In the state of California, incidents involving motorcycle lane splitting are notably frequent compared to other regions of the United States. This can be attributed to the legality of lane splitting in California, which is not the case in every state. Additionally, the high volume of traffic in densely populated areas such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire contributes to the elevated frequency of such accidents. Major thoroughfares like Interstate 5 and Interstate 10, featuring multiple lanes including HOV lanes, can become heavily congested, resulting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Similarly, multi-lane surface streets, including popular biking destinations such as the PCH, can experience significant traffic during peak travel hours and weekends in coastal regions like San Diego, Newport Beach, and Malibu. In an effort to avoid traffic backups during rush hour periods, motorcyclists frequently navigate between lanes, which can lead to collisions with other vehicles that suddenly change lanes without detecting the approaching motorcyclist, causing the biker to sustain severe injuries or fatalities in some cases.
California Laws Overseeing the Splitting of Motorcycle Lane
Divergent from several other states that have prohibited this activity, California Vehicle Code does not have any section that expressly prohibits motorcyclists from maneuvering between lanes in California. To the contrary, official publications issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol affirm that "Lane splitting in a safe and prudent manner is not illegal in the state of California." Further, California Vehicle Code (CVC) section 22400 prohibits motor vehicles from operating at a purposefully slow speed or obstructing the flow of traffic, which can be interpreted to encompass preventing a motorcyclist from proceeding forward in the unoccupied portions of roadways. Furthermore, CVC section 22517 makes it illegal for a person to open or leave a car door open on any side of a vehicle accessible to moving traffic, which would also preclude drivers from intentionally or negligently opening a car door in the path of a white-lining motorcyclist.
Despite the foregoing, motorcyclists remain subject to the same rules of the road governing lane markings as other vehicle operators. These provisions consist of the following statutes: CVC section 21460 (prohibiting crossing double parallel solid yellow lines or specific dashed/solid line configurations, except when making a left turn at an intersection, turning into a driveway or private road, or performing a lawful U-turn); CVC section 21460.5 (prohibiting the use of a two-way left turn lane for any purpose other than preparing to make a left-hand turn); CVC section 21750 (requiring a safe distance when passing a vehicle on the left); and CVC section 21754 (prohibiting passing in the far right lane except under certain circumstances).
Optimal Procedures for a Motorcyclist to Cautiously Navigate Between Lanes on California Highways and Roads
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has recently issued guidelines outlining several recommendations for motorcyclists to navigate between lanes of traffic on busy California freeways and surface streets. These suggestions include the following:
Legal Implications of Lane Splitting on Biker's Personal Injury Claim in California
Although lane splitting is not prohibited by California law, motorcyclists can still be cited for reckless driving. Additionally, California follows a comparative fault system, meaning that liability for civil damages is allocated proportionally between the parties involved in an accident. This does not excuse a driver from their duty to exercise caution and check their mirrors before changing lanes, but it does mean that imprudent lane splitting can significantly reduce a biker's potential financial recovery for any bodily injury claim. Speed is often a critical factor in these accidents, particularly when riding at high speeds on freeways or surface roads, as other vehicles can suddenly change direction, leaving the motorcyclist with limited options. As a motorcycle injury attorney representing clients throughout California, I advise riders to follow the CHP's guidelines and to split lanes only at lower speeds, to decrease the risk of serious injury or fatality and to increase the likelihood of recovery in the event of an accident.