CHP Drops Lane-Splitting Guidelines from Website

07/21/2014 @ 4:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler25 COMMENTS


The California Highway Patrol has removed its guidelines for lane-splitting in the Golden State on the CHP website, after receiving a complaint from a Sacramento citizen. Though lane-splitting has been a long-time established practice for motorcyclists in California, the act is poorly defined and regulated.

Since California has no provision directly outlawing the practice, motorcyclists are free to lane-split, lane-share, and filter so long as their actions fit under the California Vehicle Code’s catchall provision of “safe and prudent” operation of a motor vehicle. What does that mean? No one really knows.

In an effort to define what it viewed as safe and prudent, the CHP released last February a list of guidelines for motorcyclists to follow while lane-splitting in the Golden State. The guidelines were not law in the de jure sense of the word, but without any other comment from a government entity, they became the de facto rules of the road, which leads us to today.

After receiving a sole complaint from a Californian citizen, the CHP has now removed the motorcycle lane-splitting guidelines from its website, because the guidelines could be perceived as the California Highway Patrol creating law, something the separation of powers expressly forbids.

Issuing a statement about the guidelines’ removal, the CHP issued the following: “Some have interpreted the recently published Motorcycle Lane Splitting Guidelines as rules, laws or regulations that could or would be enforced by the department. The guidelines were never intended for this purpose and were prepared simply as common sense traffic safety tips and to raise public awareness.”

However, the California Office of Administrative Law deemed that the CHP’s posting of the guidelines went beyond providing information, akin to a best-practices memo, and treaded into creating a standard for which motorcyclists would be held to. As such, the OAL had the CHP remove the guidelines from its website.

The American Motorcyclist Association has deplored the guidelines’ removal in a national press release, and has set up an online petition to have the guidelines reinstated. The AMA’s stance is that the guidelines provided motorcyclists with important safety information, and their removal from the CHP website leaves motorcyclists without a reliable resource on how to lane-split safely.

Source: AMA

  • crshnbrn

    IMO those guidelines – previously listed here on A&R – made good sense. For the CHP to remove them from their website “After receiving a sole complaint from ‘a’ (equals 1) Californian citizen” does not.

  • Despite the AMA trying to make it an issue, the number of complaints is completely irrelevant. The CHP shouldn’t be making the rules of the road, full stop.

  • Mitch

    Well, it could be important that this could be impetus for legislature to rule specifically on this. This may not have been from someone who didn’t want riders to split; rather, this could have been a notice from someone who didn’t want this to become (or rather, continue to be) capricious and vague. Or even simpler, as stated, someone who wanted to let state legislature know that procedure is being checked up on.

  • Wouldn’t it be smarter of the AMA to just post a version of the same guidelines on their site instead of making issue with something that clearly is a legal issue for the CHP.

  • crshnbrn

    JB: “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.”

    JB: “As I have written before, if there was a single issue that the AMA should be pushing for on the legislative end of its programs, it should be the adoption of pro lane-splitting laws in every state, which makes California’s pro lane-splitting stance a venerable example to use in that debate.”

    Waffle much?

  • Spamtasticus

    I’m with Beeler on this one. FHP overstepped their mandate and the number of people who point it out is not even remotely pertinent toward the veracity of the point. We are a comstitutional republic, not a democracy, fortunately for motorcyclists and others who engage in other activities not understood by the masses.

  • crshnbrn, not at all.

    Lane-splitting in California should be more properly outlined, both for the sake of motorcyclists and automobile drivers. The CHP should not be the organization doing that outlining though, if it’s guidelines are going to become de facto law. That’s not the role of the executive branch.

    I’m surprised that the AMA isn’t more active in promoting lane-splitting in the legislature of other states. They could be doing more to work with Sacramento to make a proper lane-splitting law as well. It’s interesting that the AMA doesn’t have those guidelines, or something similar on its site, as Scott suggested.

    I’m not 100% pleased with the old CHP guidelines, but they were a good starting point.

  • Campisi

    “I’m surprised that the AMA isn’t more active in promoting lane-splitting in the legislature of other states.”

