California Motorcyclists. Lanes Aren’t For Splitting. Or Are They?

Lanesplitting0The controversy about California lane-splitting or lane-sharing is going on. California is the only state that does not actively outlaw the practice of lane-splitting, in which riders use the space between lanes when traffic is slow or has stopped. But it is legal? No. So, it is illegal? Neither. How come?

Until now the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol were encouraging to do it safely and recently even published online in their respective websites guidelines for safe tactics to minimize the risk of accident. “Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders,” said the DMV’s driver handbook, before similarly advising on safe and unsafe lane-splitting techniques. The conclusion that all California motorcyclists made was “Lane-Splitting is legal”…

Lanesplitting2It was until the CHP came under fire from a Sacramento-based individual who charged the police agency had exceeded its authority by recommending lane splitting. The Office of Administrative Law agreed, and told the CHP to take down the guidelines, now removed since July 7. Kenneth Mandler, the California state employee who filed the original complaint has not said why he is opposed to lane-splitting and has refused to comment.

Since the CHP’s decision was reported, motorcycle safety experts and motorcycling organizations have stepped up to voice their concerns about the future of lane-splitting, which supporters contend decreases traffic and helps motorcyclists’ avoid overheating — as most motorcycles are air-cooled and do not have radiators to keep their engines cool while standing still. They also believe the practice increases rider safety by reducing the number of accidents involving motorcycles hit from behind while stuck in traffic jams, the type of accident that accounts, National Highway Safety Transportation Administration research shows, for more than a quarter of all motorcycle accidents. More than 75% of drivers interviewed for a 2012 study conducted by the California Office for Traffic Safety said they thought lane-splitting was unsafe. Almost 50% thought it was illegal. 75% said they disapproved, and 7% admitted they had swerved to block a motorcycle trying to lane-split…

30 Responses to “California Motorcyclists. Lanes Aren’t For Splitting. Or Are They?”

  1. 1 Rodent Jul 31st, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Ending Lane Splitting in California will have a desasterous effect on the motorcycle economy in the state.

  2. 2 mkv Jul 31st, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Let’s thank Kenneth Mandler for screwing this up for all cyclists. Im surprised the AMA hasn’t got to this guy yet

  3. 3 USAYGO Jul 31st, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Born and bred here in SoCal, ELA to be precise. I do lane split responsibly when the traffic is at a almost complete standstill. I have both Harley’s and a Japanese sportbike, I have to call it as I see it. I believe more of the uproar is coming from the irresponsible sportbike guys doing their stunts and splitting lanes at high speeds on our freeways. I’ve also been hit by one of the younger guys stunting on the freeway while in my car, he went down hard and it wasn’t pretty.Please don’t let a few ruin it for all, lane splitting is safe when done correctly by experienced riders.

  4. 4 PJ Hyland Jul 31st, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Californians who would like to preserve their privilege to split lanes need to google ABATE of California and become a member. ABATE is an all volunteer organization except for our secretary and our lobbyist both of whom are significantly under-paid. ABATE is responsible for several legislative actions, which favor the maintenance and/or establishment of motorcycle rights and privileges. Please check out the list on the web site. The minimal dues goes, primarily, to support our lobbyist’s efforts in Sacramento. We are currently trying to get the CHP guidelines passed into law. Those guidelines allow a motorcyclist to “share” lanes and to go up to 10 mph faster than traffic when that traffic is proceeding at 35 mph or less. Obviously ABATE would prefer to have no restrictions on lane splitting but a glass half-full beats the hell out of the alternative.

    This is your chance to make a difference.

  5. 5 chopmonster66 Jul 31st, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Well it has been 25 yrs since I have been to Cali , but the traffic sucked then and I am sure it has to be worse now. Why dose the D O T figure out how to get it moving along better, so people don’t have to sit
    for long periods of time. I think it should be ok every were it is safe , but you will still have A**holes that don’t like it and try to swerve and crash you. And I would beat that Kenneth is one of those guys.

