Live outside the Golden State, and you realize that California is a special place, in virtually every sense of the word. As a sixth-generation inhabitant of the world’s ninth largest economy, regular readers of A&R will already have made note that I am somewhat militant about California, and one of the many reasons for this is the state’s pro-motorcycle culture.

Land of perpetual sunshine, abundant coastal and mountain roads, and the epicenter of the American motorcycle industry, California has another thing going for motorcyclists as well: you can lane-split here. You motorcyclists in the other 49 states of the Union don’t understand what you are missing with this simple act, and if there was one single law that the AMA/MIC should be pushing to pass in every state in order to help swell the ranks of motorcyclists on the road, it would be laws allowing lane-splitting (also known as lane-sharing, or lane-filtering).

What is driving in a safe and prudent manner though? A highly subjective and poorly defined bit of phrasing, the CHP and state legislature have done themselves a disservice in waiting so long to define exactly how they interpret this provision. After all, there is no provision in the CVC that outlaws steering a car with one’s feet, though one would think the California Highway Patrol (CHP) would certainly, and rightfully, ticket you back to the stone age for such an action.

Lane-splitting in California is no different, with no working definition on what was “safe and prudent” on a motorcycle, common practice and adoption have taken hold of the two-wheeled art of getting through traffic congestion. Thought originally to be a concession to the air-cooled machines of the time, lane-splitting catered well to motorcycle riders whose machines would quickly overheat while sitting in traffic.

Also a relic of a time when highway congestion of was considerably less of an issue than its current metropolitan pandemic, for lack of a better reason, California’s pro lane-splitting stance persists because the state has waited too long to act otherwise, and we are that much better for it.

However, what constitutes “safe and prudent” lane-splitting has always been a mystery box definition for motorcyclists, and when left to the subjective opinion of a CHP officer, the application of “the rules” can be varied, at best.

For this author, it has only been a few months since the last time a motorcycle-mounted CHP officer pulled me over for “illegally lane-splitting” on a California highway. A thirty-minute road-side conversation on the basic tenets of jurisprudence, some interesting interpretations of quoted law, a few complete fabrications on the sections of the CVC, and I left sans citation and deeply worried for the next motorcyclist who would get this Harley-rider’s ire — at least my law degree wasn’t going completely to waste, as my mother fears.

My encounter, like those of many others, however only highlights the need for a clearer explanation on the rules of the road. Thankfully the CHiPs abide, and have outlined guidelines for safe lane-splitting on a motorcycle. Before I publish the California Highway Patrol’s guidelines below, it is important to note that these notes are not law. The only relevant law, as far as a court is concerned, is the “safe and prudent manner” catchall in the CVC.

So, think of these guidelines as just that, a guide on how not to getting the stink-eye from Johnny Law. Better yet, think of these guidelines as a best-practices list on how to navigate the highways and city streets of California, but also remember to always use your best judgment, and ride defensively.

The California Highway Patrol’s Guidelines to Lane-Splitting:

Motorcyclists who are competent enough riders to lane split, should follow these general guidelines if choosing to lane split:

1)    Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 MPH faster than other traffic – danger increases at higher speed differentials.

  1. A speed differential of 10 miles per hour or less allows an alert, competent rider enough time to identify and react to most dangerous situations that can occur. 

  2. The greater the speed differential, the less time a rider has to identify and react to a hazard.

2)    It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 30 mph or faster — danger increases as overall speed increases.

  1. At just 20 mph, in the 1 or 2 seconds it takes a rider to identify a hazard, that rider will travel approximately 30 to 60 feet before even starting to take evasive action. Actual reaction (braking or swerving) will take additional time and distance. 

  2. Braking and stopping distance varies greatly based on a multitude of factors (rider, machine and environment). 

  3. As speed increases, crash severity increases. 

3)    Typically, it is safer to split between the #1 and #2 lanes than between other lanes.

  1. Other road users are more accustomed to motorcycles splitting between the #1 and #2 (furthest left) lanes.
  2. Avoid splitting in lanes near freeway on-ramps and exits. 

