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Splitting the difference *updated

February 22, 2013
Lane splitting motorcycle

Wikimedia Commons

I used to go to San Francisco regularly and often. And every single time, as I was driving across the Bay Bridge, some squid on a crotch rocket doing at least double the speed limit would pass within millimeters of mine and my fellow road users’ outside mirrors. A move that was, and still is, perfectly legal.

California’s Vehicle Code does not specifically address the issue of lane splitting, aka overtaking in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken or between lanes of vehicles. From the perspective of law enforcement, the squid was not breaking any law by riding between lanes, so what he/she was doing was legal. Stupid, perhaps, but not illegal in California.

But in light of an increasing number of motorcycles (and, I’m guessing, scooters) on California’s highways—and an increase in the number of crashes—the California Highway Patrol issued the state’s first-ever lane-splitting guidelines in 2013. In a nutshell, they said don’t be like the squid—lane-split only when traffic is moving 30 mph (50 km/h) or less, and don’t be going more than 39 mph (63 km/h). Unfortunately, the details are no longer available online because someone with nothing better to do filed a lawsuit.

The Sacramento Bee reported on a yearlong study of lane splitting by California’s Office of Traffic Safety which showed the practice to be “…no more dangerous than motorcycling in general, if the rider is traveling at speeds similar to or only slightly faster than the surrounding traffic,” according to the article. The article also notes that lane-splitting motorcyclists are doing so at lower speeds, and in slower traffic, than previously.

As this is written, Washington (RCW 46.61.608) and Oregon (ORS 814.240) specifically prohibit lane splitting. A bill placed before the Oregon Legislature in 2013 sought to revise that state’s law by making lane splitting legal if traffic is moving 10 mph (16 km/h) or less, provided the rider does not exceed 20 mph (32 km/h) in doing so. The bill did not pass.

Washington’s Legislature did not consider any changes to that state’s current law in its most recent session.

Several years ago, riding into Paris by taxi from CDG airport, it got passed repeatedly by lane-splitting motorcyclists. The driver said lane splitting was illegal in France, but people did it all the time. And as if on cue, a blue Gendarmerie nationale BMW zipped by. But the cop wasn’t going as fast as the squid. Favicon

One Comment
  1. February 25, 2013 10:10 am

    Lane splitting requires education among car drivers. It is the best and clearest way to explain the value of motorcycles over cars to commuters. That it is illegal outside California goes to show we have a long way to get this done. limiting it to gridlocked traffic is sensible. Let’s see which becomes legal first marijuana possession or lane splitting!

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