  6. 6 TJ Martin Jul 31st, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    1) I completely agree with USAYGO’s comment on the problem of the current irresponsible sportbike set.. across the entire nation . They with their actions are in my opinion committed and intent on ruining everything for everyone that choses to ride in the US [ Doonesbury did a great cartoon a couple of Sundays ago on who it is that rides irresponsibly on US roads these days .. with a bit of a back handed compliment I might add ]

    2) At present the majority of M/C’s .. new ones at least are in fact water and/or oil cooled . So that argument is in fact a moot point

    3) With the constantly escalating congestion on CA roads .. … both with cars and M/C’s along with rapidly deteriorating roads and poorly maintained Interstates in California I do question whether lane splitting can any longer be considered .. ‘ safe ‘ or even reasonable in CA .

    4) Facts … from all sides including ABATE are all open to interpretation .. with all sides interpreting the so called ‘ facts ‘ in order to support their own agenda . Neither side even so much as considering what the general publics actual needs are : nor what the truth may actually be

    Which is to say when it comes to lane splitting . There is no easy answer .

  7. 7 TJ Martin Jul 31st, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Here’s the link for the Doonesbury comic I mentioned about who rides safe in the US these days ;

  8. 8 Ben Cautious Jul 31st, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    If you cannot split lanes — or at least occupy the space between vehicles at a traffic light — you’re far more likely to be struck from behind. I rode in SoCal for decades. Haven’t even bothered in Houston. It’s just not worth it. The 49 other States should try to catch up.

  9. 9 richard Jul 31st, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I’m not from Ca. but have an opinion. Intuitively, lane splitting seems dangerous. I will admit that I have never done it. I guess it can work well under certain circumstances…are there stats that can give us some perspective??? From a safety standpoint, would it make sense to open up the “Shoulder” to mc’s when it is paved? That would seem safer than lane splitting.

  10. 10 Stefan Jul 31st, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    As I understand it, the practice of lane splitting isn’t the issue. Well, at least not in this case. It’s that one person forced the CHP to remove the lane splitting guidelines from California government websites. The American Motorcyclist Association had started a petition to have the guidelines reposted on the websites.

  11. 11 Chris Jul 31st, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    I would guess that the guidelines were removed to protect the State and agency from litigation. Imagine the scenario where a lane splitter is following the guidelines but gets in an accident. Hey, maybe he should sue the State because the State gave him the guidelines to follow, which he did, and the State must be aware that there is some risk involved, so is the State not negligent?

  12. 12 Chris Jul 31st, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Actually, after rereading the article, I think some jerk who was stuck in traffic while waiting to go sit in his cubicle all day got upset when a biker was able to buzz by. His selfish attitude (the same kind of attitude the prompts people to speed up and shut you out of a lane change) induced him to complain. Now he is a big shot in his own mind and if he’s going to be stuck in traffic, than darn it if some biker kid doesn’t have to be stuck too. Way to show ’em pal! You’re on your way to success in life!

  13. 13 Jensen Beeler Jul 31st, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    “But it is legal? No. So, it is illegal? Neither. How come?”

    A quick correction Cyril. Lane-splitting is very much a legal act here in California. The California Vehicle Code makes no provision outlawing lane-splitting, and because of the way the CVC is written, lane-splitting falls under the CVC’s catchall provision of “safe and prudent” operation of a motor vehicle. What that means, no one really knows, hence CHP eventually publishing guidelines.

    The removal of the guidelines was due to the perception that the CHP was creating law, which as part of the executive branch, it should not be doing. So, the guidelines were removed.

    The legality around lane-splitting is not ambiguous, what “safe and prudent” lane-splitting actually is though, no one knows.

  14. 14 Clark Kirkendall Jul 31st, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    TJ, I have been lane splitting/riding in CA for 32 years and my bike is air cooled, so it’s not a moot point to me. It is the best reason to ride in CA. If lane splitting were outlawed, I’d probably still do it, but couldn’t even imagine it. This is about the only thing good in the state. Traffic sure has got worse over the last 10 years,

  15. 15 USAYGO Jul 31st, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    TJ Martin, checked out the Doonesbury cartoon. Hilarious and oh so true

  16. 16 nicker Jul 31st, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    there are places in CA wher you’d die-a heat stroke if it weren’t for lane splitt-n.

    “… some jerk who was stuck in traffic while waiting to go sit in his cubicle all day got upset when a biker was able to buzz by….”


