The American Motorcyclist Association endorses and supports the motorcycling practice of lane splitting and works diligently to encourage states to allow lane splitting in slow moving or stopped traffic. Why? According to the AMA, lane splitting reduces the motorcyclist’s risk of being involved in a deadly or horrific rear-end accident. In stopped traffic or slowly moving traffic, the risk of a rear-end accident occurring is magnified. Lane splitting gives motorcyclists the chance to avoid those accidents and ride safely through the traffic unharmed.
At the present moment in time, California is the only state in the United States that allows the practice of lane splitting. While there are no laws in California that legalize the practice—there are also no laws that prohibit it. Lane splitting or lane filtering is simply a practice of driving that is allowed or permitted.
California state websites, such as the CHP, even offered safe guidelines for lane splitting so that motorcyclists and motorists alike could be better informed of the safe ways to ride in-between the lanes. Now, however, this important safety information has been removed—all because of one single complaint.
In 2013, California state employee Kenneth Mandler petitioned the California Office of Administrative Law to have California government websites, brochures, and pamphlets remove motorcycle lane splitting safety guidelines. According to the California Highway Patrol statement, “The guidelines were prepared simply as common sense traffic safety tips and to raise public awareness.”
Yet that is not how Mandler saw it. He protested that the California Highway Patrol created an “underground” regulation by preparing and distributing those lane-splitting or lane-filtering guidelines. In other words, he believed that by posting guidelines on their site, the CHP was effectively legalizing lane splitting.
He interpreted these suggested safety guidelines as rules or laws to be followed and enforced by the department. Yet that was never the intention—nor did police departments ever enforce those guidelines, which have been in effect for years.
What is disturbing to many motorcycle safety experts is that one single complaint could undo three years of hard work and planning by the California Motorcyclist Safety Program Advisory Committee. Many hoped that by teaching motorcyclists the safe way to engage in lane splitting, dangerous lane splitting techniques could be eradicated and avoided.
The fear is that while older, more seasoned motorcyclists in California already know how to perform the lane splitting maneuver safely, newer motorcyclists will not. Without the safety guidelines to review, many are concerned that newer motorcyclists will use unsafe lane splitting practices, putting themselves and others at risk.
“You should use common sense and not put yourself in obvious danger. By far the most frequent cause of lane-splitting accidents in which the motorcyclist is found at fault is the motorcyclist’s excessive speed, which dramatically cuts down on reaction time. While other motorists have an absolute responsibility to watch out for us, we all know that not everyone does. Even though the other motorist may be found at fault, that’s not going to help you recover from a serious injury. We need to adjust our riding habits according to the traffic and road conditions.”
Says Chuck Koro, of Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys®, who for many years have been educating the motorcycling community in California on using caution while lane splitting.
The complete AMA lane splitting position statement is available here: https://americanmotorcyclist.