  3. Avoid splitting lanes when another motorcycle rider is splitting between other nearby lanes as cars may make additional room for one rider and accidentally reduce space for another. 

4)    Consider the total environment in which you are splitting, including the width of the lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, as well as roadway, weather, and lighting conditions.

  1. Some lanes are narrower than others, leaving little room to pass safely. If you can’t fit, don’t split. 

  2. Some vehicles are wider than others — it is not advisable to split near wide trucks. If you can’t fit, don’t split.  
  3. Know the limitations of your motorcycle — wide bars, fairing and bags require more space between vehicles. If you can’t fit, don’t split. 

  4. Avoid splitting on unfamiliar roads to avoid surprises such as poor road surfaces.
  5. Seams in the pavement or concrete between lanes can be hazardous if they are wide or uneven.
  6. Poor visibility, due to darkness or weather conditions, makes it difficult for riders to see road hazards and makes it more difficult for drivers to see you.
  7. Help drivers see you by wearing brightly colored protective gear and using high beams during daylight. 

5)    Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users.

  1. Be very aware of what the cars around you are doing. If a space, or gap, opens up next to your lane, be prepared react accordingly.
  2. Always be prepared to take evasive action if a vehicle changes lanes.
  3. Account for inattentive or distracted drivers.
  4. Riders should not weave back and forth between lanes or ride on top of the line.
  5. Riders should avoid lingering in blind spots.
  6. Never ride while impaired by drugs, alcohol or fatigue. 

  7. Constantly scan for changing conditions. 

The Four R’s or “Be-Attitudes” of Lane Splitting: 

Be Reasonable, be Responsible, be Respectful, be aware of all Roadway and traffic conditions.

  • Be Reasonable means not more than 10 MPH faster than traffic flow and not over 39 MPH.
  • Be Responsible for your own safety and decisions.
    • Don’t put yourself in dangerous positions.
    • If you can’t fit, don’t split.
  • Be Respectful — sharing the road goes both ways.
    • Don’t rely on loud pipes to keep you safe, loud pipes often startle people and poison the attitude of car drivers toward motorcyclists.
    • Other vehicles are not required to make space for motorcycles to lane split.
  • Be aware Roadways and traffic can be hazardous.
    • uneven pavement
    • wide trucks
    • distracted drivers
    • weather conditions
    • curves
    • etc.


These general guidelines are not guaranteed to keep you safe.

Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders. These guidelines assume a high level of riding competency and experience.

The recommendations contained here are only general guidelines and cannot cover all possible combinations of situations and variables.

Personal Safety: Every rider has ultimate responsibility for his or her own decision making and safety. Riders must be conscious of reducing crash risk at all times. California law requires all motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet that complies with the DOT FMVSS 218 standard.

Risk of getting a ticket: Motorcyclists who lane split are not relieved of the responsibility to obey all existing traffic laws. With respect to possible law enforcement action, keep in mind that it will be up to the discretion of the Law Enforcement Officer to determine if riding behavior while lane splitting is or was safe and prudent.

When is it NOT OK to split?

You should NOT lane split:

  • If you can’t fit.
  • At a toll booth.
  • If traffic is moving too fast or unpredictably.
  • If dangerous road conditions exist — examples include water or grit on the road, slippery road markings, road construction, uneven pavement, metal grates, etc.
  • If you cannot clearly see a way out of the space you’re going into (for example, if a van or SUV is blocking your view).
  • Between trucks, buses, RVs, and other wide vehicles.
  • Around or through curves.
  • If you are not fully alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • If you are unable to react to changing conditions instantaneously.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with the situation. 

Messages for Other Vehicle Drivers

1)    Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in California when done in a safe and prudent manner.

2)    Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.

3)    Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal (CVC 22400).

4)    Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal (CVC 22517).

5)    Never drive while distracted.

6)    You can help keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by:

  • Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning 
  • Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic
  • Allowing more following distance, three or four seconds, when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency

Source: California Highway Patrol; Photo: omniNate/ Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 Generic

  • RibzMcSaucy

    I think I broke every single one of those guidelines on the way to work this morning. Cheers.