    Its about envy and bed-wetting fear that keeps people from doing it themselves.
    And so the would ruin it for the rest of us to make up for their shortcomings.


  17. 17 Chewtoy (@HoundOfDoom) Jul 31st, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Clark has it right. I split lanes daily to and from work and there is an art to it that some riders never bother to learn. It’s probably the last thing keeping me in Cali, and if it’s made illegal, leaving will be a lot easier.

    It’s sad that ONE douchebag has kicked this off. All it takes is one jerk with a big mouth to make our reps run for the hills. Amazingly, they ignore taxpayers and homeowners except when they need campaign contributions.

    If you don’t want to lanesplit, stfu and leave us that do alone. And if my passing your cage bothers you, well, life is full of disappointment. Deal with it.

  18. 18 Jusmecuz Jul 31st, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    It’s not legal in my state, but I do it when traffic backs up on my way to and from work. I damn sure aint gonna sit there. I’ll usually creep along tho. On several occasions Ive had some dick pull over in attempts to block me. Ive gotten their attention by tapping my brass knuckles gently against their vehicle. Almost always, they change their minds and pull back into their lanes acting as if nothing ever happened.

  19. 19 Sportster Mike Aug 1st, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Hi Guys

    Your poor sods!!! Here in England we CAN lane split – we call it filtering…

    Yes, its legal and yes some car drivers don’t like it and move over (right) to get in the way but quite a few car drivers will move over (to their left) to let us through.

    So yes its legal providing we don’t go too fast in relation to the moving traffic ie not more than about 15mph faster.. of course if you crash then its 50/50 fault according to the insurance companies

  20. 20 Chris Cope Aug 1st, 2014 at 4:57 am

    I’m from the States but live in the UK at the moment, where it is legal. Our roads here are so congested that the drive from my house can take more than an hour, whereas riding my bike reduces the journey to 10 minutes.

    Here, the technique is called “filtering” and it is taught in basic learner’s courses. I think filtering sounds more clinical than “lane splitting” and makes it sound less as if we are somehow cheating in the big game of getting from point A to point B. If I were trying to promote it in the United States, I think I’d try to give it the most boring name ever, so drivers wouldn’t be so jealous. “Dispersion,” perhaps. Or maybe “driver obstacle reduction.”

    It really does baffle me that other states prevent it. If I lived in the U.S., I’d do it regardless and yammer off some made up traffic statute if any driver challenged me.

  21. 21 Zipper Aug 1st, 2014 at 9:17 am

    I always stopped between two cars at red lights to give myself more protection from being rear ended , one of my biggest fears while riding. After being reamed out buy the FL state police I don’t do it any more. Should be legal in stopped traffic. Great help to all. If you want to observed lane splitting at it’s it’s best take a trip to Rome. ..Z

  22. 22 takehikes Aug 1st, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I’ll lane split if traffic is stopped. Otherwise its just too dicey.

    for sure sportbike loons have made this a much more contentious thing. I’ blown away when guys lanes split through slow traffic and they are hitting 80. Or when traffic is rolling good at 65-70 and they still lane split. Just no sense to it.

    that’s what pisses off drivers. this jackass that went after the law probably is one of those small minded guys that can’t stand anyone getting ahead of him in traffic.

  23. 23 paparay Aug 1st, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I’m sure our friend Kenny he’s going to have to change his name and probably move what a beeeeeeep

