It finally happened, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 51 into law, making California the first state to put lane-splitting on its books.
Lane-splitting has always been legal of course (despite what other headlines might suggest), though was legal only by a technical loophole in the California Vehicle Code (CVC).
The passage of AB 51 now formally adds lane-splitting as a condoned practice by the CVC; and more importantly, it expressly allows government agencies, like the California Highway Patrol, to create and teach best-practice guidelines.
AB 51 still creates some basic jurisprudence issues, like granting legislative powers to the executive branch, but many in the pro-lane-splitting movement seem to look past that issue, instead focusing on what it brings to motorcyclists.
As we have reported here at Asphalt & Rubber though, this new law does nothing to actually define how a motorcyclist should engage in safe and prudent lane-splitting, as those provisions were stripped from AB 51 after it stalled in the State Assembly last year.
Readers will remember that the first draft of AB 51 was based around the research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley – which showed that lane-splitting was no more dangerous than normally riding a motorcycle, when relative speeds of the motorcycle were kept within 15 mph of the flow of traffic.
In practice then, this law does nothing to help define how to lane-split safely, and thus is rather toothless in that regard. As such, this leaves motorcyclists still at the mercy of police officers and insurance companies when it comes to driving infractions and the assignments of fault.
Still, the big win here is having a state with a lane-splitting law on the books, something lane-splitting advocates in other states can point to when trying to push for similar laws outside of California.
The hope now is that lane-splitting advocates can use this momentum to bring lane-splitting laws to other jurisdictions, were it will benefit not only motorcyclists, but all motorists through higher safety and less traffic.