    The AMA seems most responsive to the contingent of American riders out in the flyover states, cruising out on summer weekends to roads with little to no traffic on them. My experience with such riders leads me to believe that said contingent considers lanesplitting to be as dangerous as it is pointless. The AMA will embrace lanesplitting (and helmet laws) if and when they shift their attitude away from motorcycling-as-leisure towards motorcycling-as-transport.

  • Daniel Croft

    I’m with Jenson on this one. We shouldn’t support unconstitutional activity just because we agree with it. Also, the AMA stopped getting my money a long time ago because they put their efforts in the wrong places, this IMO is a case of that. Don’t complain about the CHP removing the guidelines, promote the creation of laws OR ask the correct entity to disseminate guidelines.

  • Eddie

    Yeah, we seriously need to push this within AMA. Fist we go for filtering…

  • JL
  • ZootCadillac

    Please would someone explain to a dumb Brit exactly what lane splitting entails and why it’s such a concern to motorcycle riders over there?

    Is this really an argument about being able to overtake traffic between the lanes? Riding and driving could well come as a shock to those of you who visit our fair and failing Island in the future ;) having said that. It’s not quite the Greek Isles yet. Those places are death race 2000, legalised.

  • Mitch

    ZootCadillac: Motorcycles over here, per capita, are much much more rare than in many places in the world. Because of this, many automobile drivers get extremely nervous around bikes in general and don’t know how to act regarding filtering (also, North America roads are long and straight, and speeds are very high).

    Combined with an extreme ease to obtain a motorcycle license (and driver’s license), accident rates between bikes and cars is probably pretty high even though we have far fewer bikes. Just some of the issues that complicate lane filtering here in the US.

  • crshnbrn

    JB: “As a motorcyclists in California, we honestly don’t understand how the other 49 states get along without having lane splitting laws on the books”

    Perhaps you could tell us since apparently California does not have lane splitting laws either.

    From your article: “Texas Considering Allowing Lane Splitting”

    JB: “These regulations are more clear and precise than the California legislations which states that a motorcyclist must simply be riding prudently and safely (something that is often left to the discretion of the police officer). ”

    I took it that the CHP’s guidelines were to inform motorcyclists and police officers as well what the CHP considered to be “safe and prudent” since the CVC doesn’t specifically state what that is.

    re: “The CHP shouldn’t be making the rules of the road”

    I agree wholeheartedly, but in the absence of the state defining what “safe and prudent” means, yet the police expected to enforce it consistently, guidelines should be established.

    JB: “No sooner did the California Highway Patrol attempt to demistify its rulebook for lane-splitting in the Golden State, then did California State Senate Bill 350 get drafted and put on the state’s voting docket. A piece of legislation put forth by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), S.B. 350 would have put greater restrictions on motorcyclists’ ability to lane-split on Californian highways.

    Introduced on February 20th, Senator Beall’s proposed law would have made lane-splitting legal in only certain circumstances: on divided highways with three or more lanes of travel in the same direction, only when traffic is congested, and only at “a safe” speed.”

    Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

  • I’ve got thoughts I’m putting together in another piece, so I’ll save some of what I have to say for that. California doesn’t have a law that expressly allows lane-splitting, it just doesn’t have a law prohibiting it. It’s a subtle difference in how the CVC is written compared to the vehicle codes in other states, and perhaps more importantly, how it’s been upheld thru enforcement.

    The problem with a “safe and prudent” definition is that it’s completely arbitrary, and in my own 15 years of riding in CA, I can say with some confidence that the range is pretty wide in application. The bottom line is that basic jurisprudence dictates that laws should be clear, so the public knows right from wrong, so law enforcement can more effectively police the body politic, and so the judiciary can evenly handout justice. When no one, I mean no one, can define what “safe and prudent” lane-splitting looks like, it leaves chaos in the system.

    The problem with the CHP making those guidelines is that it’s not their job to do so (something admittedly I didn’t think about until now, after witnessing first-hand how they’re used). The CHP enforces laws, it doesn’t make them, by constitutional definition. I happen to think the guidelines were pretty good — 95% of the way there maybe. Just because I like them, doesn’t mean I’m willing to tip the scales in the balance of powers. I went to too much law school to just throw that out the window.

