Motorcycle lane-splitting legal in California, but carries risks

Posted on in Motorcycle Accidents

Riding a motorcycle in California clearly has a lot of advantages: You can cruise among mountains and along the coastline as you save money on gas, and the climate makes motorcycling a year-round option. You can also do something that's not allowed in any other state: lane-splitting, or driving between lanes of traffic.

It's a controversial practice that's often viewed as a motorcycle accident risk, but transportation officials maintain that when done responsibly, lane-splitting is perfectly legal. As part of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, California's Office of Traffic Safety released a survey, believed to be the first ever to gauge drivers' opinions on the practice. According to the findings, 53 percent of drivers think it's against the law, but 87 percent of motorcycle riders do it. And 7 percent of drivers admitted to trying to block motorcyclists from driving between lanes.

Police in the state say there's nothing wrong with lane-splitting when it's done at safe speeds. In fact, many California Highway Patrol officers rely on it. One officer who's been riding for more than 11 years says it can be a significant time saver for him as well as the average motorcycle commuter, but warns that any rider who does it should take reasonable precautions. These include always signaling turns and lane changes, being aware of traffic patterns and watching for other vehicles turning or changing lanes -- especially without using a turn signal.

Although motorcycle accident fatalities are down nearly 30 percent since 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association says motorcycle riders are about 39 times more likely than occupants of other motorized vehicles to die in crashes. Still, the NHTSA says, most of these crashes are the fault of motorists, not motorcyclists. And that's the impetus behind electronic freeway signs that remind car, bus and truck drivers to keep an eye out for motorcyclists.

In a sense, motorcycle safety -- whether you choose to lane-split or not -- is a joint effort between motorcyclists and drivers of other vehicles. When these drivers make the effort to look out for each other, everyone stays safer.

Source: Mercury News, "Motorcycle lane splitting is legal, but even some bikers get nervous about it," Gary Richards, May 4, 2012

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