Motorcycles are lane splitting all over the freeways and surface streets of Los Angeles, California. Lane splitting is basically when motorcycles pass a car, or maybe another motorcycle, while in the same lane as the other vehicle. Often times the motorcycle rides right on top of the painted line separating the lanes while making the pass. An estimated 80% of California motorcyclists split lanes according to a recent motorcycle story in the Sacramento Bee Newspaper. This is a convenient practice because it allows the motorcyclist to get past traffic jams and slower cars overall. It’s one of the reasons some people ride a motorcycle…so they don’t have to sit in bumper to bumper traffic getting from point A to point B on our congested roads. But the question remains: Is it legal?

The answer to the question of legality may surprise you; lane splitting is neither legal or illegal in California. It is illegal in every state other than California. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website confirms that California law does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane, a practice often called lane splitting, lane sharing or filtering. See DMV Lane Splitting Guidelines. The DMV goes on to state an important message: Creating a safer highway environment is the shared responsibility of drivers and motorcyclists alike. This is achieved by staying alert and using common sense and courtesy while on the road. It is also important for motorcyclists to minimize their risks by riding responsibly, always wearing a helmet and other protective gear and never riding under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants.

Here are other important safety reminders:

  • Watch your speed—a motorcycle collision is highly likely to cause injury or death
  • Assume people in cars do not see you.
  • Avoid blind spots in other vehicles, particularly large trucks

So based on the law current at the time of drafting this article, you will not be at fault just because you were lane splitting. Rather the basic rules of the road apply, and thus if a car makes an unsafe lane change, the car driver will be at fault if a lane splitting motorcyclist is thereby injured. See Vehicle Code 21658 for Unsafe Lane Change Law.

Unfortunately, many motorcycle crashes happen while the biker is splitting lanes. Either a car drifts into the bike’s path of travel, or the automobile makes a sudden lane change, usually without signaling or looking out for traffic approaching from the rear. The bike oftentimes hits the right or left side of the car; too often the motorcyclist himself hits the car, and/or is thrown over the handlebars onto the ground. The injuries from this type of collision can be devastating, and are sometimes tragically fatal. If this happens, you need an experienced motorcycle attorney to protect your rights. An experienced motorcycle attorney knows how to gather and analyze the physical evidence (skid marks, debris, gear damage including helmet damage) and witness statements so that you are ultimately compensated for your physical injuries and property damage.

Other resources: California Wrongful Death Rules, DMV Motorcycle Information

Related Information: California Motorcycle Crashes