Ask the Motor Cop | Is it legal for motorcycles to ‘split’ lanes?

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Question: Hi Jerry. My name is Teri and I have a question that really concerns me regarding motorcycles going between cars on the freeway and on city streets. Is it OK to do that? I see it all the time. 

Answer: Thanks for that question, Teri. I know that a lot of people are asking the same thing. So this is what I have come up with through some research. 

California is the only state that allows lane sharing, or commonly known as “splitting traffic.” The contention is that it reduces traffic congestion, which is very true. So, if it can be accomplished with reasonable safety, it is allowed.  

California Vehicle Code 21658.1(a) defines “lane splitting”: “Lane splitting means driving a motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.” 

A couple of other states allow motorcycles to travel between vehicles if the vehicles are stopped and only in certain speed zones. California has no such restrictions. So, if accomplished safely, no violation. So let’s talk about that. 

California Highway Patrol guidelines: 

• Traffic “should” only be split if traveling is under 40 mph. 

• “Should” not travel more than 10 mph over surrounding traffic. 

• May not weave in and out of the carpool lanes. 

Here’s what will get you in hot water. If you are traveling at excessive speeds and the observing officer forms the opinion that it is an unsafe speed, stand by. I’ll bet we’ve all seen that before. 

Common sense regarding other vehicle drivers: 

• Do not block or impede a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider. 

• Do not open a door so as to impede a motorcyclist. It is illegal. 

• Drivers in the far left lane (no carpool lane present) should move to the left of their lane to give motorcyclists ample room to pass.   

This is it in a nutshell. Motorists and motorcyclists owe each other a duty of care. 

So Teri, in conclusion, it is legal for motorcyclists to split traffic in California. Drive carefully.   

Jerry Schlund, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, is a retired Los Angeles Police Department motor officer with over 24 years riding. He was a certified radar instructor — both laser and doppler — and was instrumental in California vehicle code amendments. He was a traffic school instructor for 25 years. Have a question for the motor cop? Send your questions to [email protected].   

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