Motorcycle Accident

What is Lane Splitting on a Motorcycle?

Person in motorcycle riding between vehicles

Table of Contents

  1. What is Lane Splitting on a Motorcycle? Is It Legal in California?
  2. What Does Splitting a Lane Mean for Motorcycles?
  3. Benefits for Lane Splitting
  4. Drawbacks for Lane Splitting
  5. U.S. Laws on Lane Splitting
  6. Lane Splitting in California
  7. What Are the Risks of Lane Splitting or Lane Filtering?
  8. What to Do After a Motorcycle Accident
  9. Safety Tips on the Road
  10. Conclusion
  11. FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is Lane Splitting on a Motorcycle? Is It Legal in California?

Motorcycle riding down a road in the middle lane.
Image by azerbaijan_stockers on Freepik

Lane splitting is a distinctive practice in motorcycle riding that allows motorcyclists to navigate through traffic by maneuvering between lanes. It involves riding between two lanes of vehicles that are either stopped or moving slowly. This enables motorcyclists to bypass the congestion and reach their destination more efficiently.

To better understand lane splitting, let's consider an example. Imagine you are riding your motorcycle on a busy highway during rush hour. The traffic comes to a standstill due to the sheer volume of vehicles. As a motorcyclist, instead of being stuck in the gridlock, you have the option to carefully filter through the lanes, moving ahead while cars remain stationary. This ability to weave through traffic is known as lane splitting.

Now, let's address the legal status of lane splitting in California. California is the only state in the United States where lane splitting is legally recognized. However, it is important to note that it is not explicitly defined by law. Instead, the California Vehicle Code allows motorcyclists to share the same lane with other vehicles "when overtaking and passing in the same direction." The law also states that motorcyclists must exercise caution and ride at a safe speed while lane splitting.

To ensure the safe practice of lane splitting in California, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has provided guidelines for motorcyclists. These guidelines recommend the following:

  1. Speed: Motorcyclists should only lane split at a speed that is safe for the current conditions. It is advised to travel no more than 10 mph faster than the surrounding traffic.
  2. Traffic Flow: Lane splitting should be done in traffic moving at 30 mph or less. It is not recommended to lane split at high speeds or in congested traffic conditions.
  3. Space: Motorcyclists should only lane split when there is enough space to safely navigate between vehicles. It is essential to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles while filtering through traffic.
  4. Caution: Motorcyclists must remain vigilant and anticipate the movements of other vehicles on the road. They should be prepared to react to sudden lane changes or unexpected maneuvers by other drivers.
  5. Visibility: It is crucial for motorcyclists to make themselves visible to other drivers. This can be achieved by using reflective gear, wearing bright clothing, and utilizing the motorcycle's headlights.

It is important to emphasize that although lane splitting is legal in California, it must be performed with utmost care and in accordance with the guidelines provided by the CHP. Motorcyclists should always prioritize their safety and the safety of other road users while engaging in lane splitting

What Does Splitting a Lane Mean for Motorcycles?

Motorcycle rider going down a road
Photo by Quintin Gellar

Lane splitting refers to driving through traffic congestion or slow-moving vehicles in the area between two parallel traffic lanes, also known as white lining to experienced motorcyclists when they move between the traffic lanes. When they are in the space between the traffic lanes, they avoid stopping in heavy or stopped traffic by lane splitting.

Motorcyclists are less likely to be hit in the rear at lower speeds when they drive between lanes. Riders who maneuver between cars eliminate the risk of any car rear-ending them. In addition, most motorcyclists drive this way at lower speeds, which reduces the risk of injury.

 Motorcyclists use two other methods to get through traffic:

● Lane filtering, or filtering between stopped or slow-moving vehicles at a slower speed than lane splitting

● Lane sharing, or sharing with another motorcyclist either in a single lane or lined up side-by-side

 Motorcyclists riding between traffic lanes are sometimes called lane-splitters because they are splitting lanes. Therefore, all motorcyclists must know their state's specific laws about lane splitting before using this technique.