  24. 24 TopCat Aug 1st, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    The reality of this situation is that it was all born out a California state bill (350) that was introduced by state senator Jim Beall. Beall’s district is essentially Silicon valley and he is a long term puppet for the incredibly rich constituents who live in his district. The rumor was that all of this was born out of one of these Super Wealthy Execs not liking motorcycles lane-splitting so Beall was “APPROACHED” to create a bill to ban lane splitting. His presentation of the bill was a ludicrous affair with many unfounded facts being presented. There was major backlash from the riding community as a whole but even more surprisingly from the California Highway Patrol as they realized the impact that banning lane splitting would have on rush hour traffic flow and increased traffic lane switching by highly maneuverable motorcycles between cars, truly a recipe for disaster. Since that introduction Senator Beall has benched this effort and then supposedly this “State Employee” came forward to slap the highway patrols comments and instructions down, thus paving the way (after the CHP had been spanked) for this bill to be reintroduced later. If anyone out there does not think this is what is happening I am serving you notice now that this is exactly what is going on. Money and influence of a few (non-riders) is defining our future ability of how and where we can operate our motorcycles in California.
    I also do not agree that it is just the “sportbike” set creating an issue. Please come to the east bay of San Fran for one day and you will find there are just as many V-twin riders doing stupid things as sportbike riders, I have had my mirrors taken off twice by big twins in the last ten years and I give plenty of room for splitters, hell for that matter I have even been hit by a scooter rider splitting traffic. This different ion of “RIDER TYPES” has to stop and we need to realize we are all in the riding community and decisions such as these impact us all. Moreover I believe it is still a lack of solid rider training and increased communal peer pressure and education that need to happen. The riding communities tolerance for this type of behavior has to grow up and stop embracing it. I am a 27 year veteran of the motorcycle industry, and have been riding nor for around 40 years, I ride often (twins, sport, enduro, adventure) and I lane split. There are days I am fine and others when I just do not feel that I am concentrating at a level I need to in order to safely split. There are days when drivers seem attentive and others when they definitively are not and I choose not to split. The general rule was that you could split if traffic was flowing under 35MPH. I believe whether it is law or not this is a relatively safe speed to do so that allows under most conditions enough time to react. Above this it gets sketchier fast and the risks quickly begin to outweigh the rewards. This of course is strictly my opinion but a well founded one with thousands of miles in rush hour traffic here in the Bay and if there is one thing that can be taken from my comments it is simply, get active in your local politics, pay attention to where the small moves of the pawns are leading to capturing the king. Join Abate, Join the AMA and please join the fight to retain what riders rights and privileges we still have both inroad and off as there are more of them than us and we are not winning many of these battles.

  25. 25 James just another Crazy Kiwi Aug 1st, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    People in cars, usually the ones with a gold chain around their neck driving some flash modern high performance V8 stuck in traffic hate people on MotorCycles getting any where first.
    They find it an insult to their ego just even being passed. I have had a number of those types try and cause issues when I have been riding. In the old days you just kept a rock or some old bolts in in the pocket.Those days are gone and so is the fear and respect !
    I doubt it is like that in the USA because your drivers are way better than the swamp donkeys over here. Road rage is common ! I have no idea if it is legal to lane split I just do it any way.

  26. 26 Woody Aug 1st, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    I remember folks complaining years ago about bikes scratching cars & clipping mirrors and then taking off since the gridlocked victim couldn’t chase them and often couldn’t see the plate in time. True? I suspect sportbike antics like out east where they swarmed the guy & his family don’t help either. I’ll confess to giving up a few times and splitting lanes here in WI, figuring I’d take the ticket if they could get to me. Last July 4th I was stuck in hot traffic and the back jug started cutting in & out in heat management mode so I told her to hang on and off we went. I still feel dirty 😉

  27. 27 Stephen Aug 1st, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    On the 1st of July this year lane filtering (as opposed to lane splitting) became legal in the state of NSW (New South Wales) Australia. The jerks who want lane splitting stopped should read up on what we found to be safer, even in the over regulated over policed place where I live.

  28. 28 Boomer Aug 2nd, 2014 at 10:19 am

    The common understanding of why lane splitting is legal in CA when I lived there was because if they banned it then the CHP and other police agencies could no longer do it either (legally).

  29. 29 Sark Aug 3rd, 2014 at 10:27 am


  30. 30 Mac Bolt Aug 3rd, 2014 at 11:12 am

    In CA, at least for today, lane sharing is allowed…not legal or illegal…allowed. CALIFORNIA DOES NOT NEED OR WANT ANY MORE STINK’N LAWS ON MOTORCYCLE RIDERS! We have become the nanny state of the whole USA. As far as I know, at least today, NO CA MRO wants a lane sharing law. The CHP Guidelines have been pulled. In reading the documentation, Ken Mandler hates lane FILTERING (a better word). Based on what I have read, the guidelines were perfectly legal as long as law enforcement did not enforce those guidelines. CHP Commissioner Farrow stated they were in the interest of public safety and not enforcement. The Offices of Administrative Law demanded the guidelines be pulled…in my opinion they were wrong.

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Cyril Huze