Motorcycle Lane Splitting…Riding On the Edge

One of the common features of traffic on California roads is motorcycle lane splitting…

Very Tight Fit

Very Tight Fit

Lane Splitting is a practice that I always found a bit odd, not to mention risky, based upon my over 100,000 miles of motorcycle riding when we lived in Illinois and traveled throughout the American West, Canada, and other locales following the literary trails of Robert Pirsig’s  Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I have ignored it for the most part but recently the practice has become more noticeable due to the construction on 101 and the additional traffic congestion. In addition, I have recently noted the practice on Petaluma streets after a motorcyclist grazed our car mirror while splitting the lanes on North McDowell. Needless to day, that event caused me to reflect on and to research the subject!

I was taught to always ride in one of the tire lanes or paths and to avoid center lines or lane lines as much as possible because of the hazards to bike stability presented by the painted/raised lines or embedded lane markers, not to mention road debris such as nails, glass, etc.  In one instance in Oregon, this practice clearly saved our lives.  But these precautions do not apply to motorcycle lane splitting to get around stalled or slow moving car traffic.  It is tricky business at best and requires a lot of counter steering (biker term) to pull it off…


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Lane splitting is not illegal in California according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

On the other hand, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Motorcycle Handbook clearly states on Page 16:  “Vehicles and motorcycles each need a full lane to operate safely.  Lane sharing is not safe. Riding between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane can leave you vulnerable.”

The CHP web site contains a detailed set of guidelines for those who engage in lane sharing or splitting and these are set forth at the end of the article.  To my mind the CHP guidelines almost read as an extended version of Proceed At Your Own Risk.

Consider the “tight fit” of this particular lane splitting maneuver…


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California Highway Patrol Lane Splitting Guidelines–Short Form Guide

Lane splitting in a safe and prudent manner is not illegal in the state of California.  The term  lane splitting, sometimes known as lane sharing, filtering or white-lining, refers to the process of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of stopped or slower moving traffic or moving between lanes to the front of traffic stopped at a traffic light.

Motorcyclists who are competent enough riders to lane split, should follow these general  guidelines if choosing to lane split:

  1)   Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 MPH faster than other traffic – danger increases at higher speed differentials.
  2)   It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 30 mph or faster – danger increases as overall speed increases.
  3)   Typically, it is more desirable to split between the #1 and #2 lanes than between other lanes.
  4)   Consider the total environment in which you are splitting, including the width of the lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, as well as roadway, weather, and lighting conditions.
  5)   Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users.

The Four R’s or “Be-Attitudes” of Lane Splitting: Be Reasonable, be Responsible, be Respectful, be aware of all Roadway and traffic conditions.

Note:These general guidelines are not guaranteed to keep you safe.  Lane splitting should not be performed by            inexperienced riders.  These guidelines assume a high level of riding competency and experience.  Every rider has ultimate responsibility for his or her own decision making and safety.  Riders must be conscious of reducing crash risk at all times.

 Messages for Other Vehicle Drivers      

  1. Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in California when done in a safe and prudent manner.
  2. Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.
  3. Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal (CVC 22400).
  4. Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal (CVC 22517).

To view a fuller explanation of the CHP Guidelines, go to CHP Lane Splitting Guidelines


3 thoughts on “Motorcycle Lane Splitting…Riding On the Edge

  1. I haven’t noticed this in Illinois, however there are those that like to weave in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed.

    • In all our miles and years of motorcycle travel, we never saw it until…we moved to…California

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