Benefits for Lane Splitting

Lane splitting, or driving through traffic congestion or slow-moving vehicles by maneuvering between two parallel traffic lanes, offers several benefits for motorcyclists. Here are some advantages of lane splitting:

  1. Reduced Risk of Rear-End Collisions: Motorcyclists who engage in lane splitting are less likely to be hit from behind at lower speeds. By riding between lanes, they eliminate the risk of a car rear-ending them, as they are no longer in direct proximity to the vehicles in front.
  2. Improved Safety: When motorcyclists split lanes, they typically do so at lower speeds, which reduces the risk of severe injury in the event of a collision. The slower speeds allow for better control and reaction time, minimizing the impact of any potential accidents.
  3. Avoidance of Traffic Jams: Lane splitting enables motorcyclists to bypass traffic congestion and avoid getting stuck in long lines of stationary or slow-moving vehicles. This can significantly reduce travel time, making commuting more efficient.
  4. Increased Fuel Efficiency: Motorcycles are generally more fuel-efficient than cars. By navigating through traffic with lane splitting, motorcyclists can conserve fuel and achieve better mileage, contributing to cost savings and reduced environmental impact.

Drawbacks for Lane Splitting

While lane splitting offers benefits for motorcyclists, there are also some drawbacks and potential risks associated with this practice. It's important to consider these factors to have a comprehensive understanding of lane splitting. Here are some drawbacks to keep in mind:

  1. Limited Space and Clearance: The space available for motorcyclists to maneuver between lanes is often limited. This can pose challenges, especially in congested traffic situations where there may be little room to safely navigate between vehicles. Motorcyclists need to exercise caution and ensure they have adequate clearance to maneuver safely.
  2. Risk of Side Mirrors Collisions: When lane splitting, motorcyclists need to be mindful of the position of side mirrors on adjacent vehicles. The narrow space between lanes increases the chances of accidental contact between the motorcycle and the side mirrors. Collisions with side mirrors can lead to damage to both the motorcycle and the vehicles involved.
  3. Driver Distraction: Lane splitting requires motorcyclists to ride in close proximity to other vehicles, which can be distracting for drivers. Some drivers may not anticipate a motorcycle passing between lanes, leading to sudden lane changes or unpredictable maneuvers that can endanger the motorcyclist.
  4. Speed Differential: The speed difference between motorcycles and surrounding traffic can pose risks during lane splitting. If motorcyclists travel significantly faster than the flow of traffic, it can catch drivers off guard and increase the potential for accidents. It is important for motorcyclists to maintain a safe and reasonable speed while lane splitting.
  5. Negative Perception and Aggressive Reactions: Lane splitting can sometimes provoke negative reactions from other motorists. Some drivers may feel that motorcyclists are disregarding traffic rules or unfairly taking advantage of the situation. This negative perception can lead to aggressive behavior from drivers, such as intentional blocking or impeding the path of motorcyclists.

U.S. Laws on Lane Splitting

 Because of lane-splitting laws and rules on the road, riders in several states have to fight for the right to split lanes. It's either legal or illegal, leaving it pretty much in a grey area for most states. Here are some states that might recognize it a bit further:

  1. California: California is the only state that has officially legalized and provided guidelines for lane splitting. The California Vehicle Code allows motorcyclists to share the same lane with other vehicles "when overtaking and passing in the same direction."
  2. Utah: Utah passed a law in 2019 that legalized lane filtering, which is a form of lane splitting at low speeds (up to 45 mph) in certain conditions. The law includes specific criteria for motorcyclists to follow when filtering between lanes.
  3. Montana: Montana has neither explicitly legalized nor prohibited lane splitting. However, the state's traffic laws do not explicitly mention lane splitting, which leaves it in a legal gray area.
  4. Oregon: In 2021, Oregon passed a law authorizing a lane sharing program for motorcycles. The program, scheduled to begin in January 2022, will allow motorcyclists to ride side-by-side in a single lane under certain conditions.

Lane Splitting in California

Los Angeles downtown at night
Image by TravelScape on Freepik

California has legalized driving a motorcycle between the lane separations of stopped or moving cars, whether the streets are divided by grassy strips or concrete barriers. In Assembly Bill 51 (AB-51) of 2016, lane splitting means driving a motorcycle with two wheels on the ground between rows of halted or slow-moving vehicles in the same lane, including divided and undivided roads, streets, or highways.

The California Highway Patrol has been tolerating lane-splitting for years, even before the law was passed by then-governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. The California Vehicle Code did not prohibitor allow lane splitting. Still, motorcyclists could lane split legally anywhere in the state. To help improve safety and awareness, then-governor Brown also required the California Highway Patrol to develop educational guidelines for the motoring public.

What Are the Risks of Lane Splitting or Lane Filtering?

 Most states prohibit lane splitting because they deem it a risk to motorcyclists. Lane splitting still poses some risks to everyone on the road.

 Here is why lane splitting sometimes leads to motorcycle accidents:

● The motorcyclist weaves through traffic, which increases the risk of automobile collisions.

