If you don’t ride a motorcycle, you may not realize that what seems like a dangerous maneuver you may see motorcyclists doing all the time is legal in California. It’s called “lane splitting” (although it sometimes goes by other names), and California is currently the only state where it’s codified into law.
The California Vehicle Code describes lane splitting as “driving a motorcycle…between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane…on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.” While it can be rather frightening for drivers to see a biker weaving between lanes (not to mention frustrating that they’re making progress in stalled traffic), those in favor of lane splitting argue that it’s safe if done responsibly and can prevent gridlock from becoming even worse.
When is lane splitting dangerous for drivers and motorcyclists?
While those in closed vehicles and motorcyclists always need to be cautious around each other, there are circumstances in which lane splitting can be especially risky. Motorcyclists are discouraged from lane splitting when traffic is moving at high speeds. However, stop-and-start traffic can be a dangerous place for lane splits, as well. Bikers shouldn’t lane split near commercial trucks, buses and RVs with large blind spots.
While bikers typically suffer far worse injuries in car vs. motorcycle crashes, drivers and passengers can also suffer serious injuries – especially if they suddenly change lanes to avoid a motorcycle and collide with another vehicle.
Defensive driving can lessen (but not eliminate) the chance of a crash
Drivers can lessen their chances of a crash caused by a lane-splitting motorcyclist (whether that motorcyclist was riding safely or not) by taking basic safety precautions like putting on their turn signal before attempting to change lanes and looking over their shoulder in addition to checking side- and rear-view mirrors (even with a blind spot monitor) before moving into another lane. The SMOG acronym taught in driver’s ed (signal, mirrors, over the shoulder, and go) is a good one to remember.
Of course, you can be a safe driver and still potentially be startled by a lane-stripping motorcyclist and end up in a collision. These can be complicated crashes to sort out when it comes to assigning responsibility and liability. That’s why if you’ve suffered injuries and other damages, it’s a good idea to have legal guidance to protect your rights and get a fair settlement.