    You’re right that we should be careful what we wish for, but sometimes you have to roll a hard six. Lane-splitting should be the AMA’s top issue, not this anti-helmet nonsense. If motorcyclists in other states could enjoy filtering through traffic like we do in California, I’m sure it would do things for dealer sales and industry growth. I know when I’m in riding in nearby states, I just about lose my mind when I’m stuck in traffic on a freeway on a hot day…I’d rather drive a car that point, at least I’d have A/C and a radio.

    If I’m the AMA, I’d put together every resource to pass a strong lane-splitting law in California. Largest motorcycle population in the US, epicenter of the US motorcycle industry, and it’s already an active practice — if you can’t pass that here, you can’t pass it anywhere. You use California as your starting point, and then you go state-to-state to do the same. It’d help if we had some safety figures too. That’s how you enact change, and that’s how you actually represent the rights that benefit ALL motorcyclists.

  • crshnbrn

    re: “The CHP enforces laws, it doesn’t make them”

    I am in total agreement with you there.

    re: “The bottom line is that basic jurisprudence dictates that laws should be clear, so the public knows right from wrong, so law enforcement can more effectively police the body politic, and so the judiciary can evenly handout justice.”

    Without laws prohibiting, allowing, or defining acceptable lane-splitting, the “guidelines” published on the CHP’s website were the only thing the public and the police had to use as a reference and now there is nothing. In the 17 months since the “guidelines” were published in a state with roughly 22 million registered drivers, one citizen has taken an issue with the CHP publishing their “guidelines”. It seems to me like a knee-jerk reaction.

    That’s my two-cents worth, adjusted for inflation.

  • Just because only one person complained, doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I honestly didn’t think about the issue until now, and I’ve got a degree in this nonsense!

    “Without laws prohibiting, allowing, or defining acceptable lane-splitting, the “guidelines” published on the CHP’s website were the only thing the public and the police had to use as a reference and now there is nothing.”

    And that’s the issue, since the CHP was the only voice giving guidance, they became de facto lawmakers…we agree that’s a bad thing.

    I’m the absence of the CHP guidelines certainly leaves a vacuum on the issue, and that’s unfortunate. My argument is simply that I would just like to see the correct source fill the void.

  • crshnbrn

    re: “My argument is simply that I would just like to see the correct source fill the void.”

    My questions are how long is that going to take? I doubt it is a priority for the California legislature.
    And what happens in the mean time?

  • To codify something that’s already being done legally? The CA legislature shouldn’t have a hard time with that one, but I’d only be guessing. In the mean time, we’ll continue doing what we’ve done for the past 70 years or so.

  • crshnbrn

    Thirty-minute road-side conversations with Johnny Law?

  • It’s certainly not ideal, but I’ll take another roadside conversation on jurisprudence with a CHP officer if I know that the AMA is working in Sacramento to bring something substantive for motorcyclists in California.

  • Brendan

    I never took the guidelines as anything but guidelines. If cited, the issue would hinge on “safe and prudent” and the guidelines would be irrelevant in the legal arena You have to make a big stretch to construe this as the CHP “making law.” While “safe and prudent” is subjective there are numerous examples of this in the CVC, (whether one properly yielded the right of way to a pedestrian, for example) and my experience is the CHP allows tremendous slack for riders to lane split. I would describe the guidelines as useful but not binding. Wanting the specifics of lane splitting codified is indeed something we don’t want, because it would probably be akin to the guidelines and a lot of the slack goes away. The State of CA has done a better job lately of educating the public that lane splitting is allowed (information on the freeway signs and public service announcements, for example) so I commend them for that.

  • Tom McComas



  • Grant Madden

    A law is a law,a guide line is a guide and that’s that.Is it so hard to work it out?GUIDE means a suggestion but a LAW is a piece of legislation that can be enforced.Try to not get confused. Some times I think some people dont have enough to do and just spend time(waste time) looking for things to mess with that seemed to be working ok so far.Good luck and I hope the new laws,which law makers never get tired of making,doesn’t take you all back to a system that allows very little free thinking and lots of fines for the Highway Paytrol (Not a miss spelling)to use to oppress you all.

  • crshnbrn

    re: “Some times I think some people dont have enough to do and just spend time(waste time) looking for things to mess with that seemed to be working ok so far.”

    @ Grant Madden: Thank You!

    I wonder what the backstory is with this Sacramento citizen.