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Motorcycle Laws | California | Helpful Driving Tips Around Motorcycles

The gorgeous views, tourist attractions, winding roads and temperate climate make California a motorcyclist hotspot.  But more riders on the road mean a greater risk of motorcycle accidents that cause severe injuries. Informing both motorcyclists and passenger vehicle operators about California's rules of the road governing motorcycles can help prevent accidents and needless injuries.

Are There Motorcycle-Specific Traffic Laws?

In a word: maybe. The California State Highway Patrol has authorized the practices of lane sharing and lane splitting to give motorcyclists more freedom to take advantage of their vehicles' smaller stature and keep traffic flowing freely. Notably, neither of these practices has been codified into law by the California legislature, so no hard and fast guidance exists about either of these practices. Since both lane sharing and lane splitting have been practiced for decades, though, riders generally understand the guidelines for each.

What Is Lane Sharing?

The practice of lane sharing is when two vehicles - either two motorcycles or a motorcycle and a passenger vehicle - are traveling together in the same direction in the same lane at the same time. It can only be done on a roadway that has at least two lanes going in the same direction (like a divided highway or an interstate). Furthermore, riders or drivers sharing a lane must operate their motorcycles or vehicles in a safe and prudent manner or passing law enforcement officers might issue citations.

While the "safe and prudent" standard is open to interpretation, generally speaking, people sharing a lane should:

  • Travel at speeds within 10 mph of each other.
  • Never travel faster than the posted speed limit.
  • Stay in a single lane.
  • Drive in a manner consistent with weather, visibility and traffic conditions.
  • Remain on the roadway at all times - driving a motorcycle or passenger vehicle on the shoulder of the road is against the law.

Lane sharing not only gives motorcyclists additional freedom, but it also keeps them safer - motorcycles riding in tandem are more visible to passing motorists.

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is another nontraditional rule of the road just for motorcyclists. Like the name says, this involves a motorcyclist straddling the dividing line between two lanes of traffic. Similarly to lane sharing, this can only safely and legally be done when there are at least two lanes of traffic heading in the same direction. A similar practice - "filtering" - can be done on a single lane road if the motorcyclist stays to the right side of the lane.

Lane splitting can be done safely if done in accordance with a few simple guidelines:

  • Ride carefully to avoid striking slow-moving vehicles on either side.
  • Only ride in this manner if you are a skilled motorcyclist - novice riders might not have the ability to quickly respond to changing circumstances.
  • Try to avoid lane splitting between two large trucks to keep the risk of injury lower.
  • Stay aware of drivers around you, looking for turn signals, head swivels or other motions that might indicate a vehicle is about to make a move.
  • Move back into a single lane if you notice a California Highway Patrol (known as CHiP) officer or other emergency vehicle behind you.
  • Check your mirrors often.

What Can Go Wrong?

No matter how careful you are on your motorcycle, sharing the road with much bigger vehicles raises the risk of an injury-causing accident. If you are lane sharing or lane splitting, and veer into the path of another motorcycle or vehicle, you could be seriously injured because of the lack of protection you are afforded on a bike.

In addition to possibly being cited for causing the accident (or being held partially at fault, limiting your chances of a financial recovery), you could:

  • Suffer broken bones
  • Fracture your spinal cord and become paralyzed
  • Face a traumatic brain injury if you are not wearing a helmet
  • Endure "road rash" if you lay down the bike and scrape along the roadway surface

If you or a loved one has the bad luck of being one of the millions of motorcyclists injured in an accident this year, you probably have questions about what you should do next. Those questions can be answered by an experienced California personal injury attorney in your area. Seek the counsel of a skilled lawyer today to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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