  • Basically, don’t be a dumb @ss squid.

  • jet057

    Ok, I’m cool w/ that.Just don’t turn our state into what new york has turned into,motorcycle check points,,,,,,,,,,,,there screwed..

  • WetMan

    The first three guidelines are actually part of the lane filtering law here in Belgium. And most Belgian (Walloons especially, Flemish not so much) drivers make space for you if they see you coming.

    However, I usually also encounter some French vehicles on my daily drive to work and they sometimes try to block me by driving up to the dotted line. I guess the mariuana they just bought in the Netherlands is making them forget that they are in another bloody country!

  • Westward

    @ Beeler

    Why not post an article about your conversation with the law and how it transpired, ending with you riding off sans citation….?

  • CTK

    This is pretty much EXACTLY how I split here in NYC. Though I might go 15 over instead of 10.

  • Daniel Croft

    I used to split in NYC several years ago and I’ve ridden in CA and split. I really do think that splitting is an over all positive addition to road rules but there’s little chance of getting other states to implement a splitting law when the overall perception, even among motorcyclists is that just squids do it. In NYC I had an air cooled bike and used to split respectfully when it was hot and not at all if the bike was fine.

    I’ve talked to many people about splitting and the most common story is of people splitting at super high speeds, that does the cause no good at all. I’m happy that the guidelines talk about speed differential as that’s one of our greatest enemies and one of the ways we can mitigate risk while riding.

  • Jimbo

    I’m in Ohio and I filter at stop lights to keep some idiot on their cell phone from crushing me at the end of a line of stopped traffic. I don’t know why that’s not “legal” here, it’s definitely the safe way to go.

  • anders eliasson

    @WetMan …

    Nah, they know they’re in another country, they’re just French :^D … let the flaming begin …


  • Amchaos

    These guidelines are all wrong, but they explain why the CHP are so bad at splitting lanes. You actually want a big speed difference between yourself and traffic, particularly when traffic is bumper to bumper, because it reduces the exposure time you have with each car. Larger speed differences move the car that you have to watch out for further forward, and if you concentrate on front tires you will see the lane changes in time. The real problem splitting lanes in LA are the lane marker reflectors which take away the ideal line. I got an unsafe for conditions ticket for going 55 MPH, because traffic was going 10 MPH. The cop used the shoulder to catch up, but I won in court.

  • Amchaos, that is really bad advice. When the cars still pullout in front of you, how much stopping distance / reaction time will you have to avoid the accident going 55 mph?

  • Amchaos

    When he pulls out, I am already gone…

  • Singletrack

    Those guidelines seem completely understandable and reasonable. I can’t belive that came from a government agency.

    Every rider on this board should forward a copy to their municipal and state (provinical) representative every week until it gets through to those who can implement the change.

    Even though it’s not ‘law’ Is there a link to a website/document that makes this guideline ‘official’ or authorized by the California Highway Patrol?

  • Jason

    Really, it’s all good advice, if a bit wordy. Should read, “Don’t be a squid.”

  • Heatsoak

    No Amchaos, you silly little squid troll. When a car pulls out ‘into the split’ some 5 meters in front of you and you are traveling 25 meters per second, you hit the car.

    Or maybe that’s what you meant with “I’m already gone…”

    Amchaos, you are only right in the fact you want to carry a LITTLE more speed than the flow of traffic. Everything you said after that was complete tripe. Doing 55 in traffic doing 10 will surely put you to ground sooner or later.

    Lane splitting is safe, riding like a knob is not.

  • Pinken Green

    lane splitting at 55mph is stupid when the rest is going 10mph. i see impatient drivers make a dash for the other lane without warning all the time, theres no slight turn of te wheel prior to the switch just a reef on the wheel and a stab on the gas and their across your path or crush you into the car beside you.
    besides at that speed your also going to spook the drives as you blast past , possibly causing other issues.
    just my 0 .02