lanes than to sit in stop and go traffic. If lane splitting was so dangerous, you’d see a lot more rider fatalities due to it, which you don’t. Period. Most fatalities are due to rider mistakes and inattentive drivers. I think drivers should wake up and pay attention rather than to force riders to sit in the same crappy traffic and be as miserable as them. California is doing things right for riders, get over it and pay attention.

    April 4th, 2014 10:13 am

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