● Inattentive drivers fail to notice the motorcyclist next to their vehicle, leading to a car crash involving the motorcycle.

● The motorcycle driver suddenly drives in front of a moving truck while moving through traffic, increasing the risk of being in a truck accident.

● The car driver fails to see the motorcycle rider in the blind spot before changing lanes.

● The bike rider drives too fast and hits a pedestrian trying to pass through stopped traffic.

 What to Do After a Motorcycle Accident

 Unless you are gravely injured, there are some important things to do at the scene of an accident before the police arrive:

● Call the police, regardless of what the other driver says. You need an official report of the accident to prove the facts of the court case.

● Get the other driver's insurance information and record the names of witnesses.

● Take pictures and videos of the scene. This includes the accident itself, marks on the road, injuries, damages and any other relevant context that might help your case.

● Ask for witnesses' contact information.

After leaving the scene, go to the hospital immediately. Often, injuries are not immediately visible, but they gradually appear. You will be more prepared if you go to the hospital right away. A doctor can scan your body for any damage you may not notice and treat it before it worsens. That way, you will also be able to collect evidence against the responsible party if you decide to file a lawsuit against them.

 Safety Tips on the Road

Man using protective gear and holding helmet standing in front of his bike
Image by Freepik

 Motorcycle riders risk severe injury or death regardless of whether they lane split. That said, it's possible to follow a few basic safety precautions if you choose to lane split:

 1. Be Aware of the Laws

If you reside in a state where lane splitting is not yet legal, do so at your own risk. Keep in mind that California is the only state to fully legalize lane splitting, so check with your local motorcycle association to see how it is defined in your area.

 2. Go Slow

 Avoid splitting lanes if traffic is moving at30mph or faster. It is safest to split lanes when traffic is moving slowly or bumper-to-bumper. Remain at least 12mph below surrounding traffic.

 3. Don't Split Next to Large Vehicles

Watch out for big vehicles when switching lanes or making a turn. The blind spot on large trucks and buses prevents drivers from seeing you as you change lanes, and the size and weight of these vehicles mean greater impact during a crash.

 4. Anticipate Possible Movements of Other Drivers

Always stay alert when riding your motorcycle. Anticipate what other drivers will do to be prepared to react accordingly. For example, watch out for other drivers who are in the blind spots on their side of the road and for distracted drivers.

When you move through traffic lanes, pay attention to the other motorcyclists on the road. Share the road with them and give way if necessary. If you see another biker moving too fast, slow down and let them pass so that you both aren't put in danger.


Lane splitting on a motorcycle is an option when traffic gets congested. However, it's not just legal or illegal, as you can see. It's also a gray area in which other drivers may not fully understand the risks that you're taking. If you choose to lane split, make sure you're doing it slow enough speed and at an appropriate time. That way, you can get through traffic faster and more safely.

On the other hand, if you are the victim of a car accident in which the driver of another vehicle is lane splitting, you can file a lawsuit against them for compensation. Consult with a personal injury attorney today to learn more about your legal rights.

While other firms just handle your bodily injury claim, Mendez and Sanchez Law offers a complimentary full-service package where we will also handle your property damage for no fee! We operate on a contingency fee basis, and our contingency fee policy allows us to guarantee that our clients aren’t putting their own finances at risk. If you’ve been in a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles, our auto accident attorneys can help. Call us today at (323) 201-5249 for more information.


While California is the only state that has officially legalized lane splitting, a few other states like Utah and Oregon have implemented laws or programs that address certain aspects of lane filtering or sharing. However, the majority of U.S. states do not have specific laws addressing lane splitting, leaving it in a legal gray area.

Yes, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has provided guidelines for motorcyclists in California. These guidelines recommend riding at a safe speed, lane splitting in traffic moving at 30 mph or less, maintaining enough space to maneuver safely, exercising caution, and ensuring visibility to other drivers.

Lane splitting offers benefits such as reduced risk of rear-end collisions, improved safety at lower speeds, avoidance of traffic congestion, and increased fuel efficiency for motorcycles. It allows riders to bypass traffic and reach their destination more efficiently.

Drawbacks of lane splitting include limited space and clearance for maneuvering, the risk of side mirror collisions, driver distraction, speed differentials with surrounding traffic, and negative perceptions from other motorists that may lead to aggressive reactions.

If you are in a motorcycle accident while lane splitting, call the police to report the incident, gather the other driver's insurance information, take pictures and videos of the scene, and seek medical attention even if injuries are not immediately apparent. It is crucial to consult with a personal injury attorney to understand your legal rights and options for compensation.

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