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San Jose personal injury attorneyThe spring and summer months are upon us in beautiful California. The days get longer and of course warmer. With the change in weather comes the inevitable urge for motorcyclists to get out and ride. As always, motorists need to be cautious of each other and make a conscientious effort to watch for motorcycles. It may be easier for you to see a traditional four-wheeled vehicle and predict their driving habits because you may be more familiar with them. Yet, motorcycles are present and have traffic capabilities that other vehicles do not, such as lane splitting. While these actions are perfectly legal and have many benefits, there are driving habits that may make lane splitting hazardous for our motorcyclists.

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is the name given to the act of a motorcyclist maneuvering their motorcycle between two lanes of traffic driving in the same direction. Its purpose is to overtake or pass slower moving or stopped traffic. It is also known as “lane sharing”, “white lining”, “filtering” or “stripe riding”. These names are indicative of the motorcycle actually driving on or near the painted white line that separates two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction.

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motorcycle, lane-splitting, Santa Clara County motorcycle accident lawyerLane-splitting has long been a heated debate when it comes to the subject of motorcycle accidents. The topic has been so controversial, in fact, that just last year The Wall Street Journal reported that the state of California has been the only state in the U.S. to legalize the action thus far, setting a new precedent for the rest of the country. Other states have been following in California’s footsteps to push legislation that will allow motorcyclists to drive between lanes on the open road—an agenda not likely to disappear any time soon. Oregon, Texas, and Tennessee are just a few states aiming to make lane-splitting legal, and many others are close behind.

A Dangerous or Efficient Trend?

The idea behind the practice of lane-splitting is that it allows motorcyclists to reach their destinations faster while contributing to a smoother, less congested commute on the highway. This is considered especially helpful during rush-hour commute times. The drawbacks, of course, have been the largest source of opposition for those against the legislation. Lane-splitting can be dangerous for both the motorcyclist and nearby automobile drivers, as visibility is further limited and the space in which the motorcyclist must navigate is narrow, restricted, and at times obstructed.

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Many motorists can probably think about a time when they were sitting in heavy, slow traffic and wished that they could just maneuver their way around the stopped cars. Drivers are limited in what they can do to ease the strain of traffic, though California motorcyclists have a bit more options.

Lane splitting is what motorcyclists are engaging in when they travel between various lanes that are moving in the same direction. It is a legal driving practice as long as the riders are driving at a reasonable speed and aren't otherwise driving recklessly. A recent bill would have done away with some of the freedom for motorcyclists, but it has been put on hold.

State Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose introduced a bill last month that sought to more strictly limit lane-splitting by motorcyclists. If passed, the law would have only allowed motorcycles to split lanes when there are at least three lanes and high traffic, for example. But it didn't pass. Sen. Beall withdrew the proposal in order to evaluate the matter further.

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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.

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