Motorcycle Lane Sharing - Is It Legal

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What Is Lane Sharing/Lane Splitting?

Hurt from motorcycle lane sharing?

Effective on January 1, 2017, California Vehicle Code ("CVC") Section 21658.1 became the law in California. This CVC section defines lane splitting as “driving a motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane including on both divided and undivided streets, roads and highways.” (Source).

Other names used for this dangerous maneuver are "stripe riding," and "whitelining." This maneuver remains more common during rush hour traffic jams on freeways and California's carpool lanes. Most cops and drivers assume the bikers are at fault if they crash while sharing a path. If a personal injury accident occurs while a motorcycle is lane splitting, whether the bike or car is at fault depends on whether lane splitting is permissible in that state.

 633 West 5th Street #2890 Los Angeles, CA 90071 (213) 596-9642Also, because of police, jury, and court bias against riders, even in California, a no-fault motorcyclist can have a difficult time proving their case without an excellent motorcycle lawyer. Out of state motorists, and many California motorists get upset at motorcyclists when they split lanes and even come down with road rage, a common cause of motorcycle accidents.

When this happens, some motorists engage in notorious actions against motorcyclists. As of 2016, California remains one of the few states where this procedure remains legal. Also, the bad reputation of lane splitters generally comes from a few irresponsible bikers. But this has created lots of bias against law-abiding riders, discusses more below.

More About The Law And Lane Splitting Collisions In California.

The idea behind allowing this tactic is to let riders bypass or filter forward through more substantial-stop and go traffic. So, for now, the State of California has no longer has laws that directly prohibit motorcycle riders from lane splitting. And so far, the Golden State is the only state nationwide to issue a statement on its views of motorcycle lane sharing. California's official statement says it is permitted for motorcycle riders if done in a safe manner.

So, for example, when following the flow of traffic traveling at speeds higher than the speed limit, it can be hazardous to lane split. And there is no law about this, other than playing it safe for the road conditions. Also, the old 10 miles per hour over the speed limit for lane sharing was removed from the California Motor Vehicle Handbook.

Some Other Dangers of Motorcycle Lane Splitting or Lane Sharing.

In some heavy traffic, lane splitting might be safe when done properly. Also, it remains a way for motorcycle riders to be visible to drivers. On its face, this might sound completely safe. But when a car makes an unsafe lane change into the path of the motorcyclist, no room remains in the bike's lane to move out of the path of the vehicle. Filtering forward, bypassing stopped or super slow car, truck, or bus traffic, requires riders to slip in between vehicles at very slow speeds.

Also, motorcyclists must pay special attention to door zones, such as parked cars, where vehicle doors can open unexpectedly, causing the rider to crash and be expelled from the bike. Moreover, some drivers, especially in areas like Torrance and Koreatown, are known to make unprojected vehicle movements while a rider is in their blind spot. As noted, riding next to big rigs, or large buses dictates that riders exercise extreme caution. Because riders often remain invisible to the many blind spots of larger conveyances, these herculean vehicle drivers are not expecting the motorcyclist to be filtering forward while changing lanes, for example.

Because of this, avoiding hook collisions with turning vehicles while at intersections is a safety technique taught to those seeking a motorcycle license. The primary procedure after filtering forward at intersections is to try and get directly in front of the first vehicle stopped at the red light, or stop sign. But riders must always make every effort to avoid stopping or staying in the blind spot of any car, especially the passenger side door.

Ejection From A Motorcycle During Lane Splitting.

Car versus motorcycle collisions typically will eject the rider from the bike. Once aloft, the rider's flailing body can hit a car or hard pavement upon landing. The result will typically be serious injuries or death. Also, some drivers remain distracted when traffic is congested. Fools like this will play with cell phones, text, or fidget with the radio. But other reasons exist for distractions. Sadly, some drivers do not like motorcyclists. And it is not unusual for them to tap a bike, or open a car door on the biker, and knock the driver off. Ejection from a motorcycle remains very common in left-hand turn accidents.

Angry/Jealous Drivers And Lane Splitting.

These drivers pose a real danger to the motorcycle rider, and splitting lanes can be especially dangerous when this driver accidentally swerves into the lane because they are distracted or the driver that does not like motorcycles and will purposely swerve toward them. At the end of the day, only an experienced motorcycle lawyer can maximize the money allowed for the dead or hurt bike rider. Accordingly, proving the case remains the biggest hurdle.

More About Law Enforcement Bias Against Lane Splitters.

Sources related that the California Highway Patrol ("CHP") is unhappy that lane splitting is legal in California. Because of this, the CHP even removed their lane sharing guidelines off of the CHP website. And later, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") removed their rules for lane sharing off of their DMV Handbooks. So clearly, without a great motorcycle lawyer, riders in lane sharing accidents will face extra scrutiny. So beware, even in bad weather, cops seem to have an institutional bias against riders.

Is Motorcycle Lane Sharing Legal In The Carpool, Or Diamond Lane?

Yes. But you better read more to understand your rights and obligations. High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes ("HOV") are just another fancy way of saying "carpool" or "vanpool" lane. These lanes are intended to shuttle people to their destinations faster if the vehicle is a hybrid type (fossil fuel conserving) car or loaded full of vehicle passengers. In other words, is you are driving a Single Occupancy Vehicle ("SOV") in the diamond lane, it is to bypass traffic and your people there faster. But it remains illegal in a single-occupant vehicle unless an exception applies.

These are not to be confused with High Occupance Toll Lanes ("HOT"), which requires the lane's user of the lane to pay a toll (discussed more here). Most of us know about Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside County FasTrak toll lanes. These are HOT lanes under California law, and they require payment in advance or a transponder before they can be used. No so for motorcycles. But for now, the cameras that take license plate photographs have a hard time reading personalized motorcycle license plates. So riders do risk being mailed a ticket because they think you are a car in the HOT lane. (Source).

And the fines for an HOV or HOT violation are very steep, ranging from $270 or more depending on how many prior citations offenders have been issued.

So the question then becomes, is there an exception for motorcycle riders to share any of these above-discussed lanes? Federal law allows single riders to use the HOV lanes. The federal HOV law is designed to keep these smaller, less visible motorcycles moving so they can stay safer.

Stop and go traffic conditions are considered less safe for riders, so it makes sense. However, states can make these laws stricter, as in California. The State of California only permits motorcycles to use HOV until a traffic control warning specifically prohibits riders in the lane.

"The law, as written, doesn’t specify anything about driving between a regular freeway lane and the carpool lane. And, of course, motorcycle riders have to obey all traffic laws like all drivers.

That being said, California Patrol Officer Dan Olivas noted that it’s illegal for motorcycles – or any vehicle – to enter or exit a carpool lane outside of the legally designated areas for entering and exiting." (Source).

CAVEAT:  Motorcyclists are never permitted to weave across double-yellow lines unless in case of pending emergency or evasive action to avoid a crash.

What Are Some Tips For Staying Safe While Lane Sharing Your Motorcycle?

Being polite and aware is key in staying safe while riding motorcycles on California highways. Maintaining a safe driving environment is a collective responsibility of all road users. So rule number one is to be courteous, considerate, and kind. Obviously, choosing, purchasing, and wearing the right helmet and protective riding gear can mitigate injuries during a crash. Drinking and driving or while on even legal drugs is a big no-no for two-wheeled vehicles as well.

Below are a few more important safety tips:

  • Ride at a safe speed - Motorcycle collisions don't afford the same built-in protection as a car. The safety of a motorcycle is in the rider's ability to navigate through or around road dangers. Wrongful death is highly likely to occur when a negligent car driver does not see you, running you over. 
  • Stay out of blind spots - Again, as noted above, stay away from the passenger side doors of stopped and moving vehicles and blind spots. And larger, commercial vehicles should be avoided when at all possible.
  • Don't lane share if you're a novice rider - Rider inexperience is a huge risk factor in getting killed or maimed while riding a motorcycle. Just don't do it. Get training, and maybe even join a motorcycle club to learn from more experienced riders while increasing your visibility.
  • Enroll in the California Motorcyclist Safety Program -  The CHP administers California's "official motorcycle safety and training program." The Program offers riding courses for the freshly minted, as well as advanced motorcycle riders. 

We just talked about motorcycle rider ejection from a bike. It can happen by accident or on purpose. Sometimes a distracted driver hits the bike. Other times, a mad driver runs the biker over. Contact a motorcycle lawyer to learn about getting paid. The Los Angeles number can be called at (213) 596-9642.