California Close to Formalizing Legal Lane-Splitting, And What It Means for the Rest of the United States

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Out of the 50 states in The Union, only California allows lane-splitting on public roads and highways. California’s position on lane-splitting has always been a bit nebulous though, falling only under the “safe and prudent” provision of the California Vehicle Code.

Several attempts to demystify California’s policy on lane-splitting have come and gone, including the very public kerfuffle with the California Highway Patrol’s riding “guidelines” for lane-splitting.

Most recent attempts to “legalize” lane-splitting have seen laws that were even more restrictive than the CHP’s frankly fair provisions, and created much ire in California’s vocal riding community.

On the table now though is Assembly Bill 51, which would actually grant more privileges than what the CHP deemed reasonable, and could set the tone for a larger national push of lane-splitting.

The new law would read as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 21658.1 is added to the Vehicle Code , to read: 21658.1. (a) A motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground may be driven between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways, if both of the following conditions are present:

  1. The motorcycle is not driven at a speed of more than 50 miles per hour.
  2. The motorcycle is not driven more than 15 miles per hour faster than the speed of traffic moving in the same direction.
  3. This section does not authorize a motorcycle to be driven in contravention of other laws relating to the safe operation of a vehicle.

As you can see, the current version of AB51 is a fair representation of what lane-splitting in California looks like currently, though one could argue that the maximum speed limit during lane-splitting should only be on par with the maximum highway speed.

Still, the bill offers a fair deal to California motorcyclists; and more importantly, it serves as a model piece of legislature for other states to adopt.

Loyal A&R readers will remember the recently defeated Oregonian lane-splitting law, which was so restrictive in its measures, it virtually assured that Oregonian motorcyclists would never actually lane-split on a congested roadway (lane-splitting was only permitted on highways with a speed limit of 50 mph or more, when traffic is completely stopped, and at speeds no faster than 20 mph).

With California already adopting de facto lane-splitting, its legalizing the practice de jure would create not only a model for other states to adopt, but it would also give lane-splitting proponents the first win in a larger national push.

Once advocates are able to show that California’s law is practical and safe, other states hopefully will be less resistant to adopting lane-splitting laws of their own — especially once they consider the advantages that lane-splitting laws can have for automobile drivers.

Time will tell what happens with California’s AB51 — whether it will remain as written, and if so, come into law — but if it does ultimately become the rule of the road, it could set the first domino piece in motion for lane-splitting motorcyclists across America. Fingers crossed.